Handsome Boy Modeling School’s anti-consumerist comedy

Handsome Boy Modeling School’s anti-consumerist comedy

“So… How’s Your Girl?”, a concept inspired by a TV series

Tommy Boy, 1999

“The new trend of producer’s albums”

Handsome Boy Modeling School is the collaboration of two talented producers: Prince Paul and Dan The Automator. If the two albums of the duo are conceptual, the group is already a concept in itself. The duo will start a small trend of producer’s albums, a concept still very little explored in Hip Hop and for which they are among the pioneers.

Hip Hop always works with a beat and emceeing, the two being inseparable from each other. Once we said that, the duets of rapper with his producer were the usual pattern with groups like Eric B. & Rakim, Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo to name a few. Another classic pattern was groups that did both emceeing and production with an “in-house” producer, EPMD, UGK, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang Clan and many others. If there was no in-house producer, production was handled by one to three producers, rarely more. Regardless of the configuration, the production of albums in the late 80s and early 90s almost always followed one of these patterns. By the mid-90s, this pattern would tend to disappear in favor of albums with multiple producers, one of the first to propose this revolution was Nas with Illmatic in 1994. Most rappers will follow this model from the mid-90s. Producers who were members of groups tended to disappear and to became mercenaries who sold their beats to rappers, even if a few “in-house” producers within the labels persisted.

Dan The Automator and Prince Paul will propose a new model and launch the future trend of producer albums, it is not the rappers who “invite” the producers, but the producers who will invite the rappers on their beats. Of course, this trend will remain at the margin in Hip Hop, but several albums will follow this model. Among the most notable are A Prince Among Thieves by Prince Paul himself in 1999, Neptunes Presents The Clones in 2000, The Magnificient by DJ Jazzy Jeff in 2002, the Soul Survivors by Pete Rock or Shock Value by Timbaland in 2007. 

“Two wacky producers for a concept album”

If Prince Paul’s curriculum is already well filled, Dan The Automator’s is already much less so at the time of this album. His only really notable achievement is Dr. Octagonecologyst with Kool Keith in 1996, but his psychedelic, electric and futuristic style had strongly seduced Hip Hop fans for a classic album in its genre. He will illustrate himself a little later with Deltron 3030 alongside Del The Funky Homosapien and the DJ Kid Koala and then on the first album of Gorillaz in 2001.

Prince Paul is a Hip Hop legend. He started out as a DJ/producer for Stetsasonic in the late 80’s before becoming De La Soul’s producer on their first three albums, 3 Feet High and Rising in 1989, De La Soul Is Dead in 1991 and Bulhoone Mindstate in 1993. In the meantime, he produced beats for well-known rappers/groups such as Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Boogie Down Productions and 3rd Bass. In 1994, he joined forces with RZA in the group Gravediggaz for an album with a horrorcore concept, 6 Feet Deep.

Here we are in 1999 with a new concept accompanied by Dan The Automator, So… How’s Your Girl? A concept freely inspired by an episode of the series Get A Life, The Prettiest Week of My Life, where one of the characters aspires to become a male model. The two producers play two characters that allow them to parody and criticize in a satirical way the consumer society, materialism, vanity and egocentricity, and especially the bourgeoisie or the models and the snobbery that they can show.

“An eclectic atmosphere with futuristic sounds”

In this concept, the two producers make various atmospheres, they express their creativity in different styles. We start with a Rock N Roll intro, then we dive into a futuristic atmosphere on Magnetazing with Del and his cartoon semi-robotized voice. We have a mystical side on Waterworld including sounds of flowing water and small pianos where Encore raps with a fluid flow for absurd metaphors on liquids.

Sadat X and Grand Puba from Brand Nubian appear on Once Again with devastating flows over a gloomy beat including a Jazzy sample. On The Truth, a beautiful piano loop with horns and violins sublimates Róisín Murphy’s soulful voice and a verse from J-Live. The Projects’ harmonica brings a bluezy/funky edge to verses by Dave from De La Soul and Del. The ballad Sunshine features Sean Lennon and Josh Haden for a calm vocal over guitar playing. Sensational of the Jungle Brothers delivers an abstract rap over a vibraphone track on Torch Song Trilogy. Megaton B-Boy offers magnetic sounds with lazer noises, buzzes and saturated drums, over a verse by Company Flow’s El-P that is as strange as the production.

More instrumental, the duo indulges in a little producer ego-trip on Metaphysical with operatic vocals from Miho Hatori and Mike D of the Beastie Boys speaking absurd idioms. Look At This Face and Modeling Sucks showcase Dan’s techniques with classical music loops and percussive drums, layered with vocal samples. The duo conveys their interest in Get A Life by including vocal re-sequenced excerpts from the series with an added dose of humor. On Holy Calamity, they call upon the talents of DJ Shadow for the synth and DJ Quest for the scratch for an insane track. A very dusty side but successful like the work of DJ Shadow. Kid Koala does an instrumentalist delirium on The Runway Song, with scratches and, muffled and futuristic noises. The album closes with Father Speaks with the participation of comedian Don Novello.

So… How’s Your Girl? is a UFO with futuristic sounds, masterfully mastered by two great producers who continue to surprise us with their respective works. Few albums can boast such a musical creativity while implementing an intelligent and well-crafted concept, and even if there are others, Prince Paul or Dan The Automator are usually not far away.

By Grégoire Zasa

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