Prince Paul: Psychoanalysis (What is it?)

Prince Paul
Psychoanalysis (What is it?)
Tommy Boy

SKITS ARE TOO often the scourge of a good hip-hop record. Anyone laying out $15.99 for a new release doesn't need a spate of corny interludes and lame inside jokes sandwiched between the often stranded, "real" album tracks. And yet, in the hands of New York producer/auteur Prince Paul, the skit somehow becomes a sacred rite and a salient tool. Since making his mark in the mainstream pop world through his knob-twittering on De La Soul's seminal 3 Feet High and Rising, the enigmatic Paul has proven himself to be one of the East Coast's cagiest hip-hop weirdos--using hammy asides, cerebral samples, and studio tomfoolery to create new-school psychedelia.

First released last year in the shadow of new albums by Paul's pals in De La and A Tribe Called Quest, the newly reissued Psychoanalysis is part head trip and part couch trip. Where the equally legendary Kool Keith's surreal Dr. Octagon project presented listeners with a porn-obsessed gynecologist, Paul casts himself as an irritable, self-loathing shrink, and develops would-be skit fodder into artfully damaged couch sessions--no appointment necessary.

Brace yourself for some dark corners. "It's a beautiful night for a date rape/... a beautiful night to kill crackers," goes the chorus to "Beautiful Night." While more than a few gangsta holdovers would say such a thing and mean it, Paul and his entourage of obscure microphone monologists intend to pull off a dark satire of their chosen genre. "Booty Clap" is a ludicrously straight-faced send-up of mindless Miami bass, and "Dimepieces" (one of three CD bonus tracks) does a perfect mock job on early-'80s MC sexcapades. (The other two bonus cuts feature Doctor Octagon's art-hop wizard Dan "The Automater" Nakamura, suggesting that there's some time-sharing going on between the two MDs.)

Beneath the role-playing and strangely brilliant poetics, Paul's beats are as savvy as ever, threaded together via a host of disparate samples and some firmly grounded turntabling. Paul makes it look easy. And considering the scope of this bent outing, that may be the scariest thing of all. Or maybe it's just plain crazy that, in an age when zealots like DJ Shadow are among hip hop's new poster children, Paul's freak-filled underground is where the real action is.

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