Not content with the mastery of just one discipline, Doc Brown has seen acclaim in the rap game, earned renown on the comedy circuit and broken through in the acting arena since his emergence over a decade ago. His handle, a legacy of teenage rap battles that stuck as his career transitioned; it is a feeling of unfinished business that brings him back to those rap beginnings and sees him focussing solely on music for the first time since his early career. Brown releases his new album, Stemma, later this year; his first full length album in a decade, featuring ‘appearances from the likes of Mikill Pane, Example, Matt Wills, Andy Burrows, Luc Skyz and Poisonous Poets’ and embarks on a UK tour in March with Mikill Pane.
The hip-hop ethos imbues lots of Brown’s work and there are many parallels between what makes an outstanding MC, comic and actor, so this interconnectivity is of particular interest. He began rapping in West London cyphers during the early 2000’s, before a resident stint hosting a rap night at Real Deal records proved his metal as a quick witted master of ceremonies, capable of handling the “pretty raucous night”. His ear for talent saw him recruiting a 16-year-old Lowkey for a feature on an early single and his increasing connections involved him several high profile projects, not least the live incarnation of Mark Ronson’s Versions album.
It was between 2007 and 2008 and that Brown began making his transition into comedy. His rap skill, understanding of rap culture and honed stage presence set his stand-up apart, and his rapped skits provided some of the most memorable aspects of his famed routines. His razor sharpness never left and his return to rap is a confirmation of that self-belief.
Ahead of Doc’s shows at Band on the Wall and The Wardrobe, Leeds, we spoke to him about the fabric of the rap and comedy disciplines, exploring which better equips him for life’s little and large challenges…
TIE. You obviously have more breathing space in stand-up to be able to get into detail with politics and also have fun with it so it’s not too preachy, but in a song you can be more abstract – the whole thing could be a satirical metaphor if you wanted it to be, so I think this one might be a tie. In a nutshell I’d say if you wanna be explicit – comedy, if you wanna be more abstract – rap.
RAP. I think kids share funny clips massively, but not necessarily ones with a message. I think if Giggs is telling you his stance on society kids are gonna pay way more attention to that than Russell Howard. Rap is so immediate and born of street culture so I think it definitely has a bigger influence on young people than comedy.
RAP. I think at a house party you’ll never achieve the silence and focus required to make Stand Up work properly, but if you performed a song it doesn’t matter if some people are talking or whatever. It’s loud and bombastic and would suit a party situation way better.
COMEDY. America invented rap. They don’t need UK rappers. It’s like selling water to a whale. Whereas comedy has no spiritual home, it’s literally about who’s funniest. I did Funny as Hell for HBO in the states and hosted the BAFTAs in LA and I definitely stood out for being British, but the main thing is I was funny. And funny has no cultural boundaries.
TIE. I only say tie here because of the power of humour. In a rap battle you actually need to employ comedic elements to win. It can’t all be hardcore “road” talk, you’ve got to cuss your opponent which is gonna mean taking the piss and that means you’ll need comic material at times. So it’s a tie because battling is the most comedic side of rap. I’ve obviously used rap to good comic effect in Stand Up competitions but I’ve also used comedy in rap battles.
COMEDY. Ricky is a huge fan of the raps I’ve done for him, partly because it’s something he can’t do so there’s a level of awe to seeing it done well. That said, he’s one of the greatest comedians of our generation so the jokes have to be of a pretty high standard! I’d say comedy pips it, because both the raps and the jokes I write for him both have to be strictly comedic.
TIE. I’m confident I can talk about this as I’ve experienced both. I’ve given four best man speeches in my life and I spoke two and rapped two. Both sets got amazing responses and both were obviously packed with jokes. Rapping the speech obviously brought a brand new energy to the speeches which has proved unforgettable, but a good old fashioned comedy roast for a speech is equally classic.