Prince Paul’s career is a fine testament to the lure of concept. The latest step on the genius producer’s journey is Negroes On Ice, a project conceived as a stage-show, with his son, P. Forreal, holding down spotlight duties. It’s toured around the country to much acclaim. But translated into an album, Negroes On Ice unfortunately slumps to something quivering between an audio book and a series of unsatisfying bitty raps.
The album kicks into life with “This Is What Happened,” which features P. Forreal, setting up the premise by explaining he’s about to recount the improbable tale of his last week. As the banter begins, the experience harks back to the story-book skits that threaded De La Soul’s De La Soul Is Dead album together. (With a nice nod to this heritage, the song “Buddah Finger” even resurrects the same sample to obscure a curse word.) The production is impeccable, with the rappers-slash-voice-actors’ words coming through clear and professional.
But even accounting for the subjective nature of whether something is funny or not, the script fails to keep the laughs coming after a first listen. Negroes On Ice is duly packed with Hip Hop savvy references: there’s the Scarface (the rapper) edition of a car, Lil’ Mama dancing up in Harlem, ?uestlove’s afro, and a scene in Madison Square Garden that involves “Lebron James and Woody Allen slap-boxing for the 2Pac hologram benefit.” But the references are neither scathing enough to send-up the more flamboyantly ridiculous face of modern Rap nor slapstick enough to conjure uproarious images. Too often they also slip into tired cliches: The Indian taxi driver section of “Live From Lebron” is barely any better than Black Sheep’s old “Go To Hail” skit.
These vocal skits that move the plot along are interspersed with songs, but the back-and-forth interplay between skit and song never gels. The spoken parts aren’t strong enough to stand up to a repeated listen, and the songs themselves come off as an afterthought. Breeze Brewin adds some much needed finesse to the perky “Steppin'” and “Snitch,” but they mainly seem like filler to pad out a narrative that never comes to life without the visuals of a stage show.
Negroes On Ice is an entertaining idea from Prince Paul – it’s just not a concept that needed to be shoe-horned into the medium of an album. Still, had it been an iPad app, it could have been transformed into one doozy of a Negroes On Ice Read-Along Story Book.