Professor Elemental is a titan of a man, striding heroically across the boundaries of science, science fiction, music and comedy with a jaunty tune being emitted from his Musical Trousers ( that is a euphemism, right? – ed ). The Professor, who rose to prominence a little while back with his singles “Cup of Brown Joy” (about tea) and “Fighting Trousers” (about fighting trousers), has made a name for himself as an innovator of both science and rap. Along with Akira the Don, MC Frontalot and his own arch rival, Mr B The Gentlemen Rhymer, the Professor has embraced hip hop like a long lost Aunty bearing cake. The end result of the Professor’s work is “chap hop”, a musical genre/scientific discipline/airship based finishing school that has taken the internet by storm. I talked to the world’s most pith-helmeted and dapper tea enthusiast about rap, hip hop, chap hop, his comic, his plans for the future, his (roast) beef with Mr B and of course, tea.
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How did you get started rapping?
“Back in the early ’90s I was completely intoxicated by the ‘golden era’ of Hip Hop and the varied styles of songs and emcees. It took a long time to get the confidence to take it to the stage, and even longer to realise that I didn’t quite belong with a lot of the other UK Hip Hop, which always seemed content to sit in the corner, looking moody. It was only around 2004 when I found the Prof, which led me to a much more suitable and comedic setting for my antics. Thank god that I took a chance and bought that pith helmet from a second hand shop on a whim.”
Who influenced your style when you were starting out?
“A million years ago, back in the early ’90s, you had a lot of emcees like Humpty Hump, Biz Markie and Kid’n’Play that made good careers out of funny, party hip hop. They were a huge influence on me, along with the more typical rap heroes like Big Daddy Kane, CL Smooth and Slick Rick.
“I came up in a pretty good era for comedy as well. The tail end of the “alternative comedy” boom still had a lot of weird and wonderful stand-up acts, plus the brilliance of the Blackadders and Armando Ianucci which combined dense lyrical humour with some very surreal and silly ideas.
“Finally, you had the likes of Gong and the Bonzos and Viv Stanshal l as an inevitable influence. The Professor owes an awful lot to Stanshall in particular I think.”
Why do you think the fusion of steampunk and rap works so well? As it clearly does?
“Steampunk is a bloody nightmare to explain to the uninitiated; there are so many aspects to it. One of the main reasons it works with rap, is that rap music gives you the luxury to use an awful lot of words. It means you can do justice to complex concepts and silly ideas that might be tricky to make into a more traditional song.
“Plus you have the space to add a lot of character, or even a detailed narrative in way that just isn’t possible in any other form of music. Some of the best rap songs ever have told stories and it’s nice to pay tribute to that.”
“Goodness no, we roasted the wellington, then took it out of the oven and shared it over a Sunday lunch. There’s no point in continuing beef past it’s sell-by date. Plus, it was a bloody nightmare being part of a rap beef with someone who is so damned nice. You can hear our final battle as the last track on Father Of Invention .”
What led to the comic being set up?
“Sadly, I can take very little credit there. It was masterminded my by the editor and lead writer Chris Mole. The UK & US independent comic scene is absolutely amazing, and everyone came through with some brilliant work. I feel very lucky that so many talented folk got involved. There are so many aspects of it that I like, that it seems wrong to single any of them out, but I am a big fan of anthologies and short stories generally, so it was nice to use that as a way to involve and showcase as many people as possible.”
What’s next there?
“Something really big. The biggest thing that I have ever tried in fact. HUGE. The plan is to create an epic story told simultaneously through the comic, a video and an EP – but it needs to be a big enough tale to justify it. So we are looking to Mars for our next adventure…
“But I mean, I am realistic. The chances of anything coming from Mars, are a million to one. They say.”
What’s next musically?
“First up will be a mixtape and ep of some collaborative efforts, with an emphasis on dancey, electroswing goodness. Something to set the party off, all mixed by the incredible DJ Nick Maxwell. It should be out by the end of the Summer.
“After that; MARS.”
Assam or Earl Grey?
“That would be lovely, thanks. Do go and pop the kettle on.”
You can find the Professor online at www.professorelemental.com and on twitter at @prof_elemental . His new album, Father Of Invention , is available now from his site and is utterly spiffing. Both issues of the Professor’s comic, also spiffing, are also available there.