I read an article the other day concerning Puff Daddy’s latest project, a concept album called Last Train to Paris which will tell a love story with an accompanying film dropping later this year. No word yet on if Kanye West is planning on biting the general aesthetic to make a far superior album, but one thing we can know ahead of time is it will in no way shape or form be able to fuck with what is arguably Hip Hop’s greatest concept record, (unless we’re counting 6 Feet Deep) former Stetasonic member “Prince” Paul Huston’s A Prince Among Thieves. The album is a Greek tragedy, a spoof of the tired hood film genre, a satire of the industry circa 1999, a great record that could only have come from Rap’s smartest weirdo. Paul brought together an all star roster of Golden Age legends including Chubb Rock, De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Sadat X and Kool Keith for his movie on wax. The album came two years after his forgotten mind fuck of an instrumental LP Psychoanalysis. Here, perhaps because of the already experimental format and need for the songs to convey information conforming to the narrative Paul’s beats are as straightforward and uncluttered as his production gets. And it works. The ensemble cast is consistently great, De La Soul’s turn as crackheads with a gift for extended metaphor, Everlast as a crooked cop and Chubb Rock playing mob boss over a Biz Markie beat box are standouts but just barely as literally everyone brings it. The story is about an aspiring rapper named Tariq (The Juggaknots' Breezly Brewin) who needs to hustle up 1,000$ in a week to cut a demo he wants to pass on to the Rza. Paul brings the eternal chip on his shoulder to the project, the album is filled referential nostalgia in the production and subtle barbs at the gangster posturing he’s railed against throughout his career. Only here, with his critique framed as passing shots in the course of a story I find them more palatable then outright crying as we’ve seen on other projects like his mad, dense opus Buhloone Mindstate. The record ends on a dark note with the well intentioned protagonist getting his deal and life taken by his supposed friend “True”. Paul described Prince Among Thieves as a depression record and you can tell his stance on music, and perhaps life in general wasn’t particularly rosy. Paul was questioning his relevance at the time and asking himself whether his career had really made an impact on the music he had loved and you can sense these issues of dissatisfaction, this disappoint and disdain in the general tone of the album. Chris Rock, who revisited his crackhead Pookie on the album and worked with Paul before on his brilliant Roll With the New owns the film rights to A Prince Among Thieves. I hope before remaking another French New Wave movie as a glorified Tyler Perry sex comedy he takes a shot at this Hip Hopera that can’t even be called ahead of its time, because ten years later there’s still no one who’s attempted anything like it.
*Here's a bonus jam, the first single off Paul's new project with Souls of Mischief. Paul will be producing the entire album using nothing but late 80s technology. (SP-12, ASR, MPC, DAT) If this song is an indication of what's in store we may have another classic on our hands.