Prince Paul talks hip-hop and Chappelle and sticks out his Chest.

Regal Stylings 

Prince Paul talks hip-hop and Chappelle and sticks out his Chest.

When talking with hip-hop producer Prince Paul, there's a temptation to focus on the early years. The way-way-back days of the early '80s, when he was 16 or 17 years old and working with Stetsasonics, the first band to integrate a live drum set with rap.

Or maybe you want to mention his efforts on a little album from De La Soul called Three Feet High and Rising, a daring, intricate, sample-heavy rap tome that inspired, for example, the Beastie Boys to set aside their whiffle-ball bat and dive headfirst into the dag-nasty funk samples of the Dust Brothers on Paul's Boutique. That album reportedly also gave inspiration to Public Enemy, which is sort of the rap equivalent of being Dylan and handing John Lennon his first puff of wacky tobacky.

Prince Paul practically invented the hip-hop sketch album, with smart, cool, narrative-driven records such as Prince Among Thieves, calling upon Kool Keith, Big Daddy Kane, Chubb Rock and Chris Rock to tell the parable of a young rap artist who turns to the dark side of gangs and crack while climbing his way to the top of the rap game. In a, you know, funny way.

A past that should place him squarely in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame is well worth a discussion, but his present is just as interesting and innovative as anything he's done in the past two decades. He's spent the past five or six years recording (under the name of Chest Rockwell) with fellow twisted hip-hop mastermind Dan the Automator (aka Nathaniel Merriweather) as Handsome Boy Modeling School, a daring and debonair rap duo dedicated to "extreme handsomeness." The pair released their second album, the aptly titled White People, late last year.

When he's not providing style tips to discerning gentlemen as Rockwell, he's on tour in support of Itstrumental, an instrumental album compiling close to two decades of beats, samples and all-around rambunctious, lovable fugliness. All that said, what we really wanna know is ...

In the age of production-driven pop-pap, what has kept you from using your considerable talents to turn garbage into gold?

"Well, money's always been a temptation. I guess I've always been at the crossroads, where I could spend the rest of my life making records and making good money, or I could do something I didn't really want to do, get some short-term fame and make stupendous money. Suppose I could always go crunk. But yeah, sometimes I definitely have to hit myself and not be greedy."

In teaming up with RZA, DJ Shadow, Dan the Automator, the Avalanches, Boogie Down Productions and more, you seem to have a knack for aligning yourself with all the connoisseur-level talent in hip-hop.

"Yeah, definitely. Well, I try and make sure that I get people before the fact instead of after they've blown up. It was like that with Dave Chappelle, the same thing with RZA. We developed a friendship because we genuinely liked each other and each other's work. With RZA, we were working on Grave Diggaz before he hooked up with Wu Tang, and then that got all big."

Speaking of Chappelle ...

"I have no clue. You know, I'm sure he's fine. It's not like he's off in some corner doing heroin or something. I worked with Dave before Politics of Business and had him do some stuff on some earlier work. That was before he signed his big deal with Comedy Central and did those specials and everything. Then he got all huge, and I didn't try to get in touch with him because, you know, I didn't really want to be that guy. I see him here and there when he's out, but that's about it."

Few people have been as actively involved in hip-hop since its inception and are still around making high-quality, relevant records. To what do you attribute your longevity?

"That's pretty funny, man. What bugs me out is that I've always expected my last record to be my last. I've always rebelled against the popular formats out there, so I always figured that pretty soon I was going to have to get a real job. Work at the post office or something. Guys I'd be working with would be all 'No, man, I'm not getting a job -- this is gonna blow up.' Oddly enough, a lot of those guys have real jobs these days, and I'm still making records."

What should the people expect at your live show?

"Expect a whole lot of violence. When I come into town, it gets crazy. No, seriously, expect anything goes, which usually means nothing. I don't really wear no bozo hat, like, 'Here's crazy Paul coming into town.' I just mainly try to watch what I say and try to stay out of the hands of the police. Those dudes can be kind of nasty, you know?"

I read an interview online where you said you were interested in retiring Prince Paul and focusing on some of your other projects. Is this the final Prince Paul album?

"No, no, man. That's a misunderstanding. I said I'm leading up to my last album. Probably the next record is the one. I can't be leaving on an instrumental record, especially since a lot of it is older instrumentals. That doesn't take much effort. That'd be bad. No, I need to end on something that'll shatter people's minds. This album is more likely to bug people out."

A few questions for Chest Rockwell.

"Go ahead, shoot."

Who are some of your favorite white people?

"Casper is one. I think another one after that would have to be his friend Spooky. And Frosty the Snowman."

Do they qualify as people?

"It depends on how you view the magic. You don't want to destroy that childlike vision, you know. Some people still believe in Santa, you know."

I've been a little miffed lately as the idea of male style seems to have been co-opted by the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy dudes and ridiculous terms like metrosexual. Thoughts?

"Hey, I think it all depends on where you live. Metrosexual in the Bronx will get you beat up. If you're macho in the Bronx, you're stylish and handsome and people will like you. It all depends on location. Queer Eye works on Bravo, but it doesn't necessarily work on BET. Handsomeness is a state of mind, you know? You just gotta own it."

I'm considering moving to New York soon. Can you suggest a fine haberdashery?

"Maybe Bentley Farnsworth will open up a store soon that'll sell some suits and umbrellas. But for now, I'd go down to the Bronx and go to Modelle's -- 'Gotta go to Mo's' is their slogan. Or maybe I made that up. There you can have both price and style. They should pay me for that."

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