Paul Alborough, professionally known by his alter go Professor Elemental, is a hip hop artist with a difference. Like many rappers the professor uses wordplay and lyricism to convey stories and entertain. Unlike many rappers he is one of only a few to delve into silly but extremely polite world of “chap-hop”. Hip hop does come with its stereotypes but the professor is keen to show that even a middle class man from Brighton can pull it off.
The easiest way to describe chap hop is rapping but done by middle class English men. The lyricism, flow and wordplay is on par with regular hip hop but the diction, subject matter and dress sense is much, much more posh.
Chap hop is inherently silly by name and silly by nature, but that’s the whole point of it. Paul describes the music he creates as “hip hop with a silly hat” and believes that people do forget how mad and wacky some hip hop used to be, Paul explained that “hip hop has done some really stupid things like Humpty Hump and Biz Markie and I quite like the idea of keeping that little flame of silliness alive in a serious world.”
Paul wasn’t always the professor, he started to explore rapping around 2003 with the crew “Menagerie” that he still sometimes creates music with. He explained that while producing his early music, he put on a fake New York twang to sound like another emcee called Buckshot from the group Black Moon. Paul said: “I was a bit nervous of how posh I sounded in real life” and he felt the best way to combat this was to embrace it, and so the professor was born. He later added “I decided to go the other way, like way posher than I really am to get over that whole hurdle of middle-class-ness.”
It’s always interesting to see what musicians actually listen to on a day-to-day basis as it can help identify the roots of their inspiration, Paul is no exception to this as his music taste consists of “just loads of hip hop, loads of soul music, lots of breaks and funk and stuff like that” and expressed a certain sweet spot for the 90’s. The 90’s was considered the golden age of hip hop with artists such as A Tribe Called Quest being one of Paul’s favourites.
Growing up he was on a very strict diet of soul music. Being raised on the sounds of “Isaac Hayes and just the raw proper soul music” was heavy inspiration for his style and went on to explain how he can’t help but use elements of that in his own creations.
Paul is a strong supporter of Dog AID which helps less able people gain assistance through trained dogs:
“It’s such a small charity and compared to the amount that they do with the minimal resources they’ve got is remarkable and I advise everyone to check them out.”
Treating the professor as a split persona gives Paul unlimited creativity in what he wants to portray his character traits to be, which in this case happens to be “a sort of hyped up version of me when I’m a bit tipsy”. Paul is keen on a different identity, something he can be whenever he wants, he enjoys the separation: “No one could be as excitable as the professor is all the time without having no friends at all.”.
The professor doesn’t venture this incredibly polite sub genre alone. Professionally known by his stage name Mr. B, Jim Burke is also a chap hop superstar and both musicians have been creating unapologetically British music for 10 years now. The length of time that both Paul and Jim have been rapping for is very impressive considering how niche the style is, but Paul enjoys this:
“It’s great as there’s no competition, it’s just the two of you in a weird little world of your own. No pressure, just keep making nonsense.”
While he may believe he is making nonsense, his new album “The School of Whimsy” is a colourful, upbeat and summer-filled journey of comedy, storytelling and great wordplay too.
The album was created by Paul in collaboration with Tea Sea Records Producer Tom Caruana, Tom has been the professor’s producer for the entire album and has created the beats for some is his most popular songs as well. The professor is thrilled to have Tom and said: “he just makes all of the beats so beautifully and so ready to write to”, with enthusiasm like this don’t be surprised if you see Tom’s name on a lot more of the professor’s records.
The cover, created by V.V Glass, was an experiment to switch up the colour palette of steampunk. Professor Elemental is quite the steampunk fanatic but this time round was very keen on injecting some bright colours into the mix. Therefore what you get is an album cover where the saturation of colour and funky little details match the sound of the album very well.
Paul loves the idea of a traditional Chap, he enjoys the politeness and the way they carry themselves, however the one thing Paul does not like quite as much is the dress code and grooming. To be incredibly well presented all the time was just not his thing. Paul believes: “to be a proper chap you have to be really smart, well ironed, well turned out and I will never be those things, in fact I rebel against those things”. So instead he opted for steampunk. During performances Paul likes to sport his steampunk goggles, pith helmet, one of his bespoke jackets and what he describes as “a selection of chinos that I get from charity shops in bulk”. Paul has won 3 awards from the Steampunk Readers Choice awards including best personality and best solo musician.
The professor doesn’t like giving away any secrets, and when asked where the name Professor Elemental came from all he revealed was: “I was just born with it, my family name is Elemental and my first name is Professor”. What he did reveal instead was his relationship with previously mentioned Mr B, and particularly their holidays together.
The professor and the gentleman rhymer enjoy a spot of hiking through the Welsh countryside by day, and by evening share a small caravan and double bed, “we are there in our little jim jams next to each other”, he added.
Anyone as eccentric as the professor is very likely to have a personal butler and he does, but probably not quite what you’re expecting. Geoffrey the orangutan attempts to help the professor through their journey together, but instead is just deemed “useless” by his master and “he brings me all sorts of rubbish that I don’t need, my wrestling cardigan and my tussling jumper”.
Tea is a big part of the professor’s life and he takes it very seriously. With this being the 10th anniversary of his song “Cup of Brown Joy” it seems only right to see whether he’s a tea first or milk first kind of person:
“For me it’s a matter of during. Not before, or after the tea bag goes in. Let the tea bag stew for a bit, then whack a little bit of milk in test it, stir it. It’s just a question of time with things like that isn’t it. When you get a cup of tea by someone who doesn’t normally drink tea, it’s a horrible insult,”
To summarise, let the professor make his own tea.
And on that note, the pith helmet and goggles go back on. Paul says goodbye and returns to the mad world of the professor, to prepare for his performance at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival.
If you want to support Paul you can always sign up to his Patreon account. On there he interacts with members, releases exclusive content and lots of other goodies that shouldn’t be spoiled.
The School of Whimsy is out now everywhere so do go give it a listen.