Prince Paul’s Reopening the Handsome Boy Modeling School
There are few producers in Hip-Hop as innovative—or influential—as Prince Paul. Starting his career with Brooklyn’s Stetsasonic in the mid-’80s, Paul went on to produce groundbreaking albums for De La Soul, before founding horrorcore icons Gravediggaz with Frukwan, Poetic, and Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA. But even with those successes, Prince Paul is perhaps best-known—and loved—for his work with Handsome Boy Modeling School, an ongoing collaboration with fellow producer Dan the Automator. With a new Handsome Boy Modeling School record in the works, O.N.S hosted Prince Paul at our SoHo store to talk hip-hop, style, and of course, the meaning handsomeness.
So, we heard you’ve got a new Handsome Boy Modeling School album in the works. Now that everyone acts like a model with their own iPhones and Instagram and stuff, what will the message of the new record be? Do you think people will still be able to see humor in it or is everyone too self serious now?
Prince Paul: Yes, there is a plan to open the school back up. There is a definite need for handsomeness in a rapidly growing non-handsome Society. The message of the new album will be good hygiene, impeccable manners, and how to take a proper selfie on a luxury yacht with one hand holding a full glass of champagne and not spilling a drop on your suede blazer. Myself and Nathaniel Merriweather look forward to enrolling new students. Anyway, who said there was any humor in handsomeness?
Speaking of, humor has always been a big part of your music, but it’s never seemed corny. How do you keep the humor legit, without going overboard and getting in the way of the music?
I don’t think there is as much humor as people would think in my music. It is all indicative of my somewhat juvenile brain. Thank you for the compliment, by the way. I don’t really look for the humor, but I do love to have fun… well unless I’m doing a comedy album of course. The gift and the curse is people happened to think what I do is funny so the question is are they laughing at me or with me? Hmmm…
You’re from Long Island, right? New York used to be the epicenter of Hip-Hop, and Long Island had the “Strong Island” thing going. Now that Hip-Hop’s moved mostly down south and online, do you ever worry that Long Island’s amazing legacy in Hip-Hop will be forgotten?
I think for Hip-Hop in Long Island, it’s legacy has already been etched in stone. So I never really worry about any other area taking over the music. It’s hard to have a bigger impact than Public Enemy, EPMD, Rakim, and De La Soul had. These Long Island groups have been a major influence on music culture in general and not just in hip hop music. It’s almost like the Bronx being the birthplace of Hip-Hop—you can never take that away.
Some of your most beloved works are full of samples. Now that samples are so expensive to clear, where do you go looking for inspiration?
The cool thing about sampling nowadays is a website that I have been involved with called Tracklib. You can actually clear your samples online, in-house. You can also choose from thousands of songs all categorized and digitized. To me this has been revolutionary. There is also a thing called musicians, you can never beat them when it comes to making music and being inspired.
Throughout your career, you’ve always integrated so many styles of music into your work. So, outside of Hip-Hop, what’s your favorite kind of music? Who are your favorite artists
I am really partial to country and western. You can’t get better than Conway Twitty, Roy Clark, and obviously a legend like Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black.” I would recommend anyone to go find old footage of “Hee Haw” and indulge.
You’ve also worked with such a wide range of artists outside of Hip-Hop, including Barrington Levy and John Oates of Hall and Oates. What is it about your musical style that allows you to so successfully work with such a wide range of people?
I would say our common denominator would be love of the music. In some cases for musicians, it would be drugs but since I don’t do any, it has to be the love of the music. This obviously transcends any differences we all have. I can even make music with the aliens if needed. In all actuality, I might have already.
Hip-Hop has been so influential in terms of style and fashion over the years. What’s your favorite item of clothing to wear?
Hip-Hop has definitely been influential in fashion from the time I was a kid. We didn’t have clothing designed for urban-wear, so we made clothes cool by putting different styles and things together. I would also say my favorite item to wear would always be baseball caps. It’s the perfect complement for any bad hair day or covering up a not-so-handsome face. Just recently, I got a really cool green Superfly hat and a nice linen suit. You can’t get more handsome than that. I’m thinking this might be the new favorite!
Be sure to follow Prince Paul on IG here.
Photography: Eduardo Brassai