WHEN MEDIEVAL HISTORY AND HIP HOP CULTURE COLLIDE
History makes for unlikely bedfellows - but seeing patterns across ages and cultures is what our subject is all about
Earlier this week I drove to Oxford to speak at a literary festival. It was a mid-afternoon slot and I made my way up at leisurely pace, doing all the things a driver does: chewing gum, staring at the slowly changing landscape, judging harshly the competence of other road users, making mental lists of things that need to get done.
And of course, listening to music.
When I got into the car I was in the mood for something upbeat and urgent to gee me up for an afternoon of public speaking. So I flicked through the music apps and found a new hip hop release, an LP by the veteran rapper and one-time drug dealer Benny the Butcher. I quite like old Benny. Like the other permanent members of the Griselda collective - Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn - he has a verbally dexterous, playful flow a million miles from the garbage mumble-rap and singsong vocoder bullshit favoured by our decade’s younger artists.
He talks about selling drugs, spending money, arguing with other rappers and other such well-trodden thug activities. He doesn’t bang on about his depression medication. In other words, Benny is an old fashioned rapper who raps about old fashioned things. He reminds me of the 1990s. I like that.
Anyway, what I wasn’t expecting when I put on the new Benny the Butcher joint was to hear anything remotely connected to medieval history. But life is weird. And history is weird. And, probably, I am weird. Let me tell you what happened.
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