Introducing ‘Notes from Mr. Sandman‘ – a column slapping a spotlight on lyricists overlooked, under appreciated, or just plain criminally slept on. Or like a man named Nas once said, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Enter Mr. Sandman with what y’all missed while chasing the REM dragon.
Take one good long look at Paul Barman and the last thing you’d think he does is rap. Accounting maybe, or insurance. Kindergarten teacher even. But rapper? Never in a million years. Hear him speak and it’s even more unbelievable. But like mom told us years ago you can never judge a book by its cover, which is true only half the time, but in this case totally applicable. He’s like the Steve Nash of hip-hop – a mop-top scrub who looks like he’s never played the game in his life, but when called upon is an absolute magician.
Listen closely to Barman and you’ll hear just how unorthodox he is, the way he layers his structures and the dual, sometimes triple, meanings of his verses throws conventional wisdom completely out the door. He’s an innovator and is totally unafraid to experiment with form. Take his interview on WFMU, where he tells listeners about the time he sat down with the RZA – all in verse: [LISTEN]
For a more academic display of Barman’s lyrical skills you can just as easily look to his explanation of the double-acrostic lyrics structure used on “Back on a White Horse:”
Both are examples of how Barman – a graduate of Brown University – is not afraid to go out on a limb. And while he is sort of an oddball, there is a faction of eccentric souls who seem to understand exactly where he’s coming from. Prince Paul featured him on Itstrumental, Masta Ace roomed with him on Disposable Arts, and him and Doom are just like two villainous peas in one pod.
His last full-length was an even deeper bag with collaborations coming from ?uestlove and Michel Gondry. When asked if any particular memory stood out about the album Barman responded over email, “Yes, on ‘It Can all Be Taken Away,‘ I already had the lyrics on index cards. Michel was fiddling with the optigan at the studio between songs and I loved the little riff he came up with. I said, ‘Keep doing that!’ And he tracked it. And I sang to it but I sang past his recording and kept going. So he changed it to piano where thus optigan drops off, while Stu Bass added his beautiful bass:” [LISTEN]
It’s been five long years since Barman’s released an album, and it seems now more than ever rap is in need of his heroics. There have been a few very promising guest appearances with fellow lyrical swordsman Open Mike Eagle, which’ll set the stage for a larger collaboration. “DJ Memory Man at this very moment is compiling New Moon Kaboom rarities and a remix mixtape,” said Barman. “Open Mike Eagle and I are embarked on a collaboration duetogram and [I've] almost wrapped the Bar?uest EP.”
The forthcoming jams will hopefully spark a newfound interest in Paul. But until then we can always dip back to songs like “I’m Frickin’ Awesome” to see why he’s one of the best storytellers ever to pick up the mic: [LISTEN]