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Handsome Boy Modeling School

Sometimes, it's hard to take veteran producers Prince Paul and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura seriously. They adopt strange pseudonyms; they structured their previous album as a self-help book. Hell, they call themselves the Handsome Boy Modeling School.

But dig a little deeper, and you realize the duo's tongue-in-cheek antics actually demonstrate just how serious they are about hip hop. Even the skits on White People, the follow-up to 1999's So ... How's Your Girl?, are meant as a critique of mainstream hip hop's current obsession with all things shiny and busty. Add the likes of Del the Funky Homosapien, Jack Johnson and even Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno to the mix, and what's left is an experimental collection that stays true to the genre's origins while simultaneously pushing its boundaries.

The disc's standout track is the seductive "I've Been Thinking." Lingering horns, eerie piano riffs and the sultry Cat Power repeatedly purring "Be my boy" make Ashanti's "Foolish" sound like a lullaby for mildly retarded pre-teens.

Cuts like "First ... and Then," featuring Dres from Black Sheep, and "It's Like That," featuring Casual, are classic blends of New York-style wordplay laid over fist-fighting beats. Such tracks embody the carnivalesque braggadocio of hip-hop pioneers like Stetsasonic and, on a less in-your-face level, De La Soul, both of whom released Prince Paul-produced albums to great critical acclaim. It's just one more sign that the mad scientists of Handsome Boy Modeling School know where they're from, and where they're going. Even if they're only kidding.

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