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Royalty of rap
The virtues of Handsome Boy Modeling School

"If we sound a little out of breath, itís because we just came back from the gym," says Chest Rockwell. "Itís part of handsomeness. We have form-fitting European suits, so you canít have an extra pound floating around."

"Weíre trying to set an example because weíre currently pushing our athletic programs," explains Nathaniel Merriweather, another member of Handsome Boy Modeling School, the fashionably hip-hopped group who come to the Paradise this Tuesday.

"Yes," Rockwell adds, "we recommend a vigorous jumping-jacks-sex-and-water program for the men and strip aerobics for the women."

In the ho-hum real world, the two guys on conference call from a tour bus parked outside a Nebraska nightclub are hip-hop producers Prince Paul and Dan "the Automator" Nakamura. But in the parallel universe of HBMS, Paul is Rockwell and Automator is Merriweather ó ascot-wearing, smoking-jacket-clad, moustache-sporting proprietors of hip-hopís first, finest, and funniest finishing school.

Itís been nearly six years since the pair opened shop with So . . . Howís Your Girl? (Tommy Boy), a campy, skit-filled concept album inspired by an episode of Chris Elliottís Get a Life. With a slew of guests ó DJ Shadow, Sean Lennon, Beastie Boy Mike D, and members of Brand Nubian and Moloko ó HBMS espoused the virtues of proper hygiene and etiquette while trekking through trip-hop, turntablism, and old-school rap jams. Although it was planned as a one-off, Paul and Nakamura returned as HBMS in late 2004 with White People (Elektra).

"Itís been a little while between making records," Merriweather deadpans, "but a few years in handsome time is a lot different from a few years in regular-people time."

"Aw man, itís true, time flies," Rockwell continues. "You look at your watch and youíre like, wow, 2005? It was just 2000. See, people usually gauge your success by your records, which is understandable, but thatís just part of what weíre doiní. We occasionally do lecture tours at stadiums with Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins opening up for us, and man, that really takes up a chunk of time."

Back to reality. The pair were indeed busy in the interim: Prince Paul dropped a solo album, Politics of the Business (Razor & Tie), in 2003 and Automator participated to varying degrees in Deltron 3030, Lovage, and, most famously, Gorillaz. Last year, however, the duo revisited the School concept, hosting, they claim, several ritzy dinner parties for White People collaborators. Guests included Mike Patton, Franz Ferdinandís Alex Kapranos, Pharrell Williams, Jack Johnson, RZA, Chan "Cat Power" Marshall, Grand Wizard Theodore, Barrington Levy, Del tha Funky Homosapien, John Oates (of Hall & Oates), and members of Linkin Park, Black Sheep, Deftones, and the Mars Volta. Saturday Night Live vets Tim Meadows and Father Guido Sarducci were also aboard to anchor the skits that pepper HBMSís stylish fusion of indie rap, neo-soul, downtempo grooves, blunted reggae, and semi-creepy electro-rock.

"It all came about real natural," Rockwell says. "Itís like this ó letís say me and you, right, weíre sittiní around drinkiní some bubbly, eatiní some caviar, talking about, I dunno, the last woman you got pregnant. So that becomes the topic, and Iím like, ĎI donít really know where youíre cominí from but I can kinda understand.í So we talk about it some more and then we put it to music. Itís not necessarily ĎWell, you do this and Iíll do thisí; itís a very natural back-and-forth."

"We like to think of the back-and-forth as womenís beach volleyball," adds Merriweather.

On stage, HBMS employ a three-piece band while Paul and Nakamura man turntables. Many of White Peopleís guests appear as animated characters on video screens to "perform" their parts. Beefy, British-accented HBMS adjunct instructor Manfred Winters hosts, and a handful of the albumís vocalists do turn up in the flesh: rapper Casual and crooner Josh Haden showed up in San Francisco, Patton and Black Sheepís Dres brought the house down in Boulder.

"Whatís cool about our show," Rockwell observes, "is that it changes from place to place because not only are some of the people up on the stage different but the people weíre interacting with in the crowd are different. For example, a Bostonian is not the same as an, uh, . . . Nate, what do you call these people where weíre at now?"


"Yeah, Omahanians. Their style is definitely different, so the mood of the show is different. The challenge isnít really to re-create the music. We can do that no problem. The real challenge is to try to get everyone to at least feel as handsome as we do by the end of the show. Thatís what makes it all worthwhile."

Handsome Boy Modeling School headline this Tuesday, April 19, at the Paradise, 967 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston; call (617) 228-6000.

Issue Date: April 15 - 21, 2005
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