Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Update from Baba Brinkman - Chaucer’s “Rap” re-incarnation

Gentle Folk,

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote... er, that is, in April there are supposed to be sweet spring rain showers, but due to climate change there is now a perpetual draught of March, the hottest and driest spring on record here in England. At any rate, in April, when the spring offers up all its goodness, that's when people people long to go on pilgrimages, and wend their way to Canterbury-ward, to seek the shrine of some martyr, perhaps the result of a medieval jihad or something. Out the train window to my right I can see the mighty Thames river, first of many landmarks on the journey between London and Canterbury, where I am now writing on a rail-bound iron horse.

The last time I was in Canterbury was in the fall of 2000, but I hadn't managed to successfully fashion myself into the modern re-incarnation of Chaucer back then, so I was skeptically received. The Vancouver Sun published a story about that first ill-fated trip to Canterbury when I put on my show at the Fringe back in 2003, which you can read here, if you're interested: This time I'm going to perform at the University in Canterbury by invitation, part of a six-week tour of the UK that began a few days ago.

Many things have been happening recently that seem worthy of mention, so I will try a brief recap, with some glances to the future. The day before yesterday I had the honour of performing at the London Chaucer Conference for an audience of medieval professors, the cream of England's Chaucerian crop. My presentation followed a paper by the Chaucer specialist from Yale, described to me in a hushed tone by one of the other professors as "the top Chaucer-man in the world". Harumph. My vote goes to James Simpson at Harvard.

Chaucer, Chaucer, Chaucer... in other news, I've been getting some emails recently from some New Yorkers who heard me interviewed on a WBAI NY Radio show called "Non-Fiction", which wouldn't necessarily merit a mention except that the host of the show is Harry Allen, famous as one of the original founders of Public Enemy, whose name is immortalized in their song "Don't Believe the Hype" when Chuck D raps "I gotta talk to my Media Assassin / Harry Allen, I've got ask him / Yo Harry, are we that type? / 'Don't believe the hype!'" When I was in New York back in January, Harry and I rapped about rap and poetry for an hour straight in the studio, and he played some of my songs on air as part of the mix. (April 20th broadcast).

After that I will keep the Mp3 on my website in perpetuity on the Audio page under "Miscellaneous".

Speaking of rap and poetry, I put on another successful "Rap is Poetry" showcase in Vancouver this spring before heading off on tour (the fourth annual!), featuring Vancouver rap artists Aspire, Junk, Ndidi Cascade, East Side Magic, and myself, all performing lyrically-heavy material at the Media Club. The show was sponsored by a new website that recently launched called "RapSpace.TV", which is a networking website for rap artists. The site allows you to record raps into a webcam and post them online for free, so that other people can comment on them and rate them, building a community of supporters and hip-hop peers globally through the web. Check out the promo video I recorded on RapSpace for my show, featuring the only rap ever to reference Epictetus, Lao Tzu, and Thomas More, both lyrically and visually: Rapspace

We also set up a webcam and laptop system at the show and recorded many of the performances, broadcasting them live to the web after each set. They are still posted on the site, so if you missed the show and want to know how it went, there's plenty of great videos, including some of Junk and Aspire and me in a freestyle cypher, and also footage of my brother Erik getting up stage and freestyling for the first time in his life. Check out all the videos.

I also recently got into the world of podcasting, and launched the Lit-HopCast, a cross between a radio broadcast and a mix-tape, which I will try to put out every few weeks from now on. Each twenty-minute mix will feature new music I am working on, artists I admire who I collaborate with on my tours, remixes of my songs, mash-ups, commentary, exclusive new verses I have recorded, and generally all things Lit-Hop. You can subscribe to these podcasts for free through the iTunes Music Store, and if you are into that kind of thing they will be automatically downloaded to your iPod or Mp3 player every time I release a new episode. So far there is only one, and I invite you all to download it at this link:

The Lit-HopCast is, of course, named after my recent album, Lit-Hop, which I have been promoting in Canada through a Vancouver-based company called Frontside. This publicity campaign saw copies of the album sent to every newspaper and magazine in the country for reviews, and to every college and co-op radio station in Canada for their hip-hop shows. The good news is that the album is now on rotation at about a dozen radio stations across the country. The bad, or rather ambiguous, news is that the reviews so far have been pretty mixed, and some critics have been having a jolly time taking the piss out of me. One called the album "boring" and one said that listening to it was "like chewing tinfoil", but I try to keep a sense of humour about it all. I mean, if I were just a lousy music reviewer I'd probably be sour-faced too. Us rock stars have to be understanding, you know. The best review came from an online Music and Arts site called Lucid ME, who gave the record 4 out of 5 and heaped on some nice praise. If you want to read this lovely review, hit the following link.

If you want to read the bad reviews, go find them yourself.

Well, the train will be approaching Canterbury shortly and I think I've said enough for the moment. I will try to write more frequently and less capaciously in the future. If any of you get indignant about critics bullying me, one thing you could do in response is go to or the iTunes Music Store and submit some positive customer reviews about my book or albums. If you simply find my woes amusing, then I guess we're in synch.

'Til next time, I'll leave you with some of the best lines of poetry ever written, which are rather topical for me at the moment,


Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye

(So priketh hem nature in hir corages);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially from every shires ende

Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

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