14 June 2004
String theory gets the hip hop treatment
University of Sussex astronomer Dr John Gribbin is known worldwide for studying the stars but now he might become one himself - as a featured artist on a hip hop album lauded by heavy hitters in the music industry.
Dr Gribbin, a Visiting Research Fellow in Astronomy in the department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sussex, is better known as a scientist, broadcaster and award-winning author of bestselling science books, including In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, Stardust, Space and The Science of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials.
Now his academic writings have been converted into a rap - performed by Dr Gribbin - on a track entitled Scientifical, featured on Keep the World Guessin', the debut album of new Brighton hip hop outfit Digitek. Reviews of the album, to be released on June 28 on the Zebra Traffic label, have so far included praise from luminaries such as Daddy G of Massive Attack ("Some tuff hip hop here, wicked UK beats & UK flow. A real club banger, nice") and Paul G of Glastonbury headliners Morcheeba. The album has already featured on Steve Lamacq's Evening Session on BBC Radio 1 and on BBC Radio 1Xtra.
Dr Gribbin, whose work includes research into the age of the universe, supernovas and the search for life in space, was asked to contribute to the track by one of the band members, who is a friend of Dr Gribbin's son, Jonathan, and a fan of the science writer's books. "We're also both into reggae," says Dr Gribbin, "so we found we had quite a lot in common."
On the track, Dr Gribbin gets to grips with an extract from his book, The Search For Superstrings, and claims: "This is possibly the only current rap record to feature string theory." String theory is a complex scientific idea related to the origins of the universe more popularly associated with the likes of Stephen Hawking than with streetwise hip hop, ragga and chart-topping R&B.
A veteran of radio and television broadcasts, Dr Gribbin was unfazed by the recording process, but was rather surprised when he was asked to stand in a wardrobe to deliver his scientific rap. "It is the first time I have recorded in a wardrobe, but the guys insisted it would produce the best acoustics. I chose a piece from The Search For Superstrings because as well as being genuinely 'scientifical', the particular passage I used seemed to me to have a natural rhythm that lent itself to being spoken aloud. I am particularly pleased that I get a writing credit on the track. I like the album, and in particular 'my' track. I've been playing it in the car."
Perhaps Dr Gribbin has hit on a novel way to promote science, by appealing to a new generation through its favourite medium. It seems however, that his ambitions are a little less lofty. "If the music makes one or two other young people take up science, all to the good! It also helps break down this still too prevalent idea that scientists aren't like 'ordinary' people. But I didn't do it to promote science, I did it because they promised I can go on Top of the Pops if the song is a hit."
Notes for editors
For information on Digitek copies of the CD Keep The World Guessin', or photographs, contact Tom Simpson at Zebra Traffic Records on 01273 669070 or email email@example.com
University of Sussex Press Officers: Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, Tel: 01273 678888, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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