sugoll (sugoll) wrote,

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Chap hop

I've mentioned Professor Elemental more than once on this LJ. Time for a more in-depth look at the phenomenon of Chap-Hop.
There's probably more out there doing it, but the two proponents of whom I'm aware are the good Professor, and Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer. Let's take a look at each of them in turn.

Professor Elemental is a character created by Paul Alborough, who normally raps under the moniker Elemental. His producer, Tom Caruana, provides all the music and some of the accompanying lyrics. Professor Elemental came about for Cup of Brown Joy, for a putative album of rappers doing tracks in different time-periods. Alborough's was Victorian.

The Indifference Engine is the Professor's tour de force, with the following tracks:

Splendid, a shortish track enumerating things about which to be cheerful;
Animal Magic, a morality tale inspired by The Island of Doctor Moreau;
Fighting Trousers, the professor's finest hour to date. We'll come back to this;
Sweet Cold Coalition,  a track about what happens when you go on expedition for nine years and leave your lady love back at the mansion alone. Features Miss Sadie Bell, who appears to be a belly dancer. I'm not so keen on this track.
The Quest for the Golden Frog, a tale about one of the Professor's explorations, and a marvellously catchy tune to boot;
Elixir, a very short track, almost a skit, inspired by Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde;
A Fete Worse Than Death, a fun tune about Professor Elemental's annual village fete;
Steam-Powered, a rollicking tune, featuring Mr Jon Clark, which also demonstrate's Alborough's rap skills;
Penny Dreadful, a fun track about the Professor's attempts to create a flying machine, made somewhat longer by the minute and a half sketch introduction;
Cup of Brown Joy, an ode to the wonder that is the British cup of tea.

What comes out of listening to these is that Professor Elemental is a comedic character, a steampunk gentleman of scientific bent and completely lacking in both restraint and sense, who attempts all manner of adventures of the Jules Verne variety, but who generally isn't very good at any of them (though this completely escapes his notice); indeed, the Professor's only success appears to be the creation of Geoffrey, his orang utan butler.

The tracks are, for the most part, beautifully done, with additional backing lyrics providing both a commentary and a sense of fun.

So with that in mind, let's take a look at Mr B.

The alter-ego of Jim Burkes, Mr B is more of an Edwardian character, compared to the Professor's Victorian origin. He first came onto the scene with parodies of rap classics (Straight Out of Surrey, a track about cricket, riffing off NWA's Straight Outta Compton, and Let Me Smoke My Pipe, which laments the smoking ban, referencing DJ Kool's Let Me Clear My Throat).

So straight away, there's an interesting distinction: Elemental and Caruana are producing original tracks (as original as hip-hop ever is, given its basis in samples), while Mr B is, in effect, filking.

On the other hand, while the Professor's music is all produced by Tom Caruana, Burkes plays the Banjolele himself (or so I believe), and so there's more original music in Mr B's output; certainly, quite a few of his tracks are heavily banjolele-based.

He recently performed a run at the Edinburgh Fringe, with a show called How I Invented Hip-Hop, and Other Faux Pas. I don't know, but I suspect he was performing his recent album O.G. Original Gentleman, itself a play on Ice-T's O.G. Original Gangster.

Welcome, a choral banner, only seventeen seconds long;
Hail the Chap, a reasonably jolly and entertaining commentary on being a chap;
Timothy, a dig at Tim Westwood, a white British hip-hop DJ who has been criticised for affecting a working-class front at odds with his middle-class upbringing.
The Crack Song, a suggestion that the best way to get famous is to become a drug addict, so I assume we're getting at Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss and Pete Doherty here.
Lord Byron, not entirely sure about this one - it's hard to make out.
More Kissing in Porn Please, We're British, an amusing complaint that there just isn't enough romance in porn these days.
A Throrough Modern Breakup, an unpleasant track complaining that, after paying for his girlfriend's breast enlargement, Mr B wants his tits back now that they've split up.
Sherry Monocle, continuing a theme, this song is about the perils of one-night-stands while hammered, and picking a girl with an STD.
Shoot the Cuff, padding - dance music with repeated inane comments about clothing.
You Just Can't, a lament about the Internet and the inability of celebrities to keep things quiet. The full title would be "You Just Can't Rape a Goat These Days". Sigh.
Hermitage Shanks, recent single and love song to the toilet, for both types of relief. Quite vaudeville in its implied but not spoken words.
How Many Brilliant Minds Are Lost To Work? Well, work, it's terrible, isn't it? Much better to just lounge around?
Mansion House, Mr B not being treated well by the BBC, etc.
Guy Debord, probably Mr B's most impressive piece of writing and rapping, with considerable word-play on both pronunciation and homonyms, with a bit of philosophy thrown in.
Everything Stops For Acid, a rave track, reminiscent IMO of the Shamen and some Prodigy (without the bass).
Lady C, a reasonably straight track about wanting to play around, but falling in love instead;
Beats, Rhymes and Manners, a plea for rappers to have manners and politeness instead of holding beefs.

