Prince Paul will always be best known as the genius producer behind De La Soul's seminal 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. That album's inventiveness inadvertently established a blueprint for commercial hip hop that still exists today: using comedy sketches as interludes between songs. Saddled for years with textbook record-company woes, Paul has seen many others benefit from his designs, while he's been shut out of the genre's grandiose architecture of success. After parting ways with Tommy Boy, his label of nearly 15 years, over what he considers the mishandling of 1999's Prince Among Thieves, Paul has released Politics of the Business as an independent that comments on the sorry state of mainstream hip hop.
Paul produced Chris Rock's LPs Roll With the New (1997) and Bigger & Blacker (1999), which won him two Grammy Awards, and Politics of the Business plays upon his considerable comic abilities. It works as effectively as a comedy record as it does a musical one, because it lampoons everything from corporate greed to the materialistic/misogynistic boasts of today's rappers.
As a sarcastic response to the common technique of stacking an album with guest stars to create hit singles, Paul loads each song with collaborators, a veritable who's who of hip hop elders (Erick Sermon, Biz Markie, Guru) alongside respected young guns (Jean Grae, Kardinall Offishall, Planet Asia). Many of the contributions result in memorable, strong tunes that showcase a range of moods and tempos. Particularly interesting are the reality lessons provided by Ice-T and Chuck D on the title track, which weaves soundbites from the two MCs over a '70s-style pimp bump you'd expect to hear in a blaxploitation film. Taken together, the tracks form an overarching concept that's even tighter than the individual moments. Humor has always been a strong element of Prince Paul's productions, and Politics of the Business finds him at his most incisive and self-deprecating (“I'm thinking I can cross-promote this with the Gary Coleman Christmas album!” enthuses comedian Dave Chappelle about the record in the closing song, “A Life in the Day”). It almost makes you want to buy two copies and support the man in his David-and-Goliath battle.