If you’ve ever been down a late-night YouTube rabbit hole that takes you to epic rap battles, then you may already know of Mark Grist. He’s the subject of a viral video in which he rap battles a much younger man whilst wearing demonstrably different attire from the rest of the people attending the event. He absolutely outshines his younger opponent, leading to strong reactions by the onlooking crowd. The success seen in this video, however, does not serve as the height of Grist’s achievement of a rap artist, but rather as a beginning to a longer journey to acceptance within the wider hip-hop community.
Grist’s interest in hip-hop began at a young age – as mentioned in his performance, he grew up in the remote island of Unst, which led him to spend a significant portion of his youth sitting on the beach and listening to Chuck D. Later in life, he became a teacher in Peterborough, and noticed that many of his students spent their spare time writing rap songs. Grist immediately saw this as a way to connect his love of writing poetry with his students’ desire to channel their creativity through rap lyrics. This connection becomes a central theme of the show, and proves to be quite thought provoking, particularly for those dismissive of the merits of the deeper messages contained in hip-hop.
Throughout the next hour, Grist draws connections between poetry and hip-hop whilst also highlighting key differences between the two. He also explores the difficulties he has faced in completing a mix tape. Prior to the Fringe show, Grist has developed a podcast that chronicles his journey, which includes conversations with various members of the wider hip-hop community. Grist uses these conversations to narrate the steps in his creative process, providing great insight into the struggles and ultimate creation of the five songs that make up his new album.
Grist generates laughs throughout the performance, both from his clever lyrics and general observations about how he stands as anomaly in the hip-hop genre. In addition, he provides more than a few well performed raps, by focusing on the wider message that his journey smashed preconceived notions regarding the ability of hip-hop artists. Dismissing the overall premise that Mark Can’t Rap, the audience reactions’ more than prove his rapping prowess. Moreover, we realise that this craft requires immense talent that should be appreciated by a wider audience, even if it’s not their cup of tea.