Long before Derek Zoolander unsheathed his blue ice, the tongue-in-cheek male models Chest Rockwell and Nathanial Merriwether (second cousin to Antoine Merriwether of In Living Color‘s “Men On” fame, though Nat might deny it) released one of 1999’s most celebrated hip-hop album-cum-infomercials, So…How’s Your Girl? A wild patchwork of grimy, seemingly found beats from producers Prince Paul and Dan the Automator (aliases Chest and Nat, respectively), austere chamber music samples, and testaments to the Handsome Boy Modeling School’s superior academic facilities from Chris Elliot and Father Guido Sarducci, the album was one of a kind, like Quasimoto’s The Unseen or Prince Paul’s own A Prince Among Thieves. So what made them think they could get away with a follow-up?
Even Anna Nicole Smith got a second chance this year, and that tired colostomy bag of a model, pickled with liquor and candy, made her first breakthrough years before Chest and Nat. Father Guido, whose cameo on the first album was a hysterical coup, is back, and maybe it’s because the name of the album is White People (the one demographic of the hip-hop listening contingent that I doubt the two should worry about having ignored, what with their previous album’s Bach samples and all), or maybe it’s because he’s still the only Handsome Boy alum who appears to have hit any success post-graduation—his role here is twice as juicy, having been blessed with both the album’s intro as well as its lengthy outro. Sandwiched in between is another fast-paced whirlwind of gloss (the brassy, high society fanfares behind “If It Wasn’t For You”), floss (“It’s Like That,” with wicked heady acid bass squiggles and a shout-out to “election time”) and toss (a truly irritating downtempo pseudo-“Inner City Blues” number called “The World’s Gone Mad,” which is egregiously at odds with the rest of the album’s classy odes to fabulousness).
The structural theme of both albums is that songs are treated as accessories. The guests are mixed and matched in compelling, paparazzi-catching combinations. (Cat Power?! Where did she come from?) Which makes it all the more surprising that the bulk of the album’s second act is the most notable of college radio hip-hop clichés: the ambitious—make that epic—symphonic suite, here billed as a sequel to the first album’s decidedly non-epic “Rock And Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This).” I credit The Roots for starting this trend (and bringing it to its apex with Phrenology‘s “Water”), but there’s something about Chest and Nat’s addiction to dramatics and façades that validates the operatic conceit, as the song moves from “Ode To Joy” to “The Rockafeller Skank” to emo-whiny punk-pop with the urgency of, well, a male model ducking backstage to change outfits in 45 seconds flat.
The fatigue of “Rock And Roll…Part 2” sends the album into a tailspin, with the menace of “The Hours,” the regret of “Greatest Mistake,” and the parody of Tim Meadows (milking the old Ladies’ Man routine yet again) bringing us back to Father Guido, who brought So…How’s Your Girl? to a memorably saucy, sexy conclusion. By the end of the crises of White People, he admits that his career as a beautiful person isn’t exactly as glamorous as he led us to believe previously. In fact, when he confesses that he has been turned down for a job as a hand model, it truly feels more tragic than an entire album of ghetto horror stories. “The World’s Gone Mad” indeed.