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From south London to Geneva with hip-hop science lessons

BREAKING NEW GROUND: Consensus has been working on his album for two years

AN UNDERGROUND rapper from south London has performed and delivered workshops at the world famous European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), near Geneva, Switzerland.

Antoine Gittens-Jackson, known as Consensus, was invited to the laboratory after spending two years writing an album which translates complex particle physics into grime and rap.

As well as performing songs from the album to a group of scientists, the 27-year-old delivered a rap workshop to a group of school children visiting CERN from Austria who then performed their creations in front of the Austrian ambassador.

One track on Consensus’ latest album tries to explain the pure energy released when matter collides with anti-matter by drawing a parallel to the societal harmony that would come if two opposing gangs were to resolve their differences.

Another uses a word-play on the standard model – the equivalent of the periodic table but for subatomic particles – by exploring what it means to be a fashion model and the fundamentals of beauty.

PASSION: Rapper Consensus, far left, delivers a workshop to scientists in Geneva

Speaking of his two-year immersion in particle physics, Consensus said:

“It was exhausting in terms of how deep some of this stuff goes.

“You’re visiting the limitations of all reality and what we know. You get really close to this edge of what is important in general, in life, and all this crazy existential stuff. It’s heavy on the brain.”

Based at a sprawling campus that straddles the border of France and Switzerland, CERN is best-known as the place where British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.

As well as this, the elusive Higgs boson or ‘God-Particle’ – thought to be the fundamental building block of the universe – was said to have been discovered there in 2012 thanks to a hi-tech particle collider housed in a 27km circumference underground tunnel.

Consensus visited CERN as a guest lecturer and was hosted by Art@CMS, a science outreach programme named after the CMS particle detector which records and analyses the high-speed collisions of subatomic particles.

Started in 2012, the programme tries to bring together artists and scientists through concerts, exhibitions and concerts. Consensus has performed, recorded a music video and taught CERN scientists how to rap as part of the programme.

Dr. Michael Hoch, the Austrian scientist who founded and heads Art@CMS, told The Voice:

“I do not limit any art expression, painting, digital, photo, sculpture, music, performance – it just has to generate a serious discussion and dialogue between our worldwide science community and the artists.”

Dr. Hoch, a photographer who pieced together the famous image of the CMS reactor from 200 individual photos he took, added that bringing artists and scientists into direct contact allows “the artist to create a unique interpretation of the world of particle physics”.

Consensus set out to achieve just this with the help of Sudarshan Paramesvaran, a British scientist at CERN who introduced him to the complex theories that underpin particle physics.

“He wanted his music to truly represent what we do here, and the physics we study,” Paramesvaran said.

Brought up by a single mother in Lewisham, south-east London, Consensus told The Voice that music was an outlet from local gang violence where “people were getting stabbed for the sake of a postcode”.

At the same time as grime was taking off in the early 2000s, Consensus began to make and sell his own mixtapes in Leicester Square, as well as square off with other artists.

“Generally a lot of MCs at the time were chatting rubbish – guns this and guns that. I used to battle them and say you don’t really have guns,” he said.

From his local state school he won a scholarship to Dulwich College, an independent school in south London. He stopped music to complete a degree in aeronautical engineering at Bristol University, but after a restless two years he headed down to the closest open session in Bristol and picked up the mic again.

“I think I was born then,” he said as he recalled how he dedicated himself to his art. He added:

“My overall personal mission as an artist is to make people open-minded. I’m not here to inspire, I just want to show people that rapping about science can be done.”

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