Pretty Boys

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Are you handsome?  Do you know that handsomeness is an inner state of mind?  If so, then you’ll definitely be at the Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz on Friday for the Handsome Boy Modeling School show.  As for the rest of us, perhaps we’d better do some studying before we attend class.

“So… How’s Your Girl?” was the 1999 debut of Handsome Boy Modeling School.  It was a hip-hop concept album, based around the idea of a self-improvement guide, and featured music, comic skits and a host of guest appearances.  The album was a collaboration between two producers who were each individually heavy hitters in the hip-hop world.  Prince Paul, real name Paul Huston,  although only in his 30s, is considered one of the godfathers of the genre and is held in the same regard by many as old-school artists like Grandmaster Flash.  As producer for De La Soul, New York-based Huston  was one of the defining forces of the hip-hop sound.   He was also a founding member of Gravediggaz and Stetsonic.  His partner in Handsome Boy Modeling School is Dan “The Automator” Nakamura, a Bay Area DJ and producer best known for his 2001 single “Clint Eastwood” and his work with Kool Keith on the 1996 album “Dr. Octagon.”

Long before Handsome Boy Modeling School was conceived, the pair found themselves meeting at various venues and events because of their work.  Recalls Nakamura, “Basically what happened was, over a period of time, I would see [Paul] at places.  It turned out, both him and myself, through DJ-ing and producing would end up in a lot of the same places.  And I would run into him at like, Fashion Week in London, or in New York City, or someplace like Milan.  And eventually we started talking, because obviously he had a really great eye for clothes and it just seemed like a natural combination.”

The two artists became intrigued by the rivalry among the hip-hop community for who had the latest one-of-a-kind suits, the most ostentatious jewelry and so on, and gradually the idea for the album began to emerge.  Huston and Nakamura assumed the identities of Chest Rockwell and Nathaniel Merriweather respectively, dressing up in sharp suits and fake mustaches.  They recruited a cast of friends including Mike D of the Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow and Del tha Funkee Homosapien, and put together one of the wackiest, catchiest hip-hop albums ever to be produced.  Comedic skits linked the tracks, and the album was a runaway success.  Even non-devotees of hip-hop appreciated the humor of the album and the infectious hooks of the songs. 

Fans had to wait five years for a follow up to Handsome Boy Modeling School’s debut -2004’s “White People.”  This album featured an array of special guests including, among others, members of Linkin Park and even rapper Jay-Z playing himself as a contestant on a TV dating game.  Like their debut, the album seamlessly fuses hip-hop with a variety of other genres including rock, alternative and jazz.

The popularity of Handsome Boy Modeling School still seems to be going from strength to strength with the current tour.  Get yourself educated on Friday night.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, March 31, 2005

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