The Renaissance of Irish Hip Hop03 March 2017
“Every defining moment of my adult life has been hip-hop related. Most Irish men my age, when they think back to making their Confirmation will think of looking forward to how much money they would get. I was looking forward to buying LL Cool J’s album out of my Confirmation money and making sure my white-boy flattop looked like Big Daddy Kane’s.”
- Irish Emcee, Rob Kelly, on his early fandom of hip hop culture.
In the early days of white-boy, flat top haircuts, Ireland's small but dedicated cohort of hip hop fans were the underground music following. Hip Hop’s chart topping popularity had yet to befall the music industry then, when highly energised punk gigs, donkey jackets and heavy Doc Martin's were the popular music Vista in which the early hip hop fan could be found, probably in a corner. Baggy jeans, bobbing caps, and Lakers jerseys - the early icons of an alien and altogether strange genre to most Irish people - were a rarity. Those Hip hop fans were none the less visible and they were the first to impart this hip hop subculture into the mainstream Irish youth culture.
A description of a punk hip-hop gig in 1992, from editor of the politics magazine Fortnight, John O’Farrell, describes it best:
“The audience...consisted of the lefty types one would associate with fist-in-the-air benefit gigs: Socialist Workers, guilty ex-communists, armchair republicans, serious young students – the crowd who measure a song by its attributes rather than its melody. Scattered among the donkey jackets and Doc Martens, however, there were some bobbing baseball hats of Dublin's deprived hip-hop kiddies, desperate for a 'cutting' break and a 'happ'nin" beat.”
The audience described by O’Farrell was from a Marxman gig, a band with anarchist tendencies that emerged out of the punk scene, unafraid to dissect the pressing issues of conflict in the North at the time.
But for a long period the adoption of Hip Hop and rap was, and has been, of the copy-cat type: bad Americanised accents that begged the question of authenticity, and the absorption of black Americanisms and a ‘gangsta’ rhetoric, deemed authentic but ultimately out of place in the Irish context. Efforts to make it as an Irish rapper have been split by that double edged sword - too much American accent and you're a fake to hard-core fans, too much Irish accent and you're a joke to a wider audience. The authentically Irish accented rapper has been venerated by their peers only in the margins, making it hard for a truly Irish scene to open up. And this in the age when Hip Hop music has reigned as the most popular musical genre worldwide for 10 years and the music industry’s biggest earner.
Changes are afoot though, with a burgeoning new scene of Irish rappers building on the foundations developed by those early purveyors. Irish hip hop is really starting to find its own voice, moving slowly from the fringes towards a centre stage. Just as Marxman used Hip Hop tocritique Governments’ inertia to respond to the North in 1992, today, Irish rappers are melding elements of new school American hip hop with distinctly Irish culture and commentary.And this is what Hip Hop has always been at its root, a vehicle for social commentary and reflection, and self-expression. Such is the time we live in with the dreaded uncertainty that hangs in the air for young people in this country, it is fitting that Hip Hop now should be gaining ground as respected genre within our own social context. In this sense, hip hop is a sort of millennial folk music.
For one, there is Dónall Dubh, who raps as gaeilge, on the social issues that are pertinent to Irish society. Donall, in his own accent and language creates a sound that is genuine to both hip hop and Ireland. Here he raps over a jazzy dark beat in his native tongue.
Then there is the limerick rapper, Jonan Dekay, who was recently recognised by fellow hip hoppers The Rubberbandits. The young man is only 18 years, and makes a funky track in his Cold Mornings.
Kojaque, a Dublin rapper made waves in the reddit world after his, literally, breath taking video showcased both a dedication to his craft and brilliantly crafted hip hop tune.
Jafaris is another young Irish rapper, who people will recognise from Sing Street. This young Irish rapper is set to make waves in the Irish hip hop scene and onto bigger things in the near future. Here is his brilliant track and video Lucid.
Then there is the unmistakeable Costello, with his thick Dublin accent. His flow is brilliant and production and music make take him to that next level. Here is his track High Altitude.
Lastly the Rusangano Family showcase Ireland’s new demographic of hip hop artists, a trio from Tonga, Zimbabwe and County Clare. Their collaborations with the Rubberbandits helped broadcast them in the minds of many Irish hip hop fans. Here is there distinct sound in the track Soul Food.
These are just some rappers developing the Irish Hip Hop scene today. And they are all putting a marker down and building on their predecessors. It is inspiring to see such talents coming out of Ireland, finally developing hip hop music that we can say is beginning to mould into its own distinct Irish style. It seems that hip hop’s artistic potential is at last being recognised outside of the peripherals. Long may it last.
By Josh Quinn, final year student in Applied Music.