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People used to scoff at Irish rappers, but the hip hop scene in Ireland is booming

A new documentary, The Truth About Irish Hip Hop, tells the story of how Irish rappers are carving out a niche in the music industry.

WHILE SOME MIGHT have scoffed at the idea of an Irish person rapping in the past, the hip hop scene in Ireland is going from strength to strength.

The venue where a new documentary, The Truth About Irish Hip Hop, recently premiered in Dublin was a hive of talent – from young rappers, who were performing their very first gig, to veterans of the scene who have been rapping for well over a decade.

The film made by Gavin Fitzgerald and Mark Hayes took over 18 months to make and involved the pair travelling around Ireland to interview rappers, new and disold.

It touches on issues such as owning our identity, talking about what we know, and asking the big questions about the world.

While most people associate hip hop rap with the US and well-known names like Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, the Wu-Tang Clan, and A Tribe Called Quest (who happen to be playing Electric Picnic this year), there has been an Irish hub in existence for years, and it’s only getting stronger if this documentary is anything to go by.

Fitzgerald said his movie is about the rise of hip hop in this country and the changing attitudes towards the once-foreign art form. It features those born and bred in Ireland, as well as the many people from other nations and cultures that have come to call Ireland home.


Source: Gavin FitzGerald/Vimeo

The Rusangano Family winning the 2016 RTÉ Choice Music Prize Album of the Year has been dubbed a turning point for the hip hop scene in Ireland.

The group (who are also playing at Rankin Wood at Electric Picnic this weekend) is made up of God Knows Jonas, a Zimbabwe native who moved to Shannon 16 years ago, MuRli, who is from Togo but has lived in Limerick since he was a child and a DJ, John Lillis, also known as mynameisjohn, who is from Ennis.

The Limerick-based trio have been making waves in the industry, with rappers on the night of the premiere giving the group a lot of credit for other musicians being taken seriously nowadays.

Source: Rusangano/YouTube

The Rusangano Family, who feature in the documentary, explore issues such as identity and belonging, through their music.

While the UK has its own version of hip hop – known as grime – Ireland is searching for its own, explained MathMan, a musician who has been on the scene for many years.

“We have yet to find our own space. But like I said in the doc, we are moving towards that and we will. I think our rich heritage and history of dance music and dance culture in Ireland – and particularly Dublin – will have a massive influence on ‘our’ sound and where we end up,” he said.

(Mango performing at the premiere of The Truth About Irish Hip Hop)

While performers on the night, which was hosted by District Magazine (a publication that highlights cultural issues in Ireland), included artists who have been making a name for themselves, such as Mango, Ger and Linco from 5th Element, Waking Android, Rogan and New Cicero (full disclosure: he’s my brother), one might think this was a new music genre emerging.

(New Cicero  performing at the premiere of The Truth About Irish Hip Hop)

However, plenty of other Irish artists paved the way and contributed to where the scene is today. Names such as Scary Éire, one of the first Irish groups to emerge in 1990, played to packed out venues.

Others who raised the bar of Irish hip hop include Messiah J and ExpertMaverick SabreNucentz, Rob Kelly and Urban Intelligence, who were even recommended by Snoop Dogg to support Nas.

But while a Vice article in 2014 said the suburbs of Dublin witnessed a hip hop explosion in the last 10 years – the landscape has changed somewhat, spreading to all corners of the country, and taking in all multi-cultural aspects of Ireland.

Source: Maverick Sabre/YouTube

“People still try and soak up the American thing, that is a whole other debate, but I love seeing when it is an African Irish thing. It could be Limerick, it could be Dublin, but they just happen to be from Africa and they are living there, and doing what they do and speaking the way they speak… it’s like, no. I am hanging around in Tallaght. I live in Tallaght, my mates are from Tallaght.

“I don’t care what anyone else is doing… I think once you get past the idea of it being a thing of ‘them’ or ‘foreign culture’ – it is just a case of letting it happen organically,” said Ryan Lincoln – ‘Linco’ of the group, Fifth Element.

He said Ireland has reached a point where it is now comfortable with its identity.

“People are more comfortable with themselves and are more comfortable with their identities. I think we are at that point now,” he added.

MathMan said he would like to see Irish rappers carve out their own niche.

We constantly compare ourselves with the UK and what happened with grime, but if you look at hip hop internationally – there is German hip hop, French hip hop, the UK just happened to be this incredible melting pot with all of these sounds and influences that they evolved to grime.
So, we might just evolve to Irish hip hop and a sound that is similar to the homogenised sound that is around the world right now. We may not get our own version of grime here – it is yet to be seen, but I really hope that we do. I really hope we do carve a niche in the music industry with a sound that is completely identifiable to people and the world and I think the most important part of that is our accent.

DG5NmRQXoAAPjs_ Panel discussion hosted by District Magazine at the Sugar Club. Source: Christina Finn

While some in the industry disagree, MathMan said the Irish accent is an important aspect of Irish hip hop.

“Our accent is our most unique selling point as Irish people when it comes to hip hop music around the world. Because hip hop is homogenised and the accent is homogenised as well. Our expectation when we hear hip hop artists is to hear an American accent.

“When you hear MC Solaar in France you say, ‘Holy shit that guy is amazing, I just can’t understand what he is saying’, or you hear some guy from Germany who sounds dope – you just can’t understand what he is saying. But you instantly identify with it. That’s German, that’s British, that’s French and we need to own who we are, we need to own our identity, we need to own our voice as Irish people so that we do stand out from the crowd in five, six years, 10 years time. As in – ‘that song is incredible, who’s that by? I don’t know man, but he’s definitely Irish’ – we need to own that,” he said.

Some describe Irish hip hop as the new punk, insofar as perhaps it is a rejection of the mainstream popular music or dance that is taking over Ireland.

Hip hop rappers performing on the premiere night said the expectation is there is no appetite for Irish hip hop, and yet, the audiences keep getting bigger and bigger.

Why?

“Irish people love to support their own. When they see something good that is Irish and that’s their own and it’s representative of them. That’s how much Irish people like to see Irish people do well,” said MathMan.

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