“I love that we’re talking about this right next to the water,” says a prophetic Paul Barman. We’re sitting on the beach in San Diego just outside Cane’s Bar and Grill where MC Paul Barman is playing his first San Diego gig — with Mix Master Mike no less. Our casual, pre-show chat has turned to water, and he’s turned very serious.
“It seems to me that water [represents] the point of no return,” Paul says with a nod to the Pacific Ocean. “It seems like coming to a faucet near you is the end of clean water on the planet. Today I was thinking about how the glaciers are melting… Those glaciers are probably the last pure water on the earth! So once they melt, there goes the last remaining source of clean water… It’s funny to watch out for that, Roy.”
All waxing prophetic about the state of the world’s water aside, Paul Barman could just be the smartest, flyest, best MC rocking the mike today. As much as he plays the irony of his geeky persona against his outlandish sexual fantasies, Barman comes correct with the most intricate wordplay available on wax. He is known to incorporate the sickest mind-bending rhymes with the Fibonacci sequence, palindromic verses and claims “coming soon, Morse code.” Recalling the multi-layered references of Paul’s Boutique and the playful complexity of Three Feet High and Rising, as well as nods to the word jazz of Ken Nordine, his first full-length, Paullelujah! (Coup d’Etat, 2002) is a flava-packed linguistic smoothie: breaking it down to its constituent parts will only get you mad confused and your hands hella sticky.
“In my rhymes,” he continues, “I’m afraid to put down bullshit and I can’t speak on stuff that I don’t know about, so that takes care of a hell of a lot of subject matter. It’s also a freeing thing because once you represent the world that you’re coming from, comment on the world that you’re coming from, present the world that you’re coming from, speak to the world that you’re coming from and introduce the world that you’re coming from, it’s really rich. Then when you get involved in storytelling techniques, you have your life’s work in front of you.” And storytelling is one of Paul’s strong suits. His “life’s work” includes not only sexual fantasies that would make Kool Keith blush (“Cockmobster,” and “N.O.W.”), but commentary on his involvement in the Hip-hop art form (“Excuse You,” and “Old Paul”), bodily gastric functions (“Burping and Farting”), education (“Paullelujah!” and “Bleeding Brain Grow”), and even politics (“Anarchist Bookstore,” Parts 1 and 2).
“I was so afraid to talk about politics in my past because I felt like I couldn’t speak on them if I wasn’t really knowledgeable about them,” he explains. “I comprehended the complexity of each issue, but maybe I was a little bit wary about speaking about something controversial. I think fear of ignorance is something you have to get over just so that you don’t small talk your whole life.” Paul definitely skips the small talk, especially when it comes to the education system.
“I’ve always felt like I was an expert on education just by dint of having gone to public school through high school and then going to college.” He came up in the public schools of Ridgewood, New Jersey and ended up at Brown University. Ivy League training notwithstanding, Paul knows education. “Sometimes I think of myself as fourteen years old because that’s my total years outside of the school institution. Trying to survive outside of school and outside of your parents’ support is not pretty, but I’m grateful to not have to go to school at nine in the morning. I still have nightmares about some bureaucratic slip up that says I never graduated and end up back in school.” Paul takes dreams very seriously. “I always try to make my dreams come true. When I dream about something, if I can possibly make it happen… I mean, what better instructions could you be given?” He asked me if I had any recurring dreams, so I told him about the recurring characters that visit me in my sleep: a broken-English spitting, light bulb-headed alien (who says shit like, “I’m tasting hungry.”) and a Japanese DJ named “DJ Telephoto.”
“Sweet! You have got to use those,” Paul encourages me. “The latest unrequited dream I’ve had was that I went to the store and bought Love and Theft by Bob Dylan on vinyl. Pretty simple. I could make it happen. I’ll get around to it. I love making dreams come true… My Dylan CD snapped! I did not mistreat it. I kept it in its case. A crack formed and it broke. I have had it with the propaganda that CDs are superior… That’s why I had that dream, because my CD snapped and I don’t have that record anymore, goddammit!
Dylan once said that nostalgia is death. I’m not trying to call Paul on anything here, but as our talk returns to the subject of education, he grows melancholy again.
“I’m getting this horrible, awful feeling that people were better off when I was a child…” Old Paul says staring pensively into the crashing waves. “Children today are much worse off than when I was a child. And when I was a kid, I swore I would never say stuff like that. I fought so hard not to even think things like that! But are you kidding me?!?! Public education was in shambles when I was a kid, Nowadays? More testing! Less content! If that’s possible! Things are worse! Things keep getting worse. It’s fucking depressing!”
[SLAP Magazine, 2002]
[photo by Roy Christopher]