Baba Brinkman “Ol’ English” (XXL Magazine 2007)

(Click photo to enlarge. Read below.)

In the widely used technique of sampling, artists incorporate tunes, lyrics and conepts from music made decades ago. But Vancouver’s Saba Brinkman is taking it back even farther–to the l4th century. For the past four years, the 28-year-old MC has been translating literature from Medievalscribes like Geoffrey Chaucer into hip-hop and performing his rhymes onstage.

Though Brinkman’s knowledge of rap dates back to childhood, he only recently learned about l4th century poets, while pursuing an English degree at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. In his studies, Brinkman noticed similarities between those classic writers and rappers like Slick Rick and B.I.G. – vivid storytelling, rhythmic flows and powerful live performances. “I thought what defined poetry to them is what defines hip-hop to me,” says Brinkman, who started rapping at 19.

For his college thesis, Srinkman aimed to show professors the link between the two genres. So he reworked verses from
Chaucer’s classic book, The Canterbury Tales, into rap lyrics. In 2004, he independently released his hip-hop debut, Swordplay. Then with the aid of U.K. beatsmith Lin Gardiner, Brinkman put his Medieval rhymes
on wax and released The Rap Canterbury Tales that same year. The album drew interest from Talon Books, which published a book version of the CD in September 2006.

Since graduating, Brinkman has made a living performing a one-man show at doz ens of colleges, theaters and arts festivals in the U.S. and Canada. “The fact that it keeps catching on reassures me that it’s actually got basis,” says Brinkman, whose fan base ranges from literary scholars to hip-hop heads. But he’s not limited to reworking archaic poetry – his third album, Lit-Hop, released this past December on his own label, Lit Fuse Records, is straight hip-hop.

This spring through fall, Brinkman will take his act to England, Scotland and Australia, among other places, while working on the manuscript for his second book, Lyrical Ba/last, scheduled for publication in fall 2008. He views his music as a bridge between the literary and hip-hop realms.

“For me, this is just the most logical thing in the world,” says Brinkman. “When you actually get down to the substance of both of these forms, I feel like they’re kindred.”

In other words, the best of both worlds.

–William E. Ketchum III