Paul White is a very common name. The most prominent Paul Whites make up a small club: one was a twentieth-century cardiologist, another the news director of CBS during World War II, a third worked as a missionary and was known as the “Jungle Doctor,” a few more are sports stars, among others. Paul White, the south London-based producer of often lilting and manic beats, is an outlier among other noteworthy Paul Whites, mostly because of his profession but also because he seems to choose obscurity over recognition.
White selected a cast of MCs to populate the vocal portion of his latest full-length project Rapping With Paul White, laying the lyrical musings of Detroit natives like Marv Won and Guilty Simpson and fellow Londoners Tranqill and Jehst. Their voices don’t sit atop the beats White crafted so much as alongside them, because White’s music is undeniably attention-grabbing. Crowded with goofy samples, a jangle of nearly ambient noises and layers of sound that come and go, White’s music never lets guest artists take over a song; during “Rotten Apples,” Tranqill’s high and throaty voice is overpowered by a sound like a saw cutting through the track, its powerchord-ish whine building and dying away.
White’s beats open macho, paranoid ghetto-blasting raps to a new audience drawn in by White’s forward-thinking sound-clashing. His is the hip-hop of the future, a not entirely graceful effort to marry tribal music with hints of electronic video game melodies, haunting Middle Eastern chants and moments of jazz in sometimes manic, sometimes thoughtful rhythms. White isn’t one to smooth together different influences; rather, he lets them coexist in merry cacophony, resulting in tracks like “One Of Life’s Pleasures.” Between samples from Rick Wakeman’s epic ballad The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table the collapsing trill of a synth, and a stop-and-go beat, Danny Brown delivers off-color lines about sloppily seducing immigrants, skinny jeans, and OD-ing that would never reach too far from Detroit without the goofy, far-reaching manic flavor of White’s influence.
Sampling a verse from a ridiculous 1970s ballad like Myths And Legends is a staple of the humor with which White splices his songs. One sample at the beginning of “A Weird Day” sounds suspiciously like Chuckie from the 1990s kiddie TV show Rugrats, and another in “The Doldrums” could only be lifted from a passage of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth read aloud. Rapping With Paul White is part Afrobeat and/or ambient instrumental hip-hop, part energetic and demented rap, and part scavenger hunt of all the painfully obscure samples that sprinkle through White’s beats.
Folk singer Nancy Elizabeth provides the bulk of the feminine touch on Rapping With Paul White in the closing track “Wiley Walruses.” A little twee, a little woozy, and entirely enchanting, her poem rises and falls above White’s ebbing ambient backdrop, making certain words stand out more than others: “cold,” crawl,” “cucumbers,” “tedious bloomers,” “simple,” “porcupine,” “much remains,” “lingering.” Like other songs on White’s album, the lyrics never control or determine the song, but become a part of the environment White created.