You never really know what to expect from an MC Paul Barman project, and that’s what many fans (myself included) love most about his unique, brain-busting style. In the twenty years since he appeared on the scene, Barman has released a handful of projects that speak to issues in human nature, which affect all of us in more ways than we realize.
The track “((commandments)))” dropped at the end of March right before the Passover/Easter holiday, and Barman humorously proclaimed that he hoped “there’s still room in your Haggadah for this rhyme.” He and producer Memory Man had been working on the track, which breaks down the 10 Commandments, for several years before Questlove dropped some live drums in his lap to help close the loop.
The rapper’s latest album (((echo chamber))) will drop this Friday, May 18 on Mello Music Group and features production from Questlove, Prince Paul, DOOM, and Memory Man, as well as guest vocals from Masta Ace and Open Mike Eagle. Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble was able to speak with Barman about where he got his start and dig a little deeper into the story behind the new record.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Man, maybe it was the kids on the bus singing The Fat Boys. Not sure.
On the way to school?
On the way to camp. I mean, did that come before or after the Fruity Pebbles rap? Probably before. I feel like the better answer is Video Music Box. Do you know video music box? Video Music Box was the public television Yo! MTV Raps that appreciated Yo! MTV Raps. And it was on at after school cartoon time, and if you got channel 50 or whatever, it wasn’t just one or two songs trickling in. It was a full hour of the best stuff. So, you got it all at once. And plus, it was just on the radio. The truer answer is, I can’t remember a time not hearing it.
And you felt like you gravitated towards it right away? Or was it more, “What is this new style?”
I never understood the stories that people told about, “What is this?” Like, I feel like those stories are always associated with The Sugarhill Gang, and those guys were before my time. You know what I mean?
So because you didn’t come into it right at the beginning….
No, for me, that’s like lore.
Did music play a role in your upbringing, whether it was hip-hop or not?
Well, I guess I have more than one answer for that as well. You know, sound carries the most information of all wavelengths, and we’re walking around absorbing these wavelengths at all times. And regardless of the pressures to ignore our feelings, we feel them anyway. So, I kind of find the premise of the question preposterous. Similar to my colleague yesterday who told me he’s not a creative person like bracketing the creative suggestion. Music is a part of everybody’s lives whether they’re doing Stravinsky solos or not. That being said, if you want a more concrete answer, I took trumpet in band.
Did your parents play it around the house a lot?
There was a piano. There was a lonely piano in my home, but I will say that we had a big, big record collection, and everybody was very into music.
Were you the oldest?
So, did your siblings put you on to any specific styles?
Yeah, they had The Beatles’ records and Blondie happening. How about you?
Yeah, definitely Beatles because of my parents. A lot of Bill Withers.
Oh, I love Bill Withers.
When did you realize you wanted to make music more than something you enjoyed listening to?
I guess you could say “Enter Pan-Man” was my breakthrough. If you visit my bandcamp, there’s a lot of good stuff there. On the Blue Moon Kaboom, the opening track is a live version of a song called “Enter Pan-Man,” which was the breakthrough song on my 7” post-graduate work, which I sent to Prince Paul and started all this.
I was going to ask how far back that went.
’98. Twenty years, baby! I had already made some tapes. It’s not that it wasn’t a serious pursuit before that song, but that was the song where I realized that I was doing things better than I could do them in other mediums. And I’ve really been obsessed since then.
(((echo chamber))) is your first studio album since 2009’s Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud. What were you working on in the interim? Or what was the reasoning behind the hiatus?
A few things. I did drop the Blue Moon Kaboom right before it like last November. And that kind of shows some stuff in the middle. There’s two branches of that answer. One is I was involved with my family and surviving New York. And one is, I was not writing to share things. And being unready to share things has its own group, right? One is, it’s too personal. One is, I’m greedy. Right? One is, it’s not ready. And then, there’s one, which is it’s not for everybody. I was doing wedding poems. I was basically putting as much love and care into some projects for two people as I would for public consumption. And that was a really rewarding experiment. You know, the ego involved in this is sometimes better for the listener than for the artist. And I think I’m talking about that on the new album.
