I believe a significant number of regular readers already know who Professor Elemental is, seeing as he’s an iconic part of the steampunk community. For the uninitiated, Professor Elemental is a, yes, steampunkish hip hop artist, serving up endlessly entertaining portions of whimsical, faux victorian sci-fi tropes within lyrical calisthenics delivered by a tea obsessed, safari treking, half mad British persona. And lucky for you he has a new album out.
If this sounds gimmicky, here’s the thing: the secret to why this works and certainly why this particular album works so very, very well, is a mix between ridiculously enjoyable fun and the fact that when you take all the window dressing away, it’s actually really good. The quality of the lyrics and the beats are impeccable. The rhyming and the hypnotic lure of the tracks cannot be resisted. And this is just the baseline, add all that superfluous detail back in and you have a winning secret formula.
A perfect example of this is Inn At The End Of Time. In this track our Professor ducks into a wonderful excuse to both set up a fun sci-fi scenario and also name drop just about every time travelling pop culture reference he can think of, not to mention a plethora of loving Hitchhiker’s Guide references. And while you’re busy having a nerdgasm, the music and beat behind it is actually wonderful. Tight, moody, atmospheric and immensely satisfying on its own right.
The bulk of the album however is very much firing out an arsenal of electro swing. Electro swing is old swing era music set to modern beats, and old swing era samples set behind a crisp drum beat while the Professor lyrically dances away on top of it is the overriding musical theme of the album, done to excellent effect. A top notch example is the track Wages Of Gin, where 20s swing, complete with an old female crooner belting out the choruses, is put to a beat over which Professor Elemental delivers a delightful treaty on the horrors of the hangover, presumably after some Gatsby level party. It’s delicious. It’s clever. It’s fun. How can you not have fun?
There’s cute interludes, interplanetary robot hijinks, adorable guest shticks, swing era musical breaks, and a guarantee you won’t be bored. And yet, interestingly enough, despite all of this, my absolute favorite moment of the album is one where the swing is put aside, the humor is put on hold for a second, and the artist delivers a lyrical flow that’s honest, brutal, and direct, and had me applauding. The second verse of the track Bare Witness is my favorite lyrics on the record hands down. He speaks freely and honestly about the annoyance of the constant hip hop obsession with money, materialism, fame and idolization not to mention misogyny. It’s a sentiment i too feel deeply and it really demonstrates how behind the fun and delight, the album is also full of earnest pleas for inclusion and community and acceptance and a genuine love of every strange and wonderful idea you can think up.