Mid-afternoon in Kingston, Surrey, and a gaggle of Primark shoppers rustle by and bustle into a burger joint. At the lights, a car screeches to a halt, ticks over, rushes off. For a moment, there is quiet, and then a chugging camper-van belches around the corner and rolls to a standstill. The first thing to emerge is a beard. "All right?", it says. Scroobius Pip has got a great beard. It's the kind of beard that mice peep out of in Quentin Blake illustrations, that Edward Lear nests larks in.
Mellifluous magician, street-scribe, punk-poet with pop sensibilities, Pip conjures truly modern verse of genuine incision. Behind him, Dan le Sac trips on a cable, swears, and spills out onto the pavement. If Pip is the ringmaster in this enterprise, the wordsmith, then Le Sac is the acrobat, flipping tricks around him, layering hip-hop beats and electro bleeps and fizz around Pip's Essex patois. Together, they have crafted the most thoughtful, fresh and rollicking album you're likely to hear all year.
In the upstairs room of a pub, away from the hustle,Scroobius Pip – a name adapted, gratifyingly, from a Lear poem – leans forward to muse on the impediment that stirred his close relationship with language.
"It sounds weird," he says, "but I genuinely believe that growing up with a stutter has helped me, because it developed my vocabulary from a young age. I'd know certain words I'd stutter on, and as I was speaking I'd be thinking half a sentence ahead, needing to replace that word with another. It's a great little tool, because it allows you to have two streams of consciousness going on at once. Live, it can be a problem. If I know a song too well, I have to drag myself back."
While Pip found a gateway to hip-hop through the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill, and learnt from the incendiary hip-hop poets Saul Williams and Sage Francis that the spoken word needn't necessarily separate itself from the beat, Le Sac DJ-ed, flitted around in bands, made music in his bedroom, but never quite found what he was looking for.
"It wasn't until I started working on my own that I realised it was just that I'm not easy to work with," says Le Sac, flopping back on the sofa. "I've always had little drum machines and you get used to everything being so tight, so that when I heard a drummer, it was like, 'no, tighter'. It was only three years ago that I realised how to be in a band with other people: get rid of the drummer."
It was Le Sac who made the first move. "Pip was doing a tour of spoken-word gigs, living in his Toyota Space Wagon. I booked him to come down to Reading. He sent me a copy of his spoken-word album, and in the gap between me booking him and him playing, I did a couple of remixes. The second thing we wrote was 'Thou Shalt Always Kill'."
Within hours of receiving it, Xfm gave "Thou Shalt Always Kill" an airing, and from there it became the cult hit of last year. It bites a thumb at chewing-gum pop ("Thou shalt not wish your girlfriend was a freak like me"), cocks a snook at cultural artifice ("Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls' pants... use it to get into their heads") and takes a swipe at the prevailing face of commercial hip-hop ("Thou shalt remember that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements, and never will be").
They're themes that reverberate on the album, Angles, a collection of songs that bristle with social and cultural commentary and a furious DIY ethic that places them both at the vanguard of the revitalised spoken-word scene and, thanks largely to Dan, at the forefront of a new, urgent, hip-hop.
There's "Magician's Assistant", a brewing take on self-harm set to a warped fairground soundscape, the Radiohead-sampling "Letter from God to Man" and the fuzzy rush of "Back from Hell". Elsewhere, the album's title-track pitches Pip as storyteller, spinning the lives of four characters towards a crashing denouement, while "Look for the Woman", with its hook of "Love you too much to leave, like you too much to stay", is a blinding statement on the ache of separation.
"I try to put the narrator at the centre of the songs," says Pip. "'Angles' was the first track I focused on as a story. Generally, people are happy for songs to have a bland, linear narrative, whereas if you were watching a film, you wouldn't be happy with that. You want twists and turns along the way; so how come in songs we just have your Craig David formula of 'met her on Monday, drinks on Tuesday...?'"
Perhaps the greatest mark of the pair's offbeat, on-the-nail perspective comes in the shape of "Tommy C ", simultaneously a paean to the humanity and mortality of one man (Tommy Cooper), and an attack on notions of beauty proffered for the mass consumer. "The fact that Tommy Cooper's life was all about making people laugh, and the fact that, when he physically died on stage, everyone was still laughing and applauding, is more beautiful than some pop song about someone being beautiful with a model in the video. The definition of beauty is now 'sexy'. But sexy and beautiful are worlds apart. Tommy Cooper dying on stage isn't sexy. But it is beautiful."
Single 'Look for the Woman' is released on Monday on Sunday Best; 'Angles' is released on 12 May; Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip tour to 3 May (www.myspace.com/lesacvspip)Reuse content