Interview with rapper Verb T on football and rap

Left Back Football, May 20th, 2016.The relationship between football and rap music is an odd one. It’s rarely an official one unless watered down with political correctness and PR that the brand of Modern Football requires of all it’s partners.

John Barnes’ memorable cameo on New Order’s ‘World In Motion‘ prior to Italia ’90 was a rare occasion where the bridge between the two cultures was crossed with success. Yet, more frequently efforts such as the shout-heavy ‘Gooners and we’re Gunning‘ from the Fly Emirates-clad geezers below represent the relationship between the sport and the music genre. A song which stood the test of time as well as the rappers’ beloved club’s 2016 title challenge.

However, a far less cringe-inducing effort has been made courtesy of comedian, actor and rapper Doc Brown, with the help of UK hip-hop royalty in Verb T and producer, Chemo. The trio of Palace fans released ‘Glad All Over Again’ ahead of the Eagles’ first FA Cup final appearance since 1990, when a cover of the original 1963 ‘Glad All Over’ was sung by the then Palace squad to accompany Steve Coppell’s side to Wembley.

The similarities with the 2016 and 1990 finals don’t end there, as Manchester United were the opponents of the South-London club on that occasion too. I spoke to lifelong Palace fan and legendary UK rapper, Verb T, about that final 26 years ago, the presence of football in rap music and, the chances of Alan Pardew’s side doing what they didn’t manage in 1990 – beating United in the FA Cup final.

So, Verb T is a Palace fan?

VERB T: It’s on a family level, my Grandad is a Palace fan and was watching them way back since the 1940s, I think. One of my earliest football memories is being a kid watching Palace in the 1990 cup final so it’s cool it’s come full circle to this point now.

Who were your heroes growing up supporting them?

VERB T: My heroes were the obvious Wright and Bright. But also, I was a big fan of Steve Coppell. He just always seemed like a really nice guy. Next season we got Eric Young, or ‘Ninja’ because of the headband he wore. That made him a hero as I had also discovered Kung-fu movies around that time.

The FA Cup has always been a platform for players to become legends at their club, one of my earliest memories (as a Liverpool fan), was seeing Owen win the 2001 FA Cup on his own against Arsenal in that gold Reebok kit. I’ve still got a soft spot for him depsite the United stuff and his shit punditry, whose your FA Cup hero?

 VERB T: Yeah that’s a good point. The two goals Ian Wright scored in that final are what made him an instant hero to me. But, eventually Slick Rick became my main hero. I guess he won because I chose music!

I was going to ask about the whole notion of FA Cup songs. It’s a trend which has died down a lot recently for better or worse. Are there any in particular, good or bad, that you remember well?

VERB T: Other than ‘Glad All Over‘ (1990) I don’t remember any other FA cup songs. There have been plenty of football songs over the years – ‘World In Motion’ being the best, ‘Three Lions‘ was not bad. I didn’t really think about it in terms of that myself, I just approached it like any other song except my subject just happened to be Palace. I didn’t try and rap differently or anything.

The fact Verb T and Doc Brown don’t try to ‘rap differently’ on the song are probably the key to it’s recent popularity that has seen it feature in the likes of The Guardian, and win acclaim from Crystal Palace owner, Steve Parish. The unlikely hip-hop fan tweeted his endorsement. (https://twitter.com/CEO4TAG/status/731602671833100289.) The absence of a clichèd chanting chorus or the overly ‘laddy’ undertones that often dominate football songs are welcomed omissions. Despite the topic being less cutting edge than what you would expect from the often gritty nature of UK rap, the clever wordplay and knowledgeable football references mean the song can be taken seriously.

I was wondering if I could ask what you thought of the relationship between football and UK rap music? Yourself and the likes of Lee Scott and Black Josh seem to be big football fans judging by lyrics, do you think football is a culture that the music embraces?

VERB T: I’m glad you mentioned Black Josh because the track ‘Paul Scholes‘ he made is excellent, and I love Lee Scott’s line ‘Overhead like a Johnny Barnes scissor kick, round here Robbie Fowlers God and Grobbelaar’s innocent.’ But yeah, I mean it works if it’s natural. In my track ‘Listen To Me‘ released a few years back I mentioned being a kid and going to see Palace play, but it’s funny because music took over and, especially in the past few years I have gigs on most Fridays and Saturdays so it becomes hard to go to games. I think there will always be football references made by rappers in this country because it’s part of the culture in the same way American rappers reference their sports stars a lot.

Getting back to the FA Cup and Palace – weird season for you. It seemed it started amazingly, then wore off dramatically. But has the cup kept the season alive for the fans?

VERB T: I would say the cup has made what would have otherwise been a quite horrible season a pretty enjoyable one. I prefer it the other way round, as has been the way in the past two seasons where we start badly then go on a run and finish strong. I think injuries were definitely a factor. Bolasie, Dann, Puncheon, Wickham, Cabaye, Mcarthur, Souarè – all key players that were out. Hopefully we can strengthen the squad to compensate for that next season.

What’s your highlight of the cup run been so far?

VERB T: I was at the Southampton game at St. Mary’s as I live not too far from there. One highlight was not getting attacked for supporting Palace in the home stands. Beating Spurs was a highlight as they were the real in-form team at the time, but the main highlight was the semi final, I’ll long remember that game. Hopefully the final will top all of those.

And how are you feeling about the final?

VERB T: I think it will be a good game, I really can’t wait. I think the Palace line up will be the same as the semi final. The only possible change I see is if Pardew decides to start Mcarthur, as amazing as Jedinak was in the semi, and he is a great leader, I think Mcarthur is a slightly better player. Also he won the cup with Wigan so maybe that’s one of those things that can work in your favour as a player too.
Pardew described the prospect of Palace winning the FA Cup to be as big to the fans as it was for Leicester’s winning the league. How big would it be to see Pardew lift the cup on Saturday?
VERB T: Yeah it would be huge for us, our biggest trophy yet and for me personally very nice to put the demons of 1990 to rest. As a young lad, I cried after we lost that cup final replay. But you really can’t compare this to Leicester when you think about the fact they played a 38 game season and had to play City, Arsenal, Spurs, and all the other big clubs twice – and maintain the form week after week. It was great to see them win. In fact I haven’t witnessed anything like that in sports apart from maybe the Detroit Pistons’ team in the NBA that won the title in 2004. That team was also made up of players that didn’t quite fit elsewhere but then came together with an excellent coach and an amazing team spirit and excelled. But, from the point of view of it being our biggest trophy, I get what Pards is saying.
I actually had a very vivid dream about the final which I hope is prophetic, I’m not gonna say it out loud cos I’m superstitious like that but I hope it happens.
I can only imagine. I’m imagining a Dwight Gayle overhead kick from a Bolasie out-swinger, but if you would prefer to keep it to yourself that’s cool…
VERB T: *laughs at the prospect of my bicycle kick warped reality* I really am superstitious, so all I’ll say is… Back and forth game with goals coming from a defender and a sub, but really I don’t care how it happens I just want Palace to lift the cup.
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