'The Beat That My Heart Skipped'
After a string of acclaimed singles, Dan le Sac (left) and Scroobius Pip are touring to support a forthcoming full-length album.
Scroobius Pip is an unlikely hip-hop phenomenon.
He's beanpole-thin, about 6'2" tall and white. He dons skinny ties, speaks with a nasal north London accent and wears his beard as long as a Hasidic Torah scholar.
And yet his self-released track "Thou Shalt Always Kill," with its accompanying video, already has taken the British music world by storm.
"They're not manufactured," says Phil Alexander, editor of the British music magazine Mojo. "They're refreshing and there's no doubt that there's a lot more to come from them."
From nearly the moment Pip and his collaborator, DJ Dan le Sac, posted the song to their MySpace page last year, it became a hit. In the video, Scroobius Pip tears down a narrow flight of stairs, out the door and onto a London street, where he recites a litany of pop-cultural commandments.
"Thou shalt not worship pop idols," he says. "Thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Johnny Hartman, Desmond Dekker, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Syd Barrett in vain."
The video is a literal illustration of the rhyme. When Pip commands "thou shalt not shake it like a Polaroid picture" — quoting OutKast's hit "Hey Ya" — he shakes a Polaroid. When he says "thou shalt not read NME," he snatches the famous British music magazine from the hands of a man in a park.
At one point in the video, Pip stands in a stairwell, holding a stack of legendary rock albums and begins to toss each one aside. "The Beatles: Were just a band / Led Zeppelin: Just a band / The Beach Boys: Just a band / The Sex Pistols: Just a band," he recites.
"It was just kind of pointing out that although the music is important and changes people's lives, the people who've made it are just regular people like everyone else," says Scroobius Pip. "I mean, their job is important and touches people's lives, but it's not as important as, like, your nurses and your care workers and things like that, so they are all just bands and they're just blokes making music."
Scroobius Pip, whose real name is David Meads, took his stage name from an Edward Lear poem. The Scroobious Pip (as Lear spells it) is a creature without an identity, but who is happy to relate to all the other animals in the jungle.
"[The name] is kind of a metaphor for when I realized that I could kind of do spoken word and hip-hop and have indie influence and punk influence and jazz influence [in my music] — it didn't have to be one specific thing," Pip says.
Scroobius Pip and Dan le Sac started collaborating a few years ago, when they worked together at an HMV record store outside London. Le Sac would take recordings of Pip's poetry and set it to sampled music and beats. The result is a sound that combines electronic beats and sounds, occasional vocals, catchy riffs and compelling spoken-word poetry.
There's a whimsical quality to much of Pip's writing, but he also struggles to find the right language — words he can actually say. Since the age of 4, he's had to work around a debilitating stutter.
"If anything, I feel it's been a benefit," he says. "It's allowed me to grow. I was restricted with what words I could use because of certain [ones] I'd stutter on. I had to think a sentence or two ahead, and I'd be thinking, 'I'm gonna stutter on that word' so I'd be replacing it. So it kind of allowed me to widen my vocabulary without being much of a reader but more out of necessity."
Scroobius Pip and Dan le Sac's five-city U.S. tour starts Tuesday in New York and includes a stop at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.