Medieval Rap Music
Art has the power to transport us through space and time.
It’s a trick that’s come in handy during the pandemic when many of us have spent our days sheltering in place delving into artistic hobbies.
Many of us have revamped classics, weaved our way through movie history, or made an impressive amount of bread. In London, a classically trained musician took a real interest in medieval music.
Then they mixed it with rap. Then it went viral.
Beedle the Bardcore, based in London, prefers to be known by his persona and avatar: Botero’s Pope Leo X. It is a reference on several levels: [a remix of Raphael’s Renaissance original] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Leo_X_(Raphael)), a tribute to the banality of taking history too seriously, and a viral internet entity, perfect for Beedle creating bardcore, medieval remakes irreverent pop music with the skill of a master artist and the likability of a meme.
If you’ve never heard of bardcore before, take a minute to put on your AirPods and listen to The Real Slim Shady, Bardcore Version. For any early rap fan, the song is immediately familiar. But the instruments are different. Instead of a synthesized sound, there is dulcimer under a high ceiling. The boom of a bass drum replaces the electric ones, and a wooden flute plays the chorus in medieval staccato.
The resulting atmosphere is special: a party in a tavern. The date is medieval. Men wear stockings, women wear tunics. There may be a glass of mead in your hand. And Beedle the Bardcore got their hands on a hit from the future and turned it into a middle-aged bop.
Beedle can pull off this musical time travel trick because they’ve spent their 40s “falling in love with a lot of medieval instruments.” From the transverse flute to the nyckelharpa, Beedle learned to play certain instruments, studied deep samples of other instruments, and learned how to make modern instruments sound according to their era.
Basically, Beedle knows the medieval sound. And after doing a piece a day for about 50 days, they know how to make it evocative. Put a recorder – a medieval instrument that, “in the wrong context can sound really silly” – in the right place in a rap classic, “and they can kind of transport you to the kind of world you’re trying to get into. conjure up pretty quickly and also sound really cool,” Beedle said.
This new sound is what Beedle is looking for. Not one from a specific period – “the term medieval”, Beedle said, “is ridiculously broad in a way. It encompasses a period of hundreds of years”, but a cinematic “medieval” sound that transports listeners towards a familiar fictional version of the Middle Ages, a canvas on which all sorts of stories can be told.
Beedle spent a lot of time with medieval instruments. But most people didn’t. So why do you know what “medieval-y” looks like (and not, say, “Victorian-y”)? This is because we have heard these instruments before.
The medieval period is one of the most revisited in art. From Chaucer to Rowling, we’ve been telling medieval stories since the Middle Ages. That’s the subject of the Getty Center’s exhibit, Fantasy of the Middle Ages, open June 21 through September 11, 2022.
Fancy explores the medieval influence on pop culture since game of thrones at video games. Set designs, Disney animation cells, costumes and concept art appear alongside examples of their medieval origins. And the exhibition explores why, when we see Dev Patel in his golden crown, or hear the harpsichord in the the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, our brains instinctively say, “this is medieval-y.”
There are other versions of Bardcore on YouTube: Hildegard makes pop music and star wars versions – but rap, Beedle believes, helped “open up that world to people who wouldn’t feel like it was where they wanted to hang out.”
Remaking, remixing and sampling, says English teacher Mickey Hess, is a way for musicians to “consciously place themselves in a musical story”. And, by mixing medieval and rap, Beedle made his tavern nights part of the medieval canon.
Just like we can imagine a potions class in every medieval castle, we can “put the Renaissance homies on Biggie Smalls”. And our image of medieval women can borrow some of WAP’s political audacity to become Well-Armed Peasants: young ladies who are in no way distressed, and who demand equal wages. Even rap legends Wu-Tang helped cement rap’s medieval history by co-writing Beedle’s remake of CREAM
The medieval rap of Beedle the Bardcore is just one of the ways modern sensibilities have affected our view of the Middle Ages. If you want to discover other ways in which medieval times have influenced modern times, visit the medieval fantasy, or buy the book online. And if you want to hear more about Beedle the Bardcore, they’re still accepting remix requests on their YouTube page.
The Fantasy of the Middle Ages
An epic journey through imaginary medieval worlds
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