Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Rebel Cell - Free Music Download

July 28 2008

Hello People,

Thanks for all the great feedback on my Fly on the Wall episode, and now this one is about the next chapter. Yesterday Dizraeli and I performed our first show at the Edinburgh Fringe, the World Premier of "The Rebel Cell", to an audience of about 50 people at the Pleasance Dome, and the reaction was everything we could have hoped for. Exactly four years ago I premiered "The Rap Canterbury Tales" here and the reverberations are still being felt, not the least by me.

Well, The Rebel Cell, in my humble opinion, is better - it's funnier, crisper, more topical, and in many ways a perfect inheritor to the Lit-Hop mission I began with the Tales, although its content is more Orwellian than Chaucerian. I sincerely hope the reverberations of this project go even further; although, tragically, not everyone can make it to the Fringe!

Never fear. Just like with the Tales, we've recorded The Rebel Cell as a full-length rap storytelling album, and it is now available for free download from my website. Free?!? Yes, that seems to be the nature of the beast these days. Everyone with a bit of web savvy will be able to get it for free soon anyway, so why not follow in the footsteps of Radiohead and beat them to the punch? At least that way we can raise the buzz to a fever pitch and hopefully have a successful run at the world's biggest arts festival. So please, tell your friends!

Of course, if you want to order a physical CD in the mail that's still an option, and if you want to support us there is also the option to donate £5 ($10) to the cause of a couple of recording artists doing good things, but either way you can start listening to The Rebel Cell right now, no strings attached, just click on the "Rebel Cell" link to see download and streaming options.

All the best from the 'burgh,


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fly on the Wall

July 23 2008

Hi Lights,

In the midst of all of the intended fanfare around “The Rebel Cell”, which premiers in Edinburgh in one week, with the corresponding album release coming up on the weekend, I thought I’d take a moment to share a quick Chaucer-related story, bizarre and hysterical as a Canterbury Tale. Yesterday I returned from performing at the New Chaucer Society conference in Swansea, Wales, where over three hundred of the world’s top medieval professors had congregated for four days to give papers and round-tables and plenary speeches on the subject of history’s favourite storyteller. I was scheduled to be the entertainment at the pub night at the end of the conference, but I asked if I could also come for the day to attend some of the lectures and get caught up on the state of global Chaucer studies. I was especially keen since I recognized many of the featured speakers from the bibliography of my Masters thesis, so I was looking forward to putting some faces to the quotations I used.

The first session I attended was a fierce debate about “New Formalism vs New Historicism”, the question of whether the study of literature is best guided by a close reading of each text as a semi-autonomous work of art, or whether it’s generally better to understand texts as a product of their historical and cultural circumstances. As with many debates, it was only the most radical applications of these two approaches that were really under attack, and both of the speakers actually seemed to fall somewhere in the middle, although they did a fine job of misrepresenting each other as ideologues.

The second session produced an incident that was so surreal I’m sure I will never forget it. It was a round-table discussion on “Teaching Chaucer” featuring short presentations from six professors (actually five professors and one high school teacher) who all shared their varied experiences with teaching The Canterbury Tales at their respective schools. I had quietly taken a seat near the back of the lecture hall before the session started and was curious to hear if any of what was said could be brought to bear on my own work in schools with the Rap Canterbury Tales. Little did I know that the intensity of the “New Formalism vs New Historicism” debate was shortly going to be eclipsed by the intensity of the “pro-Baba Brinkman vs anti-Baba Brinkman” debate.

I was mentioned probably half a dozen times in the various presentations, with the first speaker coming out strongly against me, cautioning against over-reliance on superficial pop-culture adaptations of Chaucer, from the TV dramatizations to parallels with South Park and Family Guy to the notorious Rap Canterbury Tales, which was now being put to use in a dangerously high number of classrooms. She argued that these students would be left with no memory of the actual curriculum material or of Chaucer himself, only the “cool stuff” it was compared to in class, like rap. Other professors came to my defense, saying they were skeptical at first about a white Canadian co-opting a black art form in order to disrupt the sanctity of medieval studies, but that after seeing the show performed and hearing about my work in inner city schools, they were convinced that I was a valuable resource for capturing the attention of young people who would otherwise never give Chaucer a chance. Still others argued that it was a bad idea to use the rap as an ice-breaker, because it would unduly influence the students’ interpretation of the Tales, but that they had found it effective as an incentive, as in: “at the end of the Chaucer section, if you study hard, you’ll get to hear the rap as a reward”.