So, from the above, it's apparent that Mr B is much lower-brow, generally, more concerned with knob and bum gags, rapping about sexual adventures and problems, compared to the Professor's U-certificate stuff. Also, Mr B is not, in fact, a gentleman, but a cad. And while this album mostly demonstrates a great deal more skill in writing than is apparent on the rap parodies which made his name, Mr B's level of humour just doesn't sit well with me.

In contrast, I adore the Professor, where several of the tracks cover him embarking on some grand adventure, only for it all to end poorly. And Fighting Trousers is masterful: a "dis song" where the Professor berates Mr B for parodying chap-hop,  it's entertaining, it's a really catchy, it's truthful and best of all, it's in the style of a letter to the Times. How steampunk is that?

So I went looking for more of Elemental's stuff, downloading both Rebel Without Applause by Elemental and Tom Caruana, and More Tea?, another Professor album.

This wasn't as good a move as I'd hoped. It starts okay, with the Element/TC album:

Hard Act to Follow, a romping good start, with El and TC biggin' themselves up.
What's / Where's the Action, a reasonably entertaining hip-hop track.
Cup of Brown Joy, the original track which kicked everything off.
Another Cup? (skit)
Ye Old School, El's version of Baggy Trousers, tales of misbehaviour as school kids.
Pay me  a Visit (featuring Count Bass D), a long track with El, TC and CBD having fun.
Big Shot (skit)
Used to Say, El and TC reminiscing about getting started in hip-hop.
My Little Red Wagon (skit)
Cartoon Baboon, not really a full track, this is an ode to Saturday morning cartoons.
Town Called Nowhere, a homage to the Specials' Ghost Town, this is social commentary on urban wastelands
Patience, another very short track with TC on lyrics (I think)
Later Than You Think, a morality tale about various characters with big dreams but never getting anywhere.
Hunting Season, another skit, just not labelled as such.
Alright, a bouncy track about just having fun and mellowing out.
Livin in the 90's, a love song to the rap music of the 1990s. Marvellous stuff.
0800 Sickie, a two-handed with TC phoning El's service line for advice on how to throw a sickie.
The Fairground, a long track which starts out reliving childhood days of enjoying a fairground, but which then drifts into Professor territory and kids push their way onto a ride which isn't Of This World...

So there are quite a good fun hip-hop tracks here, plus way too many skits and short-lived tracks for my liking. I'd put Hard Act to Follow, Ye Old School, and everything from Alright onwards as the stand-outs (Cup of Brown Joy is a given, obviously).

In itself, Rebel Without Applause is a good purchase. But now let's look at More Tea?

More Tea Intro, banner intro
The Quest for the Golden Frog, remix.
Splendid, remix.
Queensbury Rules, remix of Fighting Trousers
Alright, remix.
Fred's Amazing Animal Band, a skit telling a child's story about a band of animals.
Animal Magic, remix.
Animals, a good, new track about having sex in the manner of animals, featuring Helen Arney.
Pay Me a Visit, remix.
Player Hater, a track about being the only one who doesn't like sport.
Hard Act to Follow, remix.
Living in the 90's, remix.
Moon Monkeys, a skit.
0800 Sickie, remix.
Steam Powered, remix.
Let's Get It Done, a track about having fun with rap.

So out of thirteen non-skit tracks, ten are remixes of tracks on either The Indifference Engine or Rebel Without Applause. Sigh.

On the positive side, Animals and Player Hater are pretty good, and Let's Get It Done isn't too bad.

The good news is that Alborough is wriitng more at the moment, and there's more new Professor stuff due later this year. He's also fun to follow on twitter.

And I continue to maintain that Olympus 2012 should be getting him along to perform... *hint*
Tags: music, professor elemental
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