Tea Time with Professor Elemental: Of Gentleman Rap and Trousers

As mentioned in an earlier post, I have recently partaken in the aural company of a one Professor Elemental - quite literally the opposite of the rich hiphop community of New York. Trading street slang and baseball caps with the stickers still on them for Pith Helmets and Blunderbusses, Elemental brings eloquence and eccentricity to the proceedings. Luckily for me, he somehow uses email, and kindly sat down to answer some questions.

1) What was the genesis of the character Professor Elemental?

Producer Tom Caruana wanted to create an album with various rappers doing tracks set in different eras.... and gave me a beat for the Victorian chapter.

Heavily influenced by a documentary we watched about Vivian Stanshall (of the bonzo dog doodah band) and the fact that it was mushroom season, we concocted the professor over a messy weekend and wrote the song "Penny dreadful." The rest of the album never happened, but the professor has been dancing around like a loon ever since.

2) "Fighting Trousers" is a stab at a one Mr. B - can you tell me more about your problems with him, and what, if anything, he has retaliated with?

Over the last couple of years, I have hardly been able to do a gig without someone mistaking me for B or asking if I am going to battle him. People tell me he has been biting my style, ripping me off etc. Anyway, I am a hip hop emcee first and foremost and the way to settle things in hip hop is by way of a lyrical battle. Hence the song "Fighting Trousers." We're yet to see if dares to retaliate, but I am working hard to get a battle set up, so we can settle things once and for all. I will, as my grandma used to say, have his guts for garters.

3) How long have you been rapping, and in what forms?

About ten years- having gone through an embarrassing trying to sound American/hard phase, it was refreshing to get to Brighton and realize that it was fine to be white, middle class and not take things to seriously. In fact, it was good to make that my angle. I rap with a few different crews and producers and get gigs in the strangest places.

4) What part of England are you from?

Ipswich, Suffolk- but don't tell anyone. It's more a place you'd go through than go to.

5) What hip hop and other musical artists do you take inspiration from?

I've been lucky enough to spend time in groups with some of the best emcees I have ever come across, who taught me lots about freestyling and how to pass on rapping skills to kids in workshops.

For example, check out Jon Clark's video "Odd jobs" or Dr Syntax's "Hire me" video and you can see the creativity and originality in the scene here.

I listen to tons of American stuff too- really digging Haji-P and Jay Electronica at the moment, plus lots of C L smooth. He's my favorite emcee of all I think.

6) How has The Indifference Engine been selling? How did you come up with the name?

Thanks to "Fighting Trousers" it's really taken off. When we did the first video, "Cup Of Brown Joy" the success completely took us by surprise, but this time it's for sale on my site, Tom Caruana's, iTunes and Amazon- so we have our bases covered.

The name comes from a book which reportedly started the whole Steampunk scene (The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling) and The Indifference Engine was kindly donated to me in an online competition to find the album's title.

7) Is there a fete worse than death?

Yes, I went to several throughout my childhood; Raffles where you could win a small bottle of shampoo stolen from a hotel, a game of 'splat the rat'- where you pay 20p to hit some tights filled with newspaper as they are thrown down a plastic drainpipe.

These are the things that filled village fetes when I was a child and also the very terrible, but excellent things that makes Britain great.

8) Do you really not like coffee?

I can barely dignify that with an answer! Coffee represents everything that's wrong with the world- These horrible, fast 'shots' of caffeine, designed to be downed as quickly as possible and leave you a jittering mess.

Compare this to the wonder of taking an afternoon tea; gently sipping fine brew from a china cup while munching through a selection of excellent pastries. There is no comparison.

9) What kind of teas are you a fan of?

For specialty tea I take mine from the Wan Ling Tea house- but for every day, I am a Yorkshire tea man. Or Barry's from Ireland- Now there's a brew to make your spoon stand up! The Irish are the finest of tea drinkers- they put the English to shame with the quantities they get through.

10) How long did it take to film "Fighting Trousers" and how much?

Erm, we did it for £40 I think. And managed to film it in three hours in a gym in Brighton. That whole video is purely down to the brilliance of it's director Moog (www.peculiana.com) . And the saucy extras of course.

11) How do you feel about the current state of the music industry?

I have to say I love it. If you know how to market online and can get your head around the business aspect, then the world is your oyster. Only a few years back, everyone was struggling for a deal... Now a record deal is harder to come by and worth a lot less. I think that taking the 'industry' out of the music world is making it a lot more varied and interesting. Plus you can get more good music for free.

12) Do you tour?

I'm all over the shop. Fingers crossed I shall be at steampunk events in Canada and New Jersey next year. Most of my gigs remain in the South of England though. Come to visit Brighton for a week and I will most likely be playing out somewhere.

13) Are you proud to be part of the British battle knee tradition, as exemplified by Monty at El Alamein?

Oh yes indeed, I will get my knees out at any occasion- either for battle or just for display.

14) Who produces your albums, and where do you put them together?

The last couple were by Tom Caruana, the best producer in the world. He does all of the tracks, mixing and mastering and produces a ton of fine stuff himself. His work can be found at www.teasearecords.net. The next couple out will be produced by him and Mr. Simmonds- they are already done and we'll be putting them out over the next year.

15) Have you considered a label deal?

I have, but I haven't found one that considers me. I'm happy either way really- as it is, I am able to continue making music pure for the fun of it with no restrictions or limits.

16) Tell me more about you, the person behind the Professor.

I'm unashamedly nerdy- Very into comics and old hip hop more than anything else. I think all men are a bit obsessive about something, we're all a bit autistic in our way. My day job is working with young people with special educational needs and if there's one thing I've learnt is that we all have our own "special needs."

Other than that, I am a follower of the Idler and Tom Hodgkinson's philosophy. Life is too short to spend time doing things that you don't want to... When the going gets tough, have a cup of tea and a nice sit down.

For more information on Professor Elemental's work, check out www.professorelemental.com and www.teasearecords.net.