As this debate transpired I kept sliding down lower in my seat trying not to be noticed, since they were clearly oblivious to my presence. Ever wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall at your own funeral? Well, as it turned out one person had noticed me coming in, and it happened to be the session moderator, Dr Helen Cooper from Cambridge, whose job was to open the floor for questions after the initial talks. So the first thing she said was: “A fascinating debate about modern vs traditional approaches to teaching Chaucer! Rapping and YouTube and Television, what exactly is their place in medieval studies? It may come as a surprise to many of you, but we are lucky enough to have Baba Brinkman in the room right now, and I’m hoping he’ll be willing to comment on the ongoing discussion of his work.” A hundred and fifty bespectacled professors’ heads swiveled around in surprise to stare directly at me as I gave them a nervous wave, “hi everybody”.

So I said: “It’s pretty surreal for me to hear you all debating the merits of my rap adaptation as a pedagogical tool, especially since that’s definitely not the purpose that I wrote it for. I’m happy that it’s found a home in the classroom and that some teachers have found it useful, but my original motivation when writing The Rap Canterbury Tales wasn’t to help you to teach Chaucer; it was to wrest Chaucer away from you people and bring him to a wider audience outside the classroom. That’s why I brought the show to the Edinburgh Festival and to dozens of other festivals around the world. I thought it was a tragedy that The Canterbury Tales was only being enjoyed by people with a medieval studies education, when the Tales have a universal appeal and deserve to have a universal audience. So, use the rap version at your own risk, and please judge it on its own merit after listening for yourself, instead of through the lens of your prejudice about rap, and keep in mind that from performing this show to tens of thousands of people around the world over the past five years, I am now the face of Chaucer, not you all. I think the tales should be studied because they are loved, not loved because they are studied, and I’m trying to make people love the Tales again. So come see the show tonight and you’ll see how I do that.”

That night I got to perform the rap in a crowded room full of the world’s most eminent (beer-drinking) Chaucerians, and from the response I got (both to my comments and to the performance) I have a feeling that the “anti-Baba Brinkman” faction has been all but vanquished from the field of Chaucer Studies. However, the “New Formalism vs New Historicism” debate rages on.

Yours from the trenches,


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Performance Therapy

July 17 2008

Two weeks is an unforgivable hiatus when it comes to blogging, not in a moral sense, but just for the fact that anyone who might have been paying attention prior to the sabbatical will likely have lost interest and found ample entertainment elsewhere, which for an entertainer is an unforgivable transgression. Loss of audience is loss of lifeblood.

Wait! I'm still here, and still putting everything I've got into this creative monster dubbed Lit-Hop. For the past two weeks I was holed up in Brighton, in a spare room at Dizraeli's house, in a frenzy of preparation, rehearsal, and recording. Several landmarks were passed, including the first performance of the Rebel Cell last Thursday at the Brighton Komedia, part of the "Hammer & Tongue" night at the Rising Styles Hip-hop Festival. The day before we were anxiously rehearsing, fine-tuning our scripts and music and lighting cues etc, feeling the mounting thrill and also worry around the first performance of a show we have worked on for about eight months now. Up until that point, we had only done run-throughs in private, in Dizraeli's living room, or in a borrowed rehearsal space about a pub in Brighton. The big questions still loomed: would it work? would it be funny? would people relate?

Thursday's show was pure catharsis in this regard. The house was packed, mostly with people we knew but also with many we didn't, a large space with well over a hundred people seated cabaret style with drinks at tables. Long story short, the show went down a storm, got huge laughs, and we had the overwhelming experience of greeting people in the foyer afterwards and having many spontaneous hugs and handshakes from people expressing a range of emotions about the experience, of which disdain was not one. Even the hip-hop heads were with it, which for us was the highest compliment we could have gotten.

