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A cavalcade of hip-hop cameos

December 15, 2004|Natalie Nichols

Handsome Boy Modeling School

"White People" (Atlantic/Elektra)

**

"Handsome Boy Modeling School" is the brainchild of Nathaniel Merriweather and Chest Rockwell, the alter-egos of noted producers Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and Prince Paul, respectively. The faux-suave duo's second album plays off hip-hop cliches -- tons of guest stars, silly between-song skits -- while examining just how long hip-hop culture's reach has grown.

The playful, impressive guest list includes Mike "Mr. Bungle" Patton, turntablist pioneer Grand Wizard Theodore, David Lynch chanteuse Julee Cruise, British jazz newbie Jamie Cullum and many others. (What, no Queens of the Stone Age?)

The pair comes up with seemingly endless ways to mix hip-hop with rock, blues, folk, R&B, etc. The single "The World's Gone Mad," with Barrington Levy, Del tha Funky Homosapien and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos, fetchingly fuses languid reggae with urgent, socially conscious vocals. Other standouts include the heavy rap/funk of "A Day in the Life," featuring members of Mars Volta and the Wu-Tang Clan, and the lounge-soul tune "I've Been Thinking," with Cat Power getting sultry, like a huskier Sade.

It's all very fun and creative, but, ironically, the duo fall into the common hip-hop traps of being short on actual hooks and not knowing when to edit themselves. Like so many hip-hop albums these days, "White People" ends up going on too long and not being quite as clever as its makers might think it is.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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