Negroes on Ice is the latest brainchild of oddball hip-hop producer Prince Paul. From its title, the project sounds like it should be some sort of scathing spoof on Jay-Z and Kanye West‘s “Niggas In Paris” phenomenon. Instead, it’s an unorthodox hip-hop play co-starring Prince Paul’s son, P Forreal, and featuring video cameos from Paul’s rapping and acting pals. In many ways, it’s the natural culmination of Prince Paul’s career: In the past, he helped invent the hip-hop skit with his work on De La Soul‘s debut, Three Feet High & Rising, and penned his own album-length rap musical, A Prince Among Thieves. So ahead of the Negroes on Ice mini-tour, which comprises free-entry shows in Minneapolis, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Hive caught up with Prince Paul to talk about the RZA‘s sense of humor, having Ice-T chase after his son, and the all-important question of how Kanye West would fare if hip-hop transformed into the staged sport of wrestling.
The title Negroes on Ice has nothing to do with the winter season, right?
[Laughs.] You know, for one black people do not like ice skating or winter, so the title is pretty ironic. On that you are correct.
How did you come up with the title?
It was a collective effort between me and my son. We were supposed to do a DJ show at the Knitting Factory, and instead of going by individual names we thought about coming up with something for a group. We kinda both came up with the name Negroes on Ice and just laughed and laughed about it. I wish I could sit down and tell you about how there was this 1920s figure skater, but, well, it’s just a name that me and my son came up with that seems to make people smile as they have no clue as to what it is.
“Behind closed doors they’ll laugh, but on the outside they might not want to support something that has negroes and ice combined.”
Did you consider any other names while brainstorming?
Uh, man, I can’t think we had any other names! That’s the only one that really came to mind that I can think of that we thought was appropriate — well, you know, it’s inappropriate but appropriate. Like, people see the name and they’re interested but then it’s like, “Wait, should I be seeing something like this?” Behind closed doors they’ll laugh, but on the outside they might not want to support something that has negroes and ice combined. The play has negroes in it but it has very little to do with ice.
So how would you describe Negroes on Ice?
The show is, I would call it a one-man show that has music in it. The music isn’t the main portion of it. It’s more like if you’ve seen John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown, but more ghetto and like an Adult Swim version of it. There’s music that’s implemented in it, but you don’t come to see if for the music. It’s a story and the acting that’s at the forefront. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time — since back when I saw Whoopi Goldberg’s one woman show, I was like, “Yo, this would be kinda cool if I myself could do something like that.” Then as time went on, music happened, life happened, I got old, and then my son comes along and starts writing stories and acting them out. This was back when MySpace was still popular and he started building this weird following; all his friends and kids knew the stories. So I suggested we write this one-man show together, and he can be the front man because he’s more appealing. You know, kids are young and reckless and will say anything! I’m older, I don’t want to do certain things.
What happens in the show? Can you give us a quick outline of the plot?
It’s an exaggerated day in the life of my son from the time he wakes up in the story until he reaches the present time in the show. It leads the story all the way to real time. It implements songs that carry the story along, but it’s also based on interaction between me and him. In real life, my son tells a whole lot of stories — basically lies! — and it gets more and more exaggerated as time goes on. It starts off from where he wakes up in the morning with this girl to going to the RZA’s house to Freddie Foxxx‘s house to where Ice-T chases after him — a whole lot of bizarre events. It’s supported by music and we have a board with sound effects and a visual screen that shows details and visuals of the things he expresses in his travels.
Why is Ice-T chasing your son?
To get the gist of the Ice-T scene you have to see the story. Ice-T is definitely … It’s just random! Erick Sermon‘s also in there. Everyone more or less plays a character.
How do the guest cameos work on stage?
The set up is it’s kinda like I’m in the stage left, [my son's] in the front with the microphone, and I have a DJ set and as he’s talking it’s being scored and the music cuts in and out and the big screen cuts in and out. So he’ll be like, “I was at the RZA’s house,” and RZA will pop up on the screen. Everybody who appears in the play, like RZA, Ice-T, Erick Sermon, Freddie Foxxx, Rosie Perez, Michael Rappaport, Chris Rock, Tim Meadows, and this porn star named Jack Napier, I’m very thankful to them for their participation and for loaning me their voice for the performance.
What’s your favorite piece of dialogue from the guest scenes?
Probably RZA’s — but I’m not gonna repeat it seeing as I don’t curse like that. [Laughs.] There’s a few expletives in there! I’ve known RZA since the ’80s, since before the whole Wu-Tang phenomenon; we’ve been cool and friends and he has to be the funniest, most dry humor guy ever. Some people can’t see past Wu-Tang, but it’s just how funny how he is in conversation. Even if he’s being serious, RZA’s gonna be funny based on his delivery alone.
Can you remember the first time you performed the play?
We tested it out in 2010 at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in Manhattan. It was just a rough sketch to get a gist of re-writing and making it better and fixing some of the short-comings. Now we’re at a place where we think it’s pretty great.
What sort of reaction did you get that night at the U.C.B?
Yo, people were just like, “That was bizarre!” That’s what I was going for. I was going for wanting it to be entertaining and something people have never seen anything like it before. As long as people are entertained and I never had anything it was compared to, that’s the vibe I was going for. It was designed for people with short attention spans and it’s fast and goes all over the place.
Did much change from that first performance then?
We did make changes and I think a lot of the jokes are rewritten. I think some of the songs that we have in there have been edited down and made more friendly to fit into a better time frame so it doesn’t exceed an hour and some change.
What’s the worst joke you got rid of?
Oh, god, the worst joke… It was a whole scene about Arnold Schwarzenegger chasing my son and the car blew up and he tried to save my son. It was just horrible. It was so bad we re-did it and even forgot that it was in there. It was like, “How come there’s this scene? Was there something in the middle?” Looking back at it, it was horrible, it was very bad!
Why do so many hip-hop artists shy away from embracing the humor in the music?
I think people are comfortable in their lanes. Historically, for myself, I get very bored. There’s a lot of been there, done that, heard that before, and I like to challenge myself and go to the next thing. I think that a lot of people are comfortable or they’re scared of not being accepted. That’s just people in general — it’s why people wear the same fashion and talk the same slang and want to be part of the in-crowd and a lot of people get caught up in those cycles. So people take hip-hop very serious. I think that taking hip-hop too seriously is probably like the death and stagnation of hip-hop itself. More so than any other genre, it’s pitched around being cool and trendy and now a lot of the artists are so in character that they don’t realize and it becomes like wrestling. I mean, look at Nicki Minaj — how extreme can you get? And DMX was barking like a dog! But people get stuck into character. There’s humor there but they’re too serious to see it. It’s kinda upsetting that they can’t get more out of the life.”
If rap was wrestling, who do you think the current world champion would be?
Today, it might be a very typical common answer, but it would depend on two things. If it was brute strength, it might be Melle Mel. If it was begin able to promote and afford yourself, like running a campaign and going cross country, it would be Kanye West.
So if Kanye and Melle Mel squared off in the ring, who would win?
If those two squared off they’d probably be smart enough to get together and help make a fake fight and make a lot of money. It would be a tie. Kanye and 50 Cent managed to sell a million records on one day each, so I’m sure Kanye and Melle would find a way to make a lot of money off people!