Prince Paul talks 'Negroes On Ice', family, & the music business

Grammy award-winning hip-hop producer Prince Paul is known as much for his material with De La Soul, Handsome Boy Modeling School and Gravediggaz as he is for being kind of a jokester. So when Paul's people hit me up about his new "Negroes On Ice" project and were vague in their description, I pictured him directing some kind of wacky hip-hop Icecapades.

This -- both thankfully and sort of disappointingly -- is not the case. Negroes On Ice, as it were, is the name of a storytelling-slash-DJing duo comprised of Paul and his college-age son,

Prince Paul (right) and his son
Prince Paul (right) and his son

What's this new project "Negroes On Ice"? Were you just joking around and the name came up?

It's one of those things where we got asked to DJ one time at the Knitting Factory in Manhattan. My son had a gig DJing opening up for The Genius.  He did really really well, so they asked us to DJ together. It would have been cheesy to come up with two separate names. So we were laughing and joking and that came out. It's funny, so we thought, let's use it.  When we mention it, people's eyebrows pop up. They don't know how to react.

Obviously you have incredible accolades under your belt with groups you've produced in the past, but are you excited about any new acts in hip-hop?

You know who I thought was pretty good that caught me by surprise? That kid from Odd Future called Earl Sweatshirt. I guess he's not even new now, but I heard him and thought he was really fresh. He's so young and what he writes is so smart, it intrigued me. It's cool having a son who's 20 because then I get introduced to Kendrick Lamar, and early Wiz Khalifa (who I don't really listen to much now).

What about the current state of hip-hop frustrates you and what makes you excited?

The thing that frustrates me is "been there, done that." Everything to me sounds recycled, from words to beats. I can turn on a hot station and go from Hot Whatever to whatever the other big station is and think something is the same song. "Isn't that the same song?" "No, dad, it isn't."  That gets frustrating.  The gift and the curse is young artists have the ability to get their music out, but that presents an influx of so much crap that the question is, will you ever get heard? What do you do short of posing nude to get people's attention? And there's enough nudity online anyway.

Prince Paul talks 'Negroes On Ice', family, & the music business

You've always maintained a pretty unique sense of humor.  Where has this sense of humor helped you and hurt you in your career?

That's a good question. I guess it's helped me because it kept me sane and keeps it enjoyable. You have fun and poke fun at yourself and parody a lot of things I see, and it's just part of my personality. Some people might think I'm weird, but at the end of the day, it's me entertaining myself. What's weird is, in making the music I've made, it's nice to have people who've come along for the ride. I usually just snicker to myself but if you know, if you're along with me and you enjoy it, great, if you don't, I'll laugh anyway.

A lot of stuff I do is very sarcastic, and being sarcastic involves some type of intelligence because you have to see both sides of the coin, so sometimes I lose people. Not that I'm dissing on people's intelligence, but some people don't get it. That's one of the reasons me and Chris Rock got along and did that comedy record -- he would say to me, "You get it, and that's why we work well together."

What's the status on Handsome Boy Modeling School and Deltron 3030? Will there be new albums from these groups in the future?

I only did a few skits and tracks on Deltron, and the Handsome Boy stuff --- you know, it's funny, we never took that project seriously. At least, I didn't. It was kind of like the joke that went too far.  Me and Dan The Automator were just joking around, talking about that sitcom "Get A Life." We talked about episode "Handsome Boy Modeling School," and then next thing you know Dan was telling the president of Tommy Boy at the time, "Yeah, me and Paul, we've got this group called Handsome Boy Modeling School." And the next thing you know, Tommy Boy wants to sign us. And I was like, "For what!?"

So it's probably had it's run, is that what you're saying?

Yeah. It was fun in its day. Me and Dan kind of grew apart. It was us acting like kids in a certain time and place. I don't know how many more mustaches I can shave, you know? "Should I wear the handlebar today, or the trucker?" It was fun.

If you had to pick just one of your productions to listen to for one whole day on repeat, which would you choose?

Man! I wish I could say none of them, because I don't listen to my music like that. It would probably be Psychoanalysis.  Of all the records I made, as bizarre and as weird as it is, it's easiest to listen to. It was a nonsense production. It was me not really caring about anything. I really felt like it was over when I made that record. I just did it for the sake of doing it, and thought I'd have to find a job afterward. It's so carefree, I literally made it entirely for myself and my friends.

What's one award or accolade you received under your Prince Paul moniker that you'll always revere and why?

Um....No. *Laughs*.  I mean, my records play out like a diary of my life at any given time. It's nice to look back and there's a lot of little hidden things in there that only I can really decipher. It's personal to me. But all those times that I made those records, there's always been something sad.  So I just look at them like, "Oh man! That's what happened. That's when Jimmy down the street got shot!"  It's just weird.

Just bringing it back around to Negroes On Ice, is it cool to see your son next to you DJing?

Negroes On Ice is more like a one-man play. It's him being the focus and me more or less scoring and adding to whatever the story is that he's telling.  It's something I haven't done before, so it's refreshing and nice that he's taking it to a level that I haven't.  He DJs and produces, but him getting in front of people for over an hour telling a story and acting out is something I never done. So in that sense I'm really proud of him.

Now, as far as the music business goes and making a career, I try to talk him out of it. That's why he's going to college. I was like, "Look, if I was you, I wouldn't do it." The business side of it is bad. The people are bad. The highs and lows are really high and low. And it takes a toll, man. I'm not going to lie, if you're a person who grew up with any type of morals and you get into the music business, those things do not apply. At all.  You learn some tough lessons and crappy things about people and how things work.

But you made a career of it.

I did. But he's going to to college. He'll ask me what I think and aside from me saying not to get into it, he's good at what he does. At the point where he's no longer got anything to offer and just doing what everyone else is doing, I"d probably be more concerned. But he listens to me and I think the biggest thing -- and this goes for both of my kids, I have a 9-year-old daughter -- is that they respect me. Because I respect them. We have dialogue and we talk about a lot of things, and of course that transcends into music stuff.

I'm so intrigued to see you and your son do your show this weekend.

I'll tell you right now -- expect the unexpected. You have to be super duper open minded. Come with a big WTF shirt on and shrug it out.

NEGROES ON ICE come to the Capri Theater in Minneapolis on Friday, January 13.

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