A Modern Tom Patey: Odub Keepin' it Realby Sarah Stirling Apr/2009
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Kris 'Odub' Hampton keeps it real with his climbing hip hop, ballads and commentary. Sarah Stirling stays up late and communicates with the climbing rapper and musician from Cincinnati.
Since the year Anno Domini of rock-climbing, singing songs about it and its characters has been part of climbing culture. Bar Room Mountaineers Dennis Gray and Paul Cherry are currently reviving the idea in Britain: see UKC article Bar Room Mountaineers: The History of Climbing Songs and Tom Patey sidebar below.
Meanwhile, in America, things have stepped up a level (or maybe down)...
Ohio climber, Kris 'Odub' Hampton shot to fame and almost to court releasing controversial climbing-slash-hip hop songs. He found the climbing media too easy on its superstars. Now pro-climbers worldwide know that slip ups may lead to being smacked down with catchy, scathingly witty downloadable rhymes. And, recently, Odub's been tentatively casting his sarcastic eye over the UK.
Tell me about your climbing. What styles, what grades, who do you climb with?
"I started as a trad climber. I'm a Red River Gorge local though, and I ran out of routes. So now I climb sport. I boulder a little but it still feels like practice for something bigger. I've trad climbed 12+ (7c), sport climbed 13b (8a) and bouldered V8. Most of my hardest sends have taken me less than five tries though, so I'm gonna project harder things this year. I climb with whoever will put up with me! Before I got into sport, I used to criticise sport climbers so they're a little wary of me..."
How did you get into breakdancing, how did that lead to taking the mic with hip hop and how did you make the random leap to controversial climbing songs?
"In about 1984 my neighbour introduced me to hiphop and breakdancing. After battling at skating rinks for years, I tried emceeing. I released my first tape [yes, tape] in 1991. I made the first climbing song as a joke. It caught on though, so I've tried to grow into something less corny, if that's possible. Ha ha! "
And more contentious, I'd add. In 2007, 'Not All Roses', a song about free-soloist superstar Dean Potter made Odub a climbing household name. Potter had made a controversial ascent of Delicate Arch, a fragile Utah landmark. Public outcry and restricted climbing access to the Arches National Park swiftly followed, and Odub's song highlighted Potter's thoughtless stunt:
That's not important, I climb from the soul.
Solely for photos and promo videos.
Didn't ya'll see me on the 10 o'clock news?
Soloin' that arch with my camera crew?
See, I communicate with rocks and fact is,
Delicate Arch told me to jeopardize access!
After posting the song on climbing websites, Odub received a letter from Potter's attorney demanding he destroy all traces of the song.
Dean Potter's reaction to 'Not All Roses' really threw you to fame. What were your first thoughts when you got his attorney's letter?
"Truthfully? Amused and excited. It was the ultimate hypocrisy and I had a new song, 'Cease and Desist' formulating in my head immediately. "
What was Potter thinking?
"I have no idea. I was shocked. And then to focus on me when the whole community agreed he was wrong... The government tried to find a way to claim he broke a law but it didn't pan out. There were no 'laws' at the time, just unwritten rules. It became law immediately afterwards and nearly shut climbing access to the park off entirely. Patagonia dropped him and Mammut is now his primary sponsor. Dean's done some amazing things since. I just hope Mammut have someone 'handling' him. He could be a great ambassador for the spirit of climbing... if he'd use his brain! "
Have you made up with Dean?
"Dean and I haven't spoken, though I've seen him a few times. I've talked him up in a few songs recently. I can't deny that what he's doing is amazing and futuristic. He made a dumb mistake, but there's no reason for me to dwell on it. I'm sure he doesn't. "
Thanks to the Potter incident, Odub gained stature as a climbing commentator. He has a column in Deadpoint magazine, each comes with a downloadable song and he also writes a witty blog called “Climbs, Rhymes and Life.”
“The simple enjoyment of climbing can easily be dashed by egos, both on a pro and everyday level, and I find Odub refreshingly honest and amusingly accurate.."
