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Prison Rap

May 03, 1987|Patrick Goldstein

The burg of Flora, Ill. (pop.: 5,400), is running out of money, has 20% unemployment and desperately wants the state government to build a prison in town to stimulate the local economy. Just how desperately? The town fathers have cut a music video, which accompanies a rap tune called "Is We Is?! (The Prison Rap)."

Made for $850 at a local TV station, the video (and song) features the Barbed Wire Choir, whose members include 65-year-old Mayor Charles Overstreet, the police chief, the local probation officer and other civic celebs.

(The chorus goes: "Is we is or is we isn't, going to get ourselves a prison!")

The video attracted British pop entrepreneur (and novelty fancier) Martin Lewis, who once managed the Portsmouth Sinfonia, billed as "the world's worst orchestra." Lewis has convinced Rhino Records (home of such novelty hits as "Take a Walk on the Kosher Side" by Gefilte Joe and the Fish) to release the song and video.

"I really fell in love with this project the first minute I heard about it," Lewis said. "It's right out of the tradition of Spike Jones."

Lewis says the rap theme's already aired on MTV and "Good Morning America" and he's negotiating with several late-night talk shows.

The spectacle continues Tuesday when the town will stage an "Is You Is" Day, to feature a parade led by a high-school band dressed in convict stripes, which will perform a medley of prison hits, including "Jailhouse Rock."

"After the performances are over, I'm going to present the town with a platinum record," Lewis said. "It seemed the least we could do. They've already given America a million laughs, which is just as good as selling a million records."

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