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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Kickin’ it with MC Paul Barman

Published: April 27, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

Susan Chopnick: We wanted to know: have you ever performed in front of this many Jews since your Bar Mitzvah?
MC Paul Barman: Never Bar Mitzvah'd, so that is an impossible question. But the easy answer is, (long pause) no.

BD: What are you listening to right now?
MC: There is a re-release of a record, I forget the title. The artist is named Karen Dalton. And it's a beautiful, beautiful record, from the late '70's that I've been listening to non-stop.
I like records a lot. I like dollar-bin records, like accordion music or Middle Eastern. I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed by lyrics lately. Even listening to my own shit on the way up here I was like “Jeez, this stuff is really intense and wordy.” It takes a lot of concentration, I can hardly drive and listen at the same time. So, I like Dylan a lot. Check out Anaerobic Robots. That shit is good.

On Being a Jewish Rapper and His Music

SC: How do you feel about challenging the ruling ideas of hip-hop being a white, Jewish MC?
MC: For me, challenging the rules of hip-hop isn't about being white or Jewish, and by the way, I find it interesting that people put them together. But, in any art-form you want to challenge the hegemony. You want to figure out how to make things different. But, different isn't as important as being heartfelt or moving or nourishing. But it's a good place to start. Hip-hop used to be that the only rule was you had to be fresh. If you weren't fresh, you were whack. And if you were doing something well that someone else had already done, you were still whack. Paradoxically that makes me a purist. Because, unfortunately hip-hop has become completely rigid. But, there's still lots of interesting stuff out there. After you get over the idea of “I'm subverting the whole format,” you just do what you do and it comes from deep enough inside.
SC: I heard you're releasing your 12″.
MC: Yeah, I did a 12″ with Memory Man! It's called “Live From Death Row” and me and a MC named Busdriver are on it and it's pretty cool because it's funny but it deals with lethal injection pretty scientifically.
KM: I heard a rumor, maybe a year ago, that said you have 6 albums just sitting idly. Is that true?
MC: I have a lot of projects started and I have more than 6 songs finished. Many more. I actually probably have 20 songs finished. 6 albums just marinating? No. But I do have too much music that's not heard yet and I need to take care of that.
KM: Do you ever just release stuff that didn't make album cuts? What do you generally do with those tracks?
MC: It's a question of if it's good enough? If it's not good enough to make the album… you know the only sample clearance I've ever had was for Hot Guacamole with MF Doom, so that ended up on a weird thing called “Mmm… Leftovers.” But generally if it didn't make a record, it's because I wouldn't want people to hear it. But that's only happened one or two times. I have a song called “Kabatznick” that didn't make “Paullelujah!,” but some people like it that have heard it.
KM: Whatever happened to “Bundles of Sticks?”
MC: I… How do you know about that?!
KM: Bootlegs.
MC: Really? You gotta send me one.
KM: I can send you one. I think it's great, that's where the question came from.
MC: I was never recorded. It had to have been live.
KM: It was, “Live at Clark.”
MC: That song was genius.
KM: Are you going to ever record it?
MC: I don't know. I was responding to everyone thinking that I was gay in this kind of indirect way. And also people were saying if I came out as a gay rapper, I would make millions, but I couldn't do that because I'm not gay. But at the time I thought saying “I'm not gay” was a really lame way of responding. I had a sort of moralistic attitude that you're not supposed to explicate it like the question is beneath me. But there's no rules saying anything, so whatever.
KM: Have you ever considered doing a side project like Kool Keith did Dr. Octagon in which you embody that persona?
MC: Yes. I have many of them. There's the Science Guyse, part of the Science Gang, and they do only educational rhymes, like “Oil.
KM: Yeah, you used to have a Science Gang track up on your site, and “Love People, Not Places.”
MC: I love that joint. That was live. DJ Handler brought me to this crazy store-front where he had access to it in Times Square. And we were standing behind the window and just went for it. We just riffed for hours. And it was kinda nonsensical, very fragmented because people were just walking by and you wanted to be like “BLAH!” as they walked by. There wasn't a point to having a song because no one was going to hear it. Occasionally people would stand still, but not often. But then I got all worked up and this piece came out of it. Anyways, it was said I should do a whole album in which I'm the Hairy Mouth Owl, and I said “great idea.” So we're going to put that into effect. We're also working on an EP about body alteration: breast augmentation, breast reduction, circumcision;

an ad campaign called “For Foreskins.” It's called “Body of Work.” But yeah, I'm really into the idea of doing characters. It used to be that I wasn't, now I am a lot.

