It's hip-hop's turn to hijack scrabble

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The Independent Culture

When did Scrabble get so twee? Everyone's favourite word-game has been hijacked by the indie-pop crowd that shows no signs of relinquishing "Scrabble Sundays" and DIY letter-jewellery. Isn't it time that verbally dextrous hip-hop claimed a triple-letter-score or two?

Manchester "spoken-word collective" Pen-ultimate think so. Their latest show, A Night on the Tiles, features a mix of Scrabble and high-stakes action.

"It started out as a bit of a joke," says MC and poet Ben Mellor. "We were thinking of novel ways to create a spoken-word piece and came up with the idea of a music video featuring a bunch of seedy gangsters playing Scrabble." With help from US hip-hop playwright Will Power, Pen-ultimate fleshed it into an hour-long show, heavy on the long words, and cinematic references from Guy Ritchie to Kung Fu Hustle.

Mellor, current the BBC Radio 4 Poetry Slam Champion, concedes that spoken-word has a less-than bad-boy image. "It's a hangover from your more traditional poetry reading." But this bears no reality to the Manchester scene, he says, which is spearheaded by the likes of Lemn Sissay and Breaking Cycles' Benji Reid, organiser of the Process Festival where Pen-ultimate first formed.

"There's page poetry and stage poetry; rapping and spoken word," says Mellor. "Hip-hop is a culture in itself. But just as many people like us cross over and out into other things."

'A Night on the Tiles' is at Tara Arts, London SW18 (020-8333 4457) 8 to 12 March, then touring (