i.am.bic pent.am.eter

When the Soprano’s ended on HBO this past winter I will admit to being both bummed and a little relieved.  After all, hadn’t TV’s best show gone on just a little too long?  Didn’t you just want to slap that whiney little shit A.J. and tell him to grow up and become a mobster like his dad?  Well, regardless HBO was left with a major hole in their programming and no amount of new crap like John from Cincinnati was going to fill the void.  So I thought.  Lo and behold HBO came through with one of the most interesting, thought provoking and entirely entertaining docu-drama’s I’d ever seen, “The Professors of Hip and Hop.” No, this wasn’t some muddled history lesson mini-series like John Adams.  It was the story of two Harvard Institute English Language professors who became rap stars in order to save the English language from certain doom.  Even better than the mini-series was the soundtrack that accompanied it and was recorded by the Professors rap group i.am.bic pent.am.eter.  In fact, it swept our Figment Soundtrack Awards for 2008.  So who are these so called Professors of Hip and Hop?  Well we caught up with Professor Gary “Epic” Smithson and Professor Clark “Epitaph” Hogan last week at a linguistics conference in Boise, ID.

Figment:  How did 2 Harvard Institute for the English Language professors get together to form a hip hop group?

Gary:  I’ve been teaching with Clark for years and I remember sitting in on one of his technical writing survey lectures and feeling inspired by the rhythm of his intonation. After a couple of decaf skinny caramel macchiatos and an envigorating game of chess we decided it was time to bring that sort of rhythm to the youth of our country. We do enjoy the new hip hop beats that are out these days but it’s ghastly the way they murder the English language! I dare say, we’re two Henry Higgins in a world of Eliza Doolittles.

Figment:  How did you get your rap handles of Epic and Epitaph?

Clark: I gave Gary the nickname of Epic because I’ve always felt him to be prolific and that this endeavor is monumental. I most certainly did not mean it in a Greek tragedy sense. Do I believe one day he will eventually kill his father and marry his mother and probably gouge out his eyes? I mean, I suppose it could happen, but the probability suggest no. If you knew his mother, you would know why. If he were to gouge out his own eyes he would have done it when she showed up to the Harvard faculty potluck and scotch tasting with eyebrows that were drawn on with some sort of make-up pencil.

Gary: Epitaph was coined because Clark always insists on having the last word when we argue about dead writers. Although often, I believe his opinion to be misguided.

The Professors of Hip and Hop Soundtrack

Figment:  When HBO approached you about recording the soundtrack to ‘The Professors of Hip and Hop’ were you down wit’ it?

Gary: One of the conditions of the project was that i.am.bic pent.am.eter would record the soundtrack. We discussed it and decided there would probably be no other way people would be exposed to our music.

Clark: I believe we have a large following in Japan though.

Figment:  How did it feel to be the subject of a mini-series docu-drama?

Clark: I will be the first to admit that it was incredibly nerve-racking to have the cameras following my every move. I was afraid to take a shower, it was awkward to drive my car, then, you know, that whole scene in the third episode where I was evicted from that wine bar in Connecticut when I urinated on a man selling long-stem roses because I though he was a flowering bush.

Gary: I contest that anyone would have been confused by his short stature. The camera doesn’t properly portray his diminutive height.

Clark: He was rather short.

Gary: I liked having the cameras around simply because attendence in my classes improved dramatically. Only the opening sequence and the closing sequence were shot on campus but students took enough of an interest in what was happening to show up to my classes at their scheduled time.

Figment:  Are there really ‘real’ words underlying most rap lyrics?  And if so how did you crack the rap lexicon?

Gary: The way we view rap slang is in many ways like how skilled linguists view English and see a lot of Latin. Well, unless it’s the really odd slang that I honestly believe has no real origin except alcohol consumption and the smoking of the ‘hashish’. Is that what it’s called?

Clark: I think the politically correct term is ‘dopers’. Or is that for opium? Regardless, most words that rappers use these days are rather easy to uncover as long as they do not stray too far from the path of classic english. Say for instance ‘crunk’, I cannot begin to fully portray my annoyance with the lack of imagination behind THAT word. Just because you haven’t the vocabulary to use a wide array of words, does not give the right to make up your own. I swear these people think a thesaurus is some kind of dinosaur.

