There’s nothing that makes our hearts and various other organs swell with greater pride than the sight of two entrants on our esteemed Weird List making beautiful music together. So when murderously dark cabaret cellist Miss Von Trapp shared with us this video of her and chap-hop luminary Professor Elemental giving the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” a good jolly rogering, our hearts were swollen fair to bursting. The less said about what it did to our other organs, the better.
It’s yet another first here at Weird Band HQ: This week, two artists will share the title of Weird Band of the Week. It seems only fitting, since Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer and Professor Elemental were finally able to quash their long-running feud and agree to share the top of the chap-hop heap.
Let’s back up a bit. “Chap-hop” is a term that, as far as we can tell, was originally coined by Mr. B (real name: Jim Burke), a London rapper who adopted the trappings of the British “Chappist” movement, a subculture devoted to the more genteel ways of Downton Abbey-era England, complete with lots of tweed, liberal use of the word “jolly” and well-manicured facial hair. By combining dandyish style (and an adorably retro instrument called the banjolele) with the rhymes, beats and cocksure attitude of hip-hop, Mr. B created a whole new subgenre of music. Or did he?
This is where it gets interesting. Because you see, before Mr. B ever dropped a rhyme about his watch fob, another chap in nearby Brighton by the name of Professor Elemental (real name: Paul Alborough) was mixing rap with Edwardian swag on songs like “Cup of Brown Joy,” an ode to tea drinking whose loopy, low-budget video has racked up 1.5 million views on YouTube, making it a chap-hop anthem on par with, say, “Gin & Juice.”
Although Professor Elemental initially identified himself as a “steampunk mad scientist” (you can tell he’s steampunk because he sometimes wears goggles on his pith helmet) rather than a practitioner of chap-hop, it wasn’t long before he discovered the existence of Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer and began drawing battle lines. “I can’t walk down the street these days without being mistaken for Mr. B, or without folk asking if I am going to battle the cad,” he said in an interview with The Chap, the scene’s magazine of record. In 2010, two years after both chap rappers first rose to prominence, he released a song and video called “Fighting Trousers” that called out Mr. B in no uncertain terms.
Mr. B eventually responded with his own shot across the bow, a capital little brag track called “Just Like a Chap.” But by this point, the battle was all in good fun, as you’ll see towards the end when Professor E himself makes a good-natured cameo.
Anyone wishing to further weigh the relative merits of chap-hop’s two leading lights should peruse footage from this 2011 “chap-off.”
Although we do find Professor Elemental’s Jules Verne-inspired zaniness entertaining, and although he certainly meets the criteria for weirdness set out by our esteemed blog (the fellow has a gorilla butler named Geoffrey for a sidekick, by Jove), we tend to find Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer a more satisfyingly polished performer. Maybe it’s the banjolele that gives him his edge. Or this video. Or the fact that, unlike Professor E, he seems to know how to use a straight razor.
It’s worth noting that Mr. B and Prof E have inspired a whole chap-hop movement, and there’s now a host of other artists busting rhymes like it’s 1899: Poplock Holmes, Class Rhymes and Reginald Pikedevant, Esquire, to name only a few. At this rate, chap-hop seems poised to outlast the post-Downtown Abbey acting career of that fool who played Matthew Crawley. Seriously, why would anyone quit the best show ever on British television? What a cad.
P.S. We almost forgot to thank readers Wallicoth and Charm Man for introducing us to the joys of chap-hop. Good show, gents!
- Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer official site
- Professor Elemental official site
- The Chap-Hop Shop (Mr. B’s online store)
- Professor Elemental on Bandcamp
- Professor Elemental on Facebook
- Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer on Facebook
- Mr. B on Tumblr
- “In ‘Chap-Hop,’ Gentlemen Rappers Bust Rhymes About Tea, Cricket” (good article about chap-hop from, of all places, the Wall Street Journal)
- Professor Elemental’s catalog on Amazon.com
- Mr. B’s catalog on Amazon.com