The other thing Diz & I have been up to over the past few weeks is putting the finishing touches on the album version of the show, spending endless twelve-hour sessions holed up in the studio with Mr. Simmonds, the producer, engineer, and general mastermind of the musical side of "The Rebel Cell" LP. Amazingly, I only met Mr. Simmonds six weeks ago when I first arrived in England, although I had heard his beats on the Gentleman's Club myspace page and was well impressed. Well, Mr. Simmonds turned out to be a fan of the Rebel Cell concept as well, and agreed to do some beats for us, and then he did some more, and in the end he has produced eleven out of the twenty tracks on the album, including The Fallout, which is currently up on our Mud Sun myspace page for your listening pleasure.

Improbably, we now have a twenty-track album version of the Rebel Cell completed, recorded and produced entirely over the past six weeks, and all that remains now is the mixing and mastering and manufacture, which I have left in Mr. Simmonds' capable hands. Yesterday we finished the last track, arrangement and recording wise, and I struck out for London, packing my life once again into the suitcase for another round of touring of rural England.
The album will be released no later than the end of the month, perhaps with a launch date on the 30th to correspond with our first preview in Edinburgh. But as soon as I have a final master I will add it to the discography on my website so that people can experience this futuristic fantasy in all its glory.

Last night we performed The Rebel Cell for the second time only, and the show is definitely getting more fun to perform each go. We sold out the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden (no mean feat with a capacity of 50) and the response was, once again, quite intense. But then, the show is quite intense and very personal, allowing us both to go to places that sometimes don't even feel safe in conversation, never mind in front of a crowd. That's entertainment I guess, and it's also therapeutic. Sacred cows are better mocked than worshiped in my view, or perhaps both, but certainly not the latter on its own.

Speaking of sacred cows, I'm departing for Cambridge in a few hours to return to more familiar ground with the Rap Canterbury Tales. A program called "The Oxbridge Experience" brings American and International high school students to England to absorb British culture through a series of field trips, and before they embark on their pilgrimage to Canterbury the students will be treated to the Canadian bastardization of Chaucer's Tales. And in the news, Canterbury is currently a place where still more sacred cows are being debated, what with the Anglican flap over women bishops and homosexual bishops, naturally a turn of events that is morally opposed by misogynists and homophobes. To paraphrase Bill Hicks: "Women priests? Great, so now there are priests of both sexes I don't listen to, big deal! Show me a hermaphrodite priest with three titties and trunk, now there's a sermon I'll attend..." Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Three Weeks Edinburgh Quick Quiz

July 3 2008

1. What is your 2008 show all about?

It's about politics, civil rights, capitalism, freedom of speech, democracy, tyranny, civil disobedience, revolution, terrorism, activism, dissidence, and everything important that most people take for granted.

2. Why should we come and see it?

Because it's wickedly clever and very funny, and because the dialogue is all done in an Eminem rapping style. It's like nothing else out there really. Attendance is guaranteed to make you smarter.

3. If your show was an olympic sport, what would it be and why?

It would be a poetry contest. Poetry was an Olympic sport in ancient Rome, with the winner receiving a laurel crown (hence "poet laureate"). This show is a battle of wits and world-views between two lyrical heavyweights.

4. What are you most looking forward to about this year's Festival?

Randomness, late night debauchery, surprisingly talented performers, the pleasure of being surrounded by people who are "up for it".

5. What are you least looking forward to about this year's Festival?

The hangover.

6. What advice would you have for someone trying to navigate the Fringe?

Don't bother with GPS, just use venues as landmarks and wander into everything.

7. What advice would you have for someone trying to survive the Fringe?

Don't worry too much about the aftermath while you're there, just be present every day and have a great time, then sort out what happened later.

8. Describe your show in three words

"8-Mile meets 1984"

The Rebel Cell
Pleasance Dome – 10Dome
1 Bristo Square, Edinburgh
30 Jul - 25 Aug, 5.40 pm (1 hr)