Figment:  Could you please translate the following rap lyrics for me:

The year’s ’94 and my trunk is raw
In my rear view mirror is the mother fuckin’ law
I got two choices y’all pull over the car or (hmmm)
Bounce on the double put the pedal to the floor
(Jay-Z ’99 Problems’)

Clark: It sounds like he’s packing some sort of illegal drugs or weapons in his vehicle and he is being pursued by law enforcement officials.

Gary: I think he’s deciding whether to pull over or begin a high-speed chase. How exciting! You know, I was involved in a high-speed chase once during an English Department used book sale when a surly elderly man tried pilfering a copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath. I impeded his thievery after I tackled him in the courtyard and bloodied his nose. Sylvia would’ve been proud.

Clark: She would have been indifferent. She wrote that book while she was suicidal- and that’s technically not a high-speed chase.

Figment: Hood n***a from Bankhead
I stay by Grandma Nana
I lay by my banana
dumpin’ and punkin’ monkeys.’
(Young Dro ‘Shoulder Lean’)

Clark: Hmmm… I… Am not sure that’s real English.

Gary: Does he live by a zoo perhaps?

Figment:  ‘Verse number 2 do the damn thang keeps on my neck pocket’s full of Ben Franks.’
(Yung Joc ‘It’s Goin’ Down’)

Gary: I’m not familiar with the context but I believe he’s talking about accumulating wealth in the form of hundred dollar bills.

Figment:  There has been some controversy regarding your song ‘Riding Expeditiously in My Profligate Vehicle’ in that environmental groups have called the song irresponsible given the threat of global warming and rising fuel costs.  Any comment?

Clark: I think the whole thing has been blown wildly out of proportion. We’ve been singing the song for years and it’s only now people are taking notice to the issue of global warming. It’s even more ridiculous since the third verse describes the vehicle as being a hybrid, which has low gas milage anyway.

Gary: Clark even asked me to leave that part out because he feared it would give us a less ferocious image but I’m a big environmentalist. I couldn’t help but try to make fuel economy look cool.

Figment:  Did Edgar Allen Poe really have a Po-Po?

Gary: Well, he didn’t have a po-po, he was always running from the po-po’s. In that, he was always running from the police because he was an alcoholic and an opium addict. Admittedly not a good role-model but a fantastic writer. I wrote the song because he’s kind of an idol of mine. Not the drug abuse part, just the brilliant mind part.

Clark: He was also unlucky in love, like both of us!

Figment:  How do you reconcile the fact that you both have advanced degrees and tenure at a prestigious university and yet you earn mad benjamin’s rockin’ da mic?  I mean, you make more money being MCs.

Clark: I will admit, we do make much more money using our unsurpassed talents as entertainers but we keep our university jobs to maintain the prestige.

Gary: In case the world rejects us and our amazing rapping skills and finds us to be pretentious and overbearing.

Figment:  If you could select any rap song for your doctoral thesis what would it be?

Gary: Gold Digger by Kayne West, featuring Jamie Foxx. I think the subject matter is worth looking into.

Clark: Honestly, I would choose the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. A young, poorly dressed, Will Smith was a huge inspiration of mine. I even donned his signature flat-top for a while.

Figment:  Speaking of Kanye West wasn’t he first a College Dropout, then he admitted to Late Registration and now he claims to be a Graduate.  Any comment?

Gary: See, and this is why we do this! There’s this uncomfortable stigma that goes along with a college education that we need to rid ourselves of. Listen youth, being smart is cool too! It’s ok to be educated- you can still pack a 9mm, you can be a street business owner, if nothing else, you have a competitive advantage! You’ve worked a budget before!

Figment:  Does having a hit soundtrack LP qualify as being published?

Clark: In the academic world, no. On the streets, yes.

Figment:  What is the definition of perambulate?

Gary: (Laughs) It means to walk or traverse. It’s another way of saying stroll.

I give these guys an A+ for effort.  Forget about going to see HBO’s “Sex and the City” movie and go catch “The Professors of Hip and Hop” on HBO On-Demand, and while you’re at it buy their soundtrack album!

Leave a Reply