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Handsome Boy Modeling School 

White People (Atlantic)

Since Handsome Boy Modeling School's lone release in 1999, high-concept hip-hop albums with a sense of humor have become common enough that it's easy to forget the role Chest Rockwell and Nathaniel Meriwether played in developing this subgenre. The faux-stylish studs (aka super producers Prince Paul and Dan "the Automator" Nakamura) emptied their imaginations and Rolodexes on So . . . How's Your Girl?, creating an alternate musical universe with room for everyone from Mike D to Father Guido Sarducci.

Yet while the follow-up, White People, is even more diverse -- RZA, meet the Mars Volta; Pharrell, this is Julee Cruise -- paradoxically, it sounds more coherent, dominated by a slow, subtle shuffle and several tracks (including the Jack Johnson vehicle "Breakdown" and "Greatest Mistake," an R&B duet between John Oates and jazz whiz kid Jamie Cullum) that are songs first, production showcases second. It's also no comedy record; aside from the skits by Father Guido and ex-SNL-er Tim Meadows, a wistful feeling runs through White People, beginning with the bleak, reggaefied single "The World's Gone Mad." Thanks to the tons of clients served by its proprietors and the simple passage of time, this school's beats and punch lines are no longer cutting-edge -- but its well-tailored hip-hop is always in style.

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