By Caroline Jaine
Pip is the dark, bearded fusion of everything I want to hear
Sometimes at social gatherings or management training camps we are asked to reveal something surprising about ourselves. I have quite a few nuggets in my kit bag, but one that usually raises most eyebrows is that once-upon-a-time I used to be a rapper. We are talking 1980s inner city Bristol. A couple of gigs, even a local radio interview. I wasn’t very good, it didn’t last long, but it has a secret place that brings a smile to my internal curriculum vitae.
I have enjoyed hip hop and rap over the years, and as my political self has grown and travelled I have been drawn towards more meaningful lyrics. I fed on Grand Masters (Flash and Melle), Public Enemy, Asian Dub Foundation, The Streets, even enjoyed some of the feminist wiles of Missy Elliot and delighted as my own brother took to the mic and waxed social-political lyrical. However good it is to dance to, I less inclined towards the misogynistic, self indulgent sounds that have bizarrely seeped into a music genre that was born out of oppression.
I guess I am therefore the obvious Scroobius Pip fan. He offers intelligent, thoughtful, socio-political words in contemporary language, imbued with the hip hop/electronica beats of Dan Le Sac. Pip is the dark, bearded fusion of everything I want to hear.
However I have become musically apathetic in my middle age. Even with music at my technological fingertips, I fail to really listen any more. My own poetry and prose often reduced to Facebook comments and the sharing of wise sounds from others like Pip. Last night, I had to be prized off the sofa to go and see one of my favourites performing at The Junction. But I’m so glad I did.
The gig was packed with surprising energy and more beards than you could wave a stick at (or would want to). I’m sure even those who thought they were going to a quite poetry slam enjoyed the thumping mid-weekly tunes that Le Sac produced. The middle-class Guardian readers were moshing right along-side the stoned sixth-formers. Beer was chucked in good spirits and even Scroobius appeared surprised that Cambridge was the “rowdiest” crowd of the tour. I wanted to shout out that we are a city of intellectuals, many of whom have drugs problems, but I kept my mouth shut for fear of being considered one of either.
Le Sac’s exchanges with Pip appeared witty and genuine, and got them through a few technical difficulties. In a funny way I’m glad the sound set-up last night didn’t make it possible to hear every word Pip uttered. Rarely have I rushed and gushed to the merchandise stand and was first in line to buy Repent Replenish Repeat from the man himself. And the first thing I have done this morning is play it and read the lyrics printed on the cover. Then find the videos online. This experience just keeps giving. I am listening again.
Scroobius Pip bares the vulnerable under-belly of his creativity for all to see (in more ways than one). He jested last night that his words are depressing – yet with the juxtaposition of Le Sac musical response to his everyone intonation, it makes for moving artistry. It’s a perfect marriage. Pip makes books, he draws pictures (a thank you for drawing one for Syria), and he writes important, significant poetry. Without meaning to embellish his messiah complex, one cannot help comparing the last night’s Thou Shalt Not Kill to a religious experience as the audience chanted along, not missing a beat. I’ve not witnessed anything quite like it since God was a DJ with Faithless.
So it was a great gig. But something else happened last night. The poet was awoken in me – and now buzzing in some creative inertia – I am wondering how to turn my own journey into words and sounds – a means I left behind in the 1980s. To repent, replenish and ultimately repeat perhaps I have a few surprises left in me yet.