Published May 18, 2018While some MCs take pride in freestyling fresh from their subconscious, and others carefully etch out each and every syllable, MC Paul Barman combines both. Stranger still, he does so in a room so dark, he can't see a single word he's writing down.
It's a monk-like ritual that the New York rapper by no means always employs, but has proven useful on some bars for his new album, (((Echo Chamber))). It all came about when he began attending trendy sound-bath healing sessions, where participants lie on mats next to a practitioner that makes ambient noise in the dark with brass bowls and other items.
"It's hard not to fall asleep, but if you can help it, you go into a zone, after which I'll write down what comes to me in a notebook I have next to me," Barman tells Exclaim!, adding that penmanship can be problematic in a pitch black room. However, he "practices it enough that what I write is legible to me when the lights go back on. And after that, it's like my lyrics are this whole other thing."
It wasn't like Barman needed to take such drastic steps to liven up his lyrics. He's long garnered praise from hardcore fans, and mixed reviews from some critics, for his dense lyricism. So it may come as a surprise to see major names like MF DOOM, Questlove and Mark Ronson as producers on this oddball MC's first album in nearly a decade. Indeed, (((Echo Chamber))) follows Barman's sophomore effort Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud. His 2002 debut studio album, Paullelujah!, meanwhile, left AllMusic saying: "As a rapper, MC Paul Barman makes a pretty good humourist, though he's actually more clever than he is funny."
Barman proves just as challenging and inscrutable an interviewee as he is an MC, describing those all-star team-ups thusly: "We've met each other, and over the years the music just happened. I don't have a better story than that."
Thankfully, like listening to his music, a bit of patience and persistence yields endless dividends when speaking with Barman. After a few more questions, the ever-enigmatic rapper finally divulges that Questlove is an "incredibly generous, sensitive and attuned presence."
Questlove especially brings those attributes to bear on the (((Echo Chamber))) standout, "(((Oh Snap)))," arguably the best of the six tracks that the Roots producer helmed on this LP. His instrumental features ho-hum keys and percussion that sounds brittle to the point of breaking, the perfect foundation for Barman to unflinchingly confess some of his darkest resentments about the pressures of parenthood driving a wedge between he and his wife.
"Very few people are honest about parenting," Barman says. "So you feel crazy and worry you're having these anxieties all alone."
Such frankness should also provide solace to fans facing similar anxieties. And while "(((Oh Snap)))" covers the downside of parenthood, another key (((Echo Chamber))) track called "(((Age War)))" details its galvanizing aspects. Barman recalls how, alongside a Questlove drum line that's perfectly suited for marching, he endeavoured to "tap into the child in me that has not changed one iota. And it also taps into the anger I feel as a parent, because the world has not gotten particularly better for my children."
On the song, he tells baby boomers to "Drop dead yesterday or maybe sooner / you created tumours" before laying out a fiery litany of calamities that our elders have left us and our children to inherit. "I know if I were the same age as my kids, it would be my favourite song," Barman says. "In some ways, this album is meant to make them proud."
(((Echo Chamber))) is out now via Mello Music Group.