Although Odub loves to rant (a recent blog-post muses “Why is it that writing is better when there are complaints?”), his music and climbing commentary aims for honesty rather than pointed negativity. He recently released a touching song-tribute to his climbing hero Todd Skinner.
What did you admire about Todd?
"His adventurous spirit and his ability to stand up for his actions. Whether the community thought he was right or not, he did it his way. And from all I've heard, even though he was one of the best in the world, he always treated people like family. "
Float is a beautiful and moving tribute song to Todd Skinner. Todd was a renegade Wyoming climber who died in an abseiling accident
But you'd never give up, or cared what they say,
Just brushed off the stigma, became renegade.
A minute made the difference, I've gained mental fitness,
I'm here today 'cause you paved the way.
You saved the day, and you laid the frame,
The very first time that you played against the grain.
Featuring Misty Murphy. © Odub and Misty Murphy.
"My whole life revolves around creativity. Besides the songs, writing, and climbing, I paint murals for a living and I'm a father (of a promising young climber), which takes more creativity than all of the others combined. I've been able to write and make songs about climbing, and those help to pay for climbing trips, so right now the synergy between them all is amazing. I'm thankful for that."
You told American women climbers they need to step it up a little in your latest Deadpoint column.
"Women climbers! My favourite! The women climbers here are really steppin it up. I'm psyched for them! And they've made it possible to be hot AND strong. But Lynn Hill is just SOOO far ahead of everyone. The other girls are good but only in one pursuit or the other. She's good at all of it."
Odub's Deadpoint column is generally bang on. However, his latest touches on James Pearson downgrades and mocks the E grade. Due to the time difference, it's 1.30am by the time we reach this subject. Still, I'm poised ready to debate and defend my country. Odub's quick to approve of our scene, though, and talks about British climbing's "inspiring history" and "amazing stories and personalities."
You commented on James Pearson's downgrades in your column.
"Yeah... about the Pearson comment, it was tongue in cheek. I know how hard it is to rate a first ascent and he's dealing with a slippery grading system!"
If you were to write a song about the British climbing scene...?
"Lately, the most material has come from James Pearson and George Ullrich. Not that I would rail on either guy. They've just been in the spotlight a little. I was impressed by the way James handled the downgrading of his routes. I thought his blogs on the subject were eloquently done. George - what was that second rope, man? You nearly killed yourself trying to be safe! And E grades are confusing as Hell. I respect the history the system has but I'm not even sure you guys understand how it works!"
You've been talking about Team America's UK blitz recently, too. Any plans to cross the pond - are there any British routes you'd be inspired to try or any British climbers you'd like to meet?
"I'd love to make it over there sometime. The rock looks amazing. I'd be psyched to try some of the easier and more well-protected lines on lead, and to top-rope some of the scary, historical routes. Particularly Johnny Dawes and John Dunne routes. Dawes' climbs look so creative, just like his climbing style. And Dunne's powerful climbing is just impressive. So many historical lines I'd love to see there... I'd start my trip on Cenotaph Corner and end it falling a lot on Quarryman. I think... too many choices! I'd love to meet all the heroes... Dawes, Fawcett, Brown, Moffat, Moon... "
Tell me about your new project with fellow singer/climber Misty Murphy, how did you hook up and what are you working on at the moment?
"She's a great singer who isn't afraid to step outside her comfort zone, and I admire that. We connected through music then recorded our first song 'Float', the Todd Skinner tribute. We're trying to get together an album that blends our two styles and genres by July. We've currently got a great song in the new Mike Call movie 'Herakleia'. Here are a few lyrics from a song I'm working on with Misty, that I think you'll be interested in... "
We need info first, Tyler Haack the system,
Looks like Tommy Cald-well, I guess I missed him.
Leo's Houlding, on line 2, he wants in,
And we could use Bobbi for the way that she Bensman.
We need a good lookout, be sure that he's armed,
We could set up Bobs Kamp in Natasha's Barnes.
We hide, we wait, tonight's the night,
Hear footsteps and see Ben in the Moon light.
