Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction characterized by a lot of different elements, depending on what you're looking at.
With Robocop, it's ultraviolence, a future dripping with dystopia, urban sprawls with hordes of oppressed poor dominated by inhumanely rich CEO's, rabid consumerism and the harsh effects of technology on humanity's soul.
In the film Blade Runner, it's the bleeding edge between humanity and science against the dark vista of an acid rain-drenched megacity where technology is oppressive and humanity's future is as grim as it is gruesome.
Cyberpunk also conjures the image of a swaggering, gun-wielding, kung-fu capable ultrastylish superhero who rules the sprawl like a cybernetic ronin. Eyes glowing with digital targeters, his metal fist holds a monokatana that serves the highest bidder, but usually it's to fight the Man in the name of The Street.
So what if that guy rapped about his life?
The primary authors of cyberpunk, including Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, all work with cyberpunk in their own ways. Above all they displayed the effects of future shock on the culture of human civilization, future or present.
Steampunk is also about the interstitial subspace between humanity and technology, but in steampunk, technology is anachronistic, zany, and just plain works. My robot runs on steam. My time machine is propelled by ether. My pistol fires glass bullets, infused with small charges of life-killing electricity.
With steampunk, the science is more fantasy than fiction, but the end result is still the same. Human culture and civilization is affected. If a person invented a working steam computer based on the original design by Charles Babbage, what would happen to Victorian England? More importantly, what would happen to the way people live their lives?
Hip-hop is all about language. The musicians who work in the genre work with rhymes, metaphors, allegories and everything in the environment around them to create modern poetry containing euphemisms that has given us words and expressions even the most square members of the mainstream eventually wield: gat, bust a cap in yo' ass, ho, word, fo shizzle, the po-po, etc.
Referencing the culture and language of the era, chap-hop is rap from a whole new angle. Imagine a dis song composed by Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea about the land dwellers that he hated so much, or if Sherlock Holmes composed a rhyme about his weekend.
With the language of the Victorian Era, and the fact that you suddenly can't rap about 40 oz. bottles of booze or 9mm pistols or crack, the familiar becomes exotic and hip-hop is changed for the awesome. Chap-hop is hip-hop, old-skool British-style, but with an emphasis on the most extreme upper-middle class caricatures you think of when you imagine posh English gentleman rhyming about scones, tea time or cricket.
Paul Alborough is Professor Elemental, a time-traveling British scientist who raps about his adventures using language you probably won't get the first time around. A lot of suburban white kids didn't understand everything N.W.A. was talking about, but the music rocked just the same.
Professor Elemental's brilliant single, "Fighting Trousers," is an Internet sensation with good reason. Aside from being a kick-ass song about getting ready to kick some ass (like a gentleman, of course) it's also a serious tune that eschews electric guitar, synthetic keyboards or modern samples for oboes, violins and brass instruments.
You can find Professor Elemental's album, The Indifference Engine, here.
How long have you been performing music?
I have been emceeing about ten years, but only the last five in my current guise. There’s a very small market out there for a white, middle-class, happy UK rapper- but a rather more exciting one when you are a Steampunk mad professor with a monkey butler and fondness for sticking different wild animals together.
Where did chap-hop come from? Did you come up with it, or was it developed by another artist?
I have no idea where it came from. It just sort of arrived on hip-hop’s doorstep one day, like an eccentric uncle who says he is just popping round for tea, but ends up moving into the attic.
How did you come up with the concept for Professor Elemental?
Mushrooms. A documentary on Vivian Stanshall. Tom Caruana’s inspirational music. A night spent up a tree. The details are sketchy, but all of those ingredients were definitely involved.
In the video for "Fighting Trousers," it's amazing how you incorporate all of the factors you usually find in a dis song, but translate it all to a time period that comes across as visually striking because of it's authentic language, costumes and instrumentals. Where did you get the idea for such a cool music video?
I have to say, the concept of the video comes entirely from Moog, the director of both that and ‘cup of brown joy’. Everything you see in that video was his idea. The man is a genius, A GENIUS I tell you! He can be found at www.peculiana.com.
What other chap-hop artists are worth mentioning?
Are there any others? I think it’s just me. That isn’t arrogance. I just don’t think there are any more out there, apart from that fellow with the Ukeleyle and the moustache of course.
Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer
We have a whole genre, all to ourselves.
I've noticed that in a lot of your songs, from "Splendid" to "Fighting Trousers," you make use of a lot of truly authentic British argot. What time period do you borrow your wordplay from?
Hang on, let me just go and look up what ‘argot’ means. Ah yes, ‘the special language used by a particular group of people’, I rather like that. I shall use argot more often now. ‘Argot’, the more you say it, the better it sounds.
Anyway. What were we talking about? Ah yes. Erm, well, I do have a fondness for old expressions that need a good airing. Things like ‘codswallop’ and ’fiddle sitcks’ are ripe to be brought back into circulation- but generally the language I use on the tracks is the same that I use in every day conversation. Particularly when I am excited.
When you are incorporating the old-skool British slang into your songs, does the specific style of the language inspire you, or can putting it all together be a challenge, especially when you are dealing with some words and expressions that, let's face it, are not often used in modern English?
Ooh no, not a challenge, quite the opposite. The key to a good, memorable rhyme is using words and phrases that aren’t over used. That’s why an emcee like MF DOOM is so great, he has a superb voice and puts together phrases that you don’t associate with each other. One of the things that I teach on my rap workshops is to never use the first rhyme word that comes into your head. And that’s much easier if you are already using a quite distinctive voice or unusual slang.
I've noticed that the instrumentals in your music also seem authentic to the period. Is that the case? Was that intentional?
Again, I can’t take any credit at all for the music- that’s all the work of Producer Tom Caruana. His beats are incredible, both in the range and the originality of the stuff that he puts out. There’s no one quite like him. Amazingly, he puts out lots of free projects too, you can find them at www.teasearecords.net.
Have you been approached by any directors or producers about starring in a Professor Elemental film or cable television series? The concept really is cool, and shows like Doctor Who and the recent Sherlock Holmes films have certainly proved to be popular.
Funny you should mention it, we are just working on a pilot now. The script is being written and we are aiming for shooting early next year… watch this space, or at least www.professorelemental.com for more details.
What's next for Professor Elemental?
Everything and anything. I have quit my day job so to concentrate on this full time- so next year I am touring the world (well, some of the nice bits of it anyway) and getting a brand new album out for the Summer. We are also working on a comic.. Which is a dream come true. My ambition is to be at least 50% fictional before the end of 2012.