Not many producers have the kind of pull to bring together artists as diverse as Beastie Boys rapper Mike D, old-school hip-hoppers Brand Nubian and techno-punk mastermind Alec Empire.
"Not many producers" are Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (Dr. Octagon) and Prince Paul (De La Soul) -- the men behind the all-star project dubbed Handsome Boy Modeling School.
"We basically wanted to do an album that had some interesting combinations on it and was cutting edge," Nakamura said. Based on beats and music created by the San Francisco-based Nakamura and New Yorker Paul in their respective studios, the album will be a who's who of rap and alternative rock.
The finished recording is expected to be released in the fall by Tommy Boy Records but is not yet on the label's schedule; the working title is So How's Your Girl?
Among the tracks Nakamura said the duo have already completed are: "Magnetizing" from Hieroglyphics rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien; "Holy Calamity" with turntablists DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) and Mixmaster Mike (Schwartz) of the Invisbl Skratch Piklz crew; and "Metaphysical," with vocals and music from Miho Hatori of art-rockers Cibo Matto and the Beasties' Mike D (born Michael Diamond).
"It's just a bunch of people doing things," Nakamura joked. "Me and Paul produced the whole thing, so it has our flavor, with a whole series of between-song skits about the [fictional] modeling school."
Also contributing to the album on several songs are Beastie Boys collaborator and solo artist Money Mark (Nishita) and turntablist Kid Koala (born Eric San). Brand Nubian are heard on the track "Old Fashioned."
One of the more unusual combinations on the album has rapper EL P of New York underground duo Company Flow teaming up with Alec Empire, leader of the German music collective Digital Hardcore, on the song "Megaton B-Boy." Truth be told, however, the two never even entered a studio together, according to EL P.
"I haven't really heard it since I laid down my vocals awhile ago," 23-year-old EL P, who declined to give his real name, said. "I did my part in Dan's studio, whipped up three verses, ate some burritos, went to strip clubs and was out. It was a real challenge because it was the fastest beat I've ever had to rap over."
EL P has since met Empire -- author of such frenetic songs as "Nobody Gets Out Alive" (RealAudio excerpt) -- and they have become friendly. Regardless, EL P admitted to being as excited as anyone to hear how the long-distance collaboration would work out. "The whole key is having a bunch of talented people at the mercy of two insane ones," EL P said, paying tribute to Nakamura and Paul. "They've both achieved a level of experience and musicality that's beyond hip-hop."
Another unexpected rock/rap crossover slated for the album features singer Roisin Murphy, from U.K.-based electro-pop duo Moloko, and rapper J-Live dueting on the song "The Truth."
A pair of unheralded underground rappers also contributed to the album, according to Nakamura. Encore, an unknown from the San Francisco Bay Area, performs on the song "Waterworld," while Sensational from New York is featured on "The Torch Song Trilogy." Nakamura said Radiohead singer Thom Yorke also is expected to contribute vocals to an as-yet-untitled song.
Nakamura and Paul also are working on a more melodic collaborative project, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which features Dust Brothers member Mike Simpson."[The Handsome Boy] album is a bit more cutting edge in the sense that it's more experimental," Nakamura said, "[with] these interesting combinations of stuff like Digital Hardcore ... much slower and less distorted than usual ... and underground rappers mixed in with singers."