I woke up this morning with an odd thought lodged in my mind that had not been present at the time I fell asleep. As I made some toast I wondered: “What kind of hip hop album would Samuel Beckett have made?”
This is not as odd a question as it would sound. It is well known among Beckett biographers that one of the greatest regrets of the later Beckett was his inability to secure a record contract on the basis of his freestyles.
Several presentations have been made on the subject at academic conferences devoted to Beckett. Especially interesting to scholars is an unrecorded album that Beckett frequently discussed working on in his journals and letters. Several close friends and associates of Beckett were interviewed about times that he had performed pieces of the lost magnum opus.
“Sam called the album Vamp Hop. It was…he had it almost finished. He used to play bits around the house all the time when we’d sit around smoking and drinking coffee,” remembers neighbor Will Wiggins.
“It was just like…there was no actual rapping. It was just the vamping talk that starts the tracks for like…3 or 5 minutes and then the beat would change. And the whole time it was just ‘I’m waiting for the beat to get hot. I’m waiting for the beat to get hot. This beat will get hot soon. Then you’ll all see.’
“Sam had a much different voice when he was rapping than when he wrote you know? It brought out a different side of him.”
The Irish writer hoped to gain the fame and prestige that had eluded him in the literary world by crossing over into the hip-hop market.
But he was going to do it on his terms. “He thought the act of rapping was too focused on the moment of the instant-the moment when the thing itself happens. Vamp Hop was the imagined perfect album at the end of a rainbow of experimentation, a rainbow that sat in the background overlooking much of the famed scribe’s life.
In an excerpt from the recently published 3rd volume of Beckett’s journals, he discusses the conception of the piece:
“In the songs, the discussion always turns to the real. And the real is always discussed as what’s coming up on the tape. So the raps themselves are implied as being the real. But I think the real moment, the defining moment of life, is that moment of awkward chatter that fills in the space of anticipation.
“So why not a hip-hop album that embraces its aggressive element, the parts of the music meant to bore the listener, the skits and opening patter, and let them expand to dominate the final product.”
Beckett had a primitive home recording device. He would frequently space it evenly between himself and his boom box and record lo-fi demos of vamps. The deceased literary legend would then send batches of these vamps to record labels or hand them out to friendly looking women he encountered clerking fast food restaurant drive-thru windows late at night.
He felt these service workers were the perfect starting point in introducing Vamp Hop to the larger world. Friends recall him remarking that the McDonald’s sitting rooms were the new top 40 radio, where the kids would go to find the music that would color all their childhood memories.
Beckett’s interest in hip hop dates back to when the great writer was a young child. In another excerpt from the journals Beckett writes:
“When I first encountered this music. I was a young man in Ireland. Those were days before the emergence of animatronic animal bands that would play at childrens’ birthday parties at pizza parlors. In that time, the pizza parlors would hire overweight, disabled or mentally challenged men to dress like bears and foxes and chatter away over phonograph records or an accordion.
“It was then, seeing them. Seeing that. I knew what I had to do.”
So what would the album have sounded like? In the Beckett collection at NYU, several cocktail napkins Beckett wrote on provide a glimpse into what was contained on those long lost mix tapes.
Numerous collectors have offered exorbitant cash rewards for any of the original mix tapes. Hopes grow slimmer each year any originals will surface.
From the NYU cocktail napkin collection:
“(to be placed near end of 75 minute album runtime) Yeah, I’m really gonna rap over this one,
Y’all see I’m gonna do it
I’ll start rapping over it any day now
You just wait
This The Vamp Vol. 3-Cash Credit Crew exclusive
I’ll starting rapping any moment now.”
Anyone with a possible lead on the whereabouts of any original Samuel Beckett mix tapes are instructed to contact the official Beckett Museum in Ireland.