How did the Mello Music Group partnership come about? I’m a huge fan of Michael Tolle.
Well, me too now. Memory Man insisted I reach out to him, and Mike Eagle messaged me. I was a little jaded about labels, so I was a little stubborn. But, you know, nobody’s heard Thought Balloon, so it wouldn’t be fair to the work to not work with Mello. And, you know, I’m obviously tickled that it’s on the same label as my supremely favorite hip-hop.
Quelle Chris and Mike. They’re the best.
Why did you choose Questlove, Prince Paul and others to serve as your production team on the album? I read that you and Prince Paul have collaborated several times in the past.
You haven’t heard that stuff?
No, and I’ve been a fan of both of yours for a long time, so I haven’t been doing my due diligence apparently.
Okay, well you gotta hear The REDUX, which is on bandcamp. That’s my brother YOUNGMAN, and that’s his most recent project. And YOUNGMAN makes an appearance on my album, as well, on his production. They’re working a lot together now. And he just did his first podcast interview. Paul produced my first EP, It’s Very Stimulating, Quest gave me a whole bunch of beats when my second son was born, so I guess you could say they chose me.
That’s fair. But is that what kind of brought about the idea for the new album, or had you been working on something, and they pushed you towards the finish line?
I can’t choose one.
That’s okay. It could be a mixture of both.
It’s definitely both. Is there a way I can get at what you’re asking better?
No because what I’m asking might just be as simple as either you don’t know the answer or both. After you released the Kaboom album that you mentioned, had you thought about taking a break for a bit?
No, no, no. It’s the other way around. Working on the album pushed the Kaboom out.
So, you’d been working on (((echo chamber))) for a while?
Yeah, and getting kind of warmed up and finishing things and being able to write and record faster and being inspired and dipping into the archives all was kind of a piece. And, in fact, I have at least seven demos hot off the presses right now for the next thing. So, it’s really a very exciting moment for me.
And I think perversely, my music embraces toxic times. I don’t know why. Maybe I need to make it more, or I’m more convinced people need it. And also, my kids are bigger now. It’s just not the same as when they’re smaller. It’s just a different life. Props to all you artists who put out a record a year no matter what.
I don’t even know of any that exist.
Even the artists who you don’t like that much and are a bit business-like about it. I have a new respect for that.
Where did the album’s title come from? Did you have the track first?
It was a track first. And then I got really excited about the weird punctuation, partly because of Kendrick’s capitalization, and partly because I was really appalled when I read that the title track for Black Star was initially longer. It exceeded Apple’s parameters, and Bowie actually shortened it for Apple! And I was like, “Let me put Mike through the ringer and try to get them to change their parameters for Bowie’s sake.” Oh, why did I do that? Anyway, it worked.
Why did you choose this track for the album’s title? Because of how it looked?
I have a Jung quote, which is, “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” I think that’s part of it. A guy who calls himself Safari Al said something that hit me really hard as some sort of summary to the whole thing, which is, “You let the worldview into your view.” Right? My view is, we’re amongst multidimensional beams of light with everything in common and nothing not in common. But then, Fraudulism nustles up to you with the horns of the Wall Street bull and says, “No, no, no, no. We’re not going to share. In fact, we’re not going to share so hard that you better stop sharing.” And then you’re like, “Uhhhh. How can I be just schizophrenic enough to stay healthy?” And, you know, the problems we’re experiencing now are brutal. And it’s really, I can’t tell you why everything is about this record. I would have to discuss the songs with you, as you feel about them and then we would get to that together, right? So, what do you think about the songs you’ve heard?
They’re everything that I would expect from you. They’re unique and they hit you where you least expect it. Are you currently working on anything else?
Yes. Well, I’m working on several videos for the album. I’m kind of in a tizzy of writing, recording and decluttering the writing that I’ve had over the years. I’m adapting a book for the stage called A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. I should be more prepared for this question. I feel like I’m working on a million things.
Anything else you want to add or promote?
I feel as long as people know the album is coming out May 18, that’s the main message. And Lara, thank you so much for your time.
I appreciate you.