Scroobius Pip, Commanding Pop Culture in Rhyme A tall, white and fully bearded Brit, the spoken-word artist Scroobius Pip makes for an unlikely hip-hop phenomenon. But his rhythmically driving singles — including the hit "Thou Shalt Always Kill" — have taken the British music world by storm.
NPR logo

Scroobius Pip, Commanding Pop Culture in Rhyme

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Scroobius Pip, Commanding Pop Culture in Rhyme

Scroobius Pip, Commanding Pop Culture in Rhyme

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Tonight, at a club in New York, a young, English, hip-hop poet from the small town of Stanford-le-Hope is performing, and he's hoping that a wildly successful song and video he put on his MySpace Web page will translate into success here in the U.S. The song is titled "Thou Shalt Always Kill" and the artist calls himself Scroobius Pip.

NPR's Guy Raz has a profile.

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

GUY RAZ: In the video, Scroobius Pip tears down a narrow flight of stairs out the door and onto a London street. He rattles off a list of pop culture-laced commandments.

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

SCROOBIUS PIP (Musician): (Singing) Thou shalt not steal if there is a direct victim. Thou shalt not worship pop idols or follow lost prophets.

RAZ: Thou shalt not worship pop idols is followed by 33 more commandments: Thou shalt not pimp my ride. Thou shalt not judge a book by its cover. Thou shalt not judge "Lethal Weapon" by Danny Glover.

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) Thou shalt not judgea book by its cover. Thou shalt not judge "Lethal Weapon" by Danny Glover. Thou shalt not buy Coca-Cola products, thou shalt not buy Nestle products.

RAZ: Scroobius Pip is about 6-foot-2, beanpole thin, white. He wears skinny ties, and he has the long beard of a Hasidic Torah scholar or a Madrasa student.

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English-speaking countries.

RAZ: His real name is David Meads. He took the name Scroobius Pip from an Edward Lear poem about a creature who didn't know what it was.

SCROOBIUS PIP: It's 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 — it didn't have to be one specific thing.

RAZ: Pip's collaborator is DJ Dan le Sac. He sports thick, mutton-chop sideburns down his round, ruddy face. And le Sac creates the beats and the music.

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

RAZ: Almost from the second Pip and le Sac posted the video to MySpace last year, they and it became a phenomenon.

SCROOBIUS PIP: A lot of people think it's about me just spouting off and telling everyone what they should or shouldn't do, but I wanted it to be a track that's got so many views and opinions that you can't really agree with all of them, and would therefore make you research them a bit yourself and come up with your own opinion and make your own decisions.

RAZ: For example, Pip command listeners not to read the influential British music magazine NME.

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) Thou shalt read NME.

RAZ: Still, NME's own reviewer called the rhyme 2007's track of the year. At one point in the video, Pip stands in a stairwell holding a stack of legendary rock albums and then tosses each one aside as he says…

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) The Beatles were just a band. Led Zeppelin - just a band. The Beach Boys - just a band. The Sex Pistols - just a band.

I 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. I mean, their job is important and touches people's lives, but it couldn't be said to be 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.

RAZ: This is pretty much how Pip and le Sac see themselves - just two blokes making music, having a laugh. A couple of months ago, well after their video became a hit, the duo auditioned in front of Simon Cowell and his pal on Cowell's new TV talent show called "X Factor." They chose to sing a rather off-color tune by Snoop Dogg called "Ain't No Fun if the Homies Can't Have None."

(Soundbite of TV show "X Factor")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) Guess who's back in the (bleep) house with the (bleep) mouth.

Mr. SIMON COWELL (TV Personality, Producer): That was awful.

SCROOBIUS PIP: No, we can do others. We got others, we can do regular -

Mr. COWELL: You can't sing. Has anyone ever told you can sing?

SCROOBIUS PIP: Oh, yeah, my mom, my dad.

Mr. PHIL ALEXANDER (Editor in Chief, Mojo Magazine): Can they sing? Probably not. Does it matter? Definitely not.

RAZ: This is Phil Alexander. He edits the British pop music magazine Mojo, and he counts himself among their fans.

Mr. ALEXANDER: They're not manufactured, and I think that's the interesting thing, that actually a lot of their stuff is being done through word of mouth. It hasn't been done through loads of media. And I suppose the thing about it that makes it kind of work is the fact that it's specifically - when you see the video, then you get even more into them.

(Soundbite of song "Letter From God to Man")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) This is a letter from God to man. It says, hey there. How's it going? Long time, no see. I know I haven't been around much lately, But it didn't seem like you wanted me to be.

RAZ: Scroobius Pip and Dan le Sac started collaborating a few years ago when they worked together at a record shop outside London. Now even though it sounds like a storyline from a Nick Hornby novel, it's true. Le Sac would take recordings of Pip's poetry and set it to sampled music and beats. And Pip just kept writing furiously.

(Soundbite of song "Letter From God to Man")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) So I'm writing to apologize for horrors committed in my name. Although it was never what I intended, I feel I should take my share of the blame. A lot of good I tried to do was corrupted when organized religion got into full swing, what I thought were quite clear messages were taken to unusual extremes. My teachings where taken out of context to meet the agendas of others. Interpretations were taken in different ways, hidden meanings discovered. Religion became a tool for the weak to control the strong. With all these new morals and ethics, survival of the fittest was gone.

I would describe what I do as spoken word or a conscious hip-hip, maybe, and what Dan does is kind of electro beats. And he mixes indie sounds and electro sounds and hip-hop sounds. He melds them all together and together we combine to make something.

(Soundbite of song "The Beat That My Heart Skipped")

SCROOBIUS PIP: (Singing) But I really want to know what she thinks of me 'cause I'm loving every idiosyncrasy. But I ain't one to jump through hoops to make a first impression. Been there, done that, learned the worst of lessons. We want to be loved for who we appear to be instead of who we are. Our real selves take a backseat behind the pomp and the facade. That's as true of the rude boys, downing pints and acting hard, the kids shunning convention with clinical disregard. This is a beat that my heart skips.

RAZ: There's a whimsical quality to much of what Scroobius Pip writes, but he also struggles to find the right language — words that he can actually pronounce. Since the age of 4, David Meads has stuttered.

SCROOBIUS PIP: For me, if anything, I feel it's been a benefit. It's allowed me to grow because at school I was restricted with what words I could use because of certain things I'd stutter on. It's a hard thing to get your head around if you've never had it but speaking, I had to think a sentence or two ahead, so it kind of allowed me to widen my vocabulary without being much of a reader but more out of a necessity.

RAZ: Some of the language he uses is culturally specific to the U.K. But even in Britain, there are critics who've wondered what he means by declaring, thou shalt always kill. It turns out it's a phrase from this side of the Atlantic.

SCROOBIUS PIP: The fact of the matter is it's purely from the hip-hop vernacular - if you've killed, you've done a great gig. - I used to end my poetry sets on that song so I just end with…

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

(Singing) And thou shalt always, thou shalt always kill.

RAZ: And over the next two weeks in five cities, Scroobius Pip and Dan le Sac are hoping to do just that.

Guy Raz, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song "Thou Shalt Always Kill")

BLOCK: And you can hear full songs from Scroobius Pip and Dan le Sac at our music Web site,

(Soundbite of end credits)

NORRIS: I'm Michele Norris.

BLOCK: And I'm Melissa Block. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.