Eric's in the Scully, Wills is the Young one,
Jeff was Perrin-oid, he's already been stung once.
Daniels in the Woods, right beside 'em,
But Tyler knows the Land-man, he got behind 'em.
What's coming up in your next song/column/blog-post?
"It's all mostly dedicated to internet haters who can't form an intelligent sentence. They want to trash someone in a climbing forum but just come up with 'such and such sucks. His hair is gay'. It seems that whenever someone does something new, or is excessively psyched, people have to use that against them in some way. Professional climbers make their living climbing. They can't get in arguments online about it and still be an ambassador for their sponsors."
The Ohio climber Kris Hampton, best known as the rapper Odub, almost found himself in legal hot water over a rap-song parody concerning the talented free soloist Dean Potter. Hampton posted the song, “Not All Roses,” to the Web on April 2; it sends up Potter's controversial free-solo ascent of Delicate Arch on May 7, 2006, an ascent that preceded changes in climbing management at Arches National Park.
"I wasn't mad about it. Things needed to be said, and I'm glad people didn't shy away when I was the one who said it. But that's where it gets tough. Dean is human and we make mistakes. I just believe you should be held accountable. Nothing more, nothing less. If Dean had admitted his mistake and apologised about the Arches, there would have been no song. I don't like hypocrisy."
The simple enjoyment of climbing can easily be dashed by egos, both on a pro and everyday level, and I find Odub refreshingly honest and amusingly accurate.
I'm web-browsing while interviewing, and I find something interesting. Once, Odub had a row with local Red River climbing icon Chris Snyder. Chris reacted by posting a cartoon strip mocking Odub's song-writing on a climbing website. Touché!
Odub's reaction? He really does “keep it real” and it seals my approval:
“It's genius! I love an intelligent, creative insult. Even when it's about me,” he says. “I wish more people would do it.”
Any takers? You can find him through his website, below.
Tom Patey (20 February 1932 — 25 May 1970) was a Scottish climber, mountaineer and writer. He climbed extensively in Scotland - making the first winter traverse of the Cuillin ridge with Hamish MacInnes, David Crabbe and Brian Robertson in 1965 - as well as achieving notable ascents in the Alps and the Himalayas including the first ascent of the Muztagh Tower (7273m) with John Hartog in 1956 and Rakaposhi (7788m) in 1958 with Mike Banks.
He was killed abseiling from a sea stack off Scotland's northern coast.
He was renowned for his humorous writings about climbing, many of which were published posthumously in the collection One Man's Mountains.
Colin Wells's says at www.mountain-heritage.org
"He was a highly talented comic writer and satirist. It is a measure of the affection and respect with which Patey was generally held that he was able to identify with climbing's counter-culture through his comic writing, while managing to avoid alienating the very Establishment figures he was satirising."
Here's one of his best and most famous.
Onward, Christian Bonington, of the A.C.G.
Write another page of Alpine history
He has climbed the Eiegerwand, he has climbed the Dru--
For a mere ten thousand francs, he will climb with you:
Onward, Christian Bonington, of the A.C.G.
If you name the mountain, he will name the fee.
Like a mighty army, faithfully we plod
Treading in the footsteps Bonington has trod
From the Diretissima loud Hosannas! ring--
Grave, where is they victory, 0 death, where is thy sting?
Onward, Christian Bonington, joyfully we sing,
Down with McNaught-Davis, Bonington for King.
Live transmission will commence shortly after ten
From the Kleine Scheiegg and the Alpi-Glen.
Do not miss the spectacle, you can watch for free:
Bonnington is on the wall, Tune in on B.B.C.
Onward, Christian Bonington, of the B.B.C
Fighting for survival, and a token fee.
When they climbed the Eigerwand, those two gallant men
They received a message (sent) from Number Ten:
Well done chaps, MacMillan said, Victory was your due;
Well done, Christian Bonington, the Fuhrer's proud of you
Onward, Christian Bonington, hallowed be thy name,
Digging out a belay in the halls of fame.
You can find out more about Sarah at www.sarahstirling.com