On Israel and The Four Questions

MC: You heard that track “Ignorance” then?
KM: No…
MC: It's that one that's like a preacher, and Israel comes in and goes “I'm trying! to think of something nice to say / About this bad brother put on ice today / He sure was sure of himself / But he blew all my advice away” And Israel the Monster comes in: “Israel will put you in a box like a Disney kid's meal for throwing rocks across the border / Hurricane Face / Import orthodox voters to restore order / American planes / Read to understand / The Old Testament is the deed to the land / Resist then bleed in the sand / Murder and controversial until it turns to exotica / The Star of David takes six lines and turns into a swastika”
SC: How do you think people would respond to that? Because in “Bleeding Brain Grow” you have the part about stretching your uncle like a lampshade [after mentioning the holocaust]. As far as identity goes, you have a bit of a Jewish following. Do you ever think “maybe I should cater more to the audience, they aren't going to like that?”
MC: First of all, that's what Public Enemy did, and I love what they did. Second of all, I am the doubting Jew and according to the four [sons] I'm the wicked Jew. But I'm not the wicked Jew, I'm really the wise Jew. Thirdly, I identify myself as a very specific secular, questioning Jew, and let me give you a rhyme: “The wise is the conformist who gets all the power / The wicked is wise but perceived as the doubter.” Because, the wise child is the one who's like (said in a whiny voice) “Yes mommy and daddy, Ehyeh definitely exists. Everything that the Torah says is gospel. Oh my God, I'm going to get straight As at Yeshiva. I'm not brainwashed at all. These aren't really my own thoughts.” And the wicked one is the one who stirs up debate. But that's a paradox because in Judaism you are supposed to embrace debate. And the second part of the rhyme goes: “The simple one asks 'what's this?' like a one year-old / And the one who doesn't know how to ask gets told.” And lastly, and more importantly, I'm against fundamentalism of any kind. Okay. So, if you're a fan of mine and you're part of a massive bonfire of wigs because you found out that hair wasn't Kosher or something retarded like that, sorry. You're listening to me because you're trying to pierce the globe of darkness and let some light in and my version of the truth is that that's fucking retarded. So, that answers another question that I want to do an EP called “The Doubting Jew.” I used to be like I didn't want to be talked to as a Jewish rapper;

I wanted to be talked to as a dope rapper. But now I see, I have this awesome opportunity to talk to Jews. You see, I didn't see myself as a Jew or I didn't know how to admit it or discuss it but now I'm interested in it. I don't mind being confused. I'm willing to explore. I felt like I was being forced into taking a position. But I think it would be awesome to do an album and talk to Jews.

On Putting Music Out For Free Downloads

KM: So, I guess just a question to follow up on something. There are all these underground songs, “Love People, Not Places” and The Science Gang. They kinda stay on your website for only a short amount of time and they get taken off and this stuff is unlikely to ever make it to an album. Now artists are presented with new mediums be it PureVolume, Myspace Music or their own website. Have you ever thought about just putting all these tracks up? You know, you said you really like some of these songs but they're still not going to make albums…
MC: Yeah, they could make albums, but yeah. What's PureVolume? Do you sell music on there? Do you think I should sell music or be giving it away?
KM: I believe more as music as a collective art form like a painting. I don't think people should own a painting, I think a painting should be visible to anyone who wants to see it. I think storing it away in a private bank locker or leaving it in your private residence so no one can see it is kind of defeating the purpose of art, which is supposed to inspire. However, I understand the point of selling music and I'm not necessarily opposed to that. But I'm a big fan of downloading because I could never pay for all the music I want to listen too.
MC: What about the cost of making it? But really, it doesn't matter. You're right, I should just redo my website and just put everything on it.
KM: Well, maybe not everything. Like, I understand the point of having this album (points to Paullelujah!).
MC: I don't. That was 2002. I don't know if there is a point to it anymore.
KM: So just put it up… I would not be opposed to you doing that.
MC: Yeah, also I was stuck in the mind frame that everything had to be a cohesive album. But now people just go one song at a time. And then you get to the question of does it matter what other people do or should I do what I want to do? What I want to do is a series of EPs, and that's what I'm doing. One song isn't enough, and an entire album isn't necessarily, or even desirable.
KM: What about a concept album?
MC: Yeah, but a concept EP.
MC: Well, you guys know my shit really well, it's really refreshing to talk like this.