Right… I was asked to do this a while back, but had to take some time to let the list play out in my head, and then actually have a listen to it a few times, and also there is always life and other shite that gets in the way.
Irish hip-hop is a taboo subject in a lot of ways; for a country with a rich oral, narrative and music tradition, it seems that Ireland is struggling greatly with the idea of taking an essentially American art form and making it its own. This results in immediate disregard for rappers based on their accent being “too local”, and this is a great shame. Ireland is not alone in this—its next-door neighbour Scotland has been at it for years. RTE aired an absolute shambles of a documentary a couple years back, which also did a great disservice to the art form here (while Broken Song, a largely grassroots effort, went on to win international film awards—go figure).
I originally became familiar and eventually involved in the scene from a relatively unique angle, having been active on the poetry circuit for many years and eventually starting a crossover—the line between poetry and hip-hop appearing increasingly blurred as I delved deeper. Thus, insight. Anyway, long story short, here’s my top picks of artists that are currently active on the Irish hip-hop scene, in no particular order.
5th Element are one of those bands that probably would not have existed in any other circumstance—the mix of sounds and visuals exemplified in the video above shows their unique position in the multimedia landscape. Inner city accents mashed with gothic post-apocalyptic visuals and electronic & techno brakes; these guys are quite clearly comfortable pushing the boundaries of the genre and playing with them. On top of that, they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and also f*&%ing great live! I had them play my show at Knockanstockan festival last year and they had the crowd so live they nearly brought down the stage—literally! Do yourself a favour and get to their next gig.
Kojaque first came to my attention when his Midnight Flower video went viral and quickly surpassed almost any other view count in Irish hip-hop (except Nugget). His work is wonderfully poetic and the beats are old-school mellow. The Sunday Roast Mixtape has been getting pretty regular burn on my iPod since it dropped, and you can cop it for free from his label website. Seen him play a few stomper sets as well. Making serious waves, this fella.
I’m forever tellin’ people that Costello is the most important Irish musician alive today, but hardly anyone ever takes me seriously. Hard-crafted flows that are as much about spreading the positive message of knowledge–wisdom–understanding as they are about the sharp delivery, this guy embodies everything that is good about hip-hop. With a handful of albums under his belt, an award-winning documentary, and international shows stretching from here to Russia, you could certainly do worse than try get your hands on some Street Literature classics.
If there’s one thing hip-hop needs, it is an infusion of strong female voices to offset the bullshit macho misogyny which permeates the mainstream culture. This is as true in Ireland as anywhere else. Enter TMM. Drawing on influences from ancient celtic culture to modern political activism, she is one of the most recognised personas in Ireland’s music scene today, and for good reason. Having worked with her on a couple of projects over the years, I can vouch for the importance of her messages, and the awesomeness of her raw live energy. Coming soon to raise conservative eyebrows near you!
One thing nobody ever thinks about with a genre such as hip-hop is the amount of people pushing buttons behind the scenes. Undoubtedly the most proactive individual in Irish hip-hop is producer Alan Newman. The chap seems to churn out albums at a rate that would make the late great Prince scratch his head, and he’s showing no signs of stopping. Aside from the almighty Boss Level Series (check out part one and part two as well, part four is on the way), he has recently released albums with Funzo (Artificial High), Rapthor (The Advocates) and Collie (Outside the Box), and there’s a few other projects dropping soon, from what I hear. Where does he even get the hours in the day for this shit?
Dah Jevu are awesome, and weird, and you might not fully get it, but it’ll make your head nod anyway. The boys have been putting in work and it’s been paying off, with notable support slots and awesome videos like the above by Hugh Mulhern. Check them out, probably in The Sugar Club, probably opening for a big American act, probably kicking ass.
Andre K’por is a poet, artist, musician and designer. He lives and works in Dublin, and is a contributing editor to the Bogman’s Cannon.