Truly an esoteric sample freak’s wet dream, yet it sacrifices none of its boom-bap-ness and leaves nothing wanting when it comes to fire bars.
Frank Zappa once asked if humor belongs in music. The hip-hop staple So…How’s Your Girl?, now 20 years old, answers that with a resounding yes. After all, they were inspired by some of the best comedy of the era, taking their name from a particularly wigged-out episode of Chris Elliott’s loopy sitcom “Get A Life.”
The group consists of two figures who drove some of the most influential albums in hip-hop. As a producer, Dan the Automator has worked with Gorillaz, Del the Funky Homosapien and Kool Keith in his Dr. Octagon guise. As an MC, Prince Paul has generated his own solo classics (1999’s A Prince among Thieves) as well as creative collaborations with De La Soul, Gravediggaz and MC Paul Barman. As the tongue-in-cheek Handsome Boy Modeling School, their 1999 debut So…How’s Your Girl? was a landmark boasting a potpourri of guests and laugh-out-loud rhymes a-plenty.
Needless to say, quotable moments abound. “Dispensing these rhymes like Pez.” Or “I spit that major play saliva, tailor-made for cypher sole survivor.” Or “My rhymes carry like the weight on Barry.” On tracks such as “The Projects (P Jays),” the humor coexists effortlessly with poignant social commentary (“See ain’t a day out here, ever boring/ Where gunshots keep you up instead of heavy snoring.” The duo revels in polysyllabic wordplay on “Metaphysical (A Good Day),” whose most extraordinary line might be “Investor’s toxic fumigation symmetry cochlear resort.” “Megaton B-Boy 2000” features an extraordinary galaxy-brained El-P verse that is virtually impossible to quote or paraphrase. Not to mention that Fans of Dr. Octagonecologyst will not be strangers to delightful interludes such as the hilarious “Look at This Face (Oh My God They’re Gorgeous),” which samples the television episode that gave the band its name.
Tracks such as “Once Again (Here to Kick One for You),” featuring Grand Puba and Sadat X, are more overtly geared toward lyrical wordplay. Others such as “The Truth” showcase Dan’s soulful production or, on “Holy Calamity (Bear Witness II),” DJ Shadow-assisted turntablism wizardry. Elsewhere, no less than Don Novello (as Father Guido Sarducci) and fellow SNL castmate Tim Meadows show up to deliver the spoken goods.
Throughout, the album’s sheer musical and lyrical invention is nothing short of sobering, 20 years later, to a contemporary listener—it is truly an esoteric sample freak’s wet dream, yet it sacrifices none of its boom-bap-ness and leaves nothing wanting when it comes to fire bars.
But ultimately, the album’s most thrilling element remains its unabashed eccentricity. We inhabit an era in which eccentricity and flamboyance are (thankfully!) no longer verboten in the hip-hop era. And there is no doubt a longer and more nuanced story to tell about how such elements have always existed, in one form or another, throughout the idiom’s history. But it is hard not to pine for the unique extravagance of certain ‘90s albums–several of which bear the imprint of these Handsome Boy graduates.
Whether they are aware of it or not, several of today’s weirdos owe a great debt to innovators like Dan and Paul and the many others who made So…How’s Your Girl? the album it is. Look at these faces: they are pioneers, Magellans of hip-hop’s Id who charted a course toward horizons we are still exploring today.