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Sometime in the past decade or so, Prince Paul set out to become hiphop’s No. 1 curmudgeon. It probably wasn’t a conscious decision—the first glimmer of transformation came back when the New Yorker helped De La Soul make its cranky 1991 LP, De La Soul Is Dead. That record still managed to become an underappreciated classic, but since then, Paul’s efforts have become increasingly gripe-filled. His 1999 solo effort, A Prince Among Thieves, and his Handsome Boy Modeling School collaboration with Dan “the Automator” Nakamura both had flourishes of mad genius, but they were essentially album-length complaints about corruption and superficiality in the music biz. That theme is continued on the new Politics of the Business, yet the disc seems more like a loosely connected series of skits and guest appearances than a full-scale indictment of anything. The beats are ripe, for sure, proving that Paul still knows how to concoct a worthy midtempo head-nodder: “What I Need,” for example, does much with a slow guitar loop and careful percussion, and

“So What” adds some East Coast crispness to the g-funk formula. But those tracks stand out partly because Politics of the Business is mostly strident, predictable filler: Comedian Dave Chappelle appears as a bitchy record exec, Chuck D and Ice T do some pontificating on the title track, and DJ Premier promises that hiphop’s current taste for “wack shit” will be cast off in 2003. Of the old-timers, Chubb Rock has the nicest moment with “People, Places and Things

(It’s Who You Know),” a track that reconstitutes the clickety-clack kiddie-funk beat of De La’s classic “Peas Porridge Hot.” Given that the full guest list here is more than three dozen names long, it’s no mean feat. Come to think of it, maybe that open-door approach is Paul’s ultimate comment on getting by in the hiphop world: Give your friends as many paying jobs as you can, even if it compromises the quality of your own output. It’s the one idea that Politics of the Business expresses by showing instead of telling. —Joe Warminsky