Is Irish Hip-Hop its Own Genre?

For the most part Irish music is in a good place. There are arguably more Irish artists now than ever gathering attention worldwide, and the Irish hip hop movement is no different than any other genre. Artists such as Versatile have made leaps in the music industry. However there is still the question as to how much of Irish hip-hop is actually original and not just a copycat of its American counterpart.

Hip-hop originated in New York City in the 1970s. Notable artists such as Dr. Dre, Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G shaped the path the genre would follow for years and naturally most hip hop artists nowadays refer to them as major influences. Irish hip-hop has only come to the forefront of Irish music in the past decade.

Hip-hop has always reflected the society that it’s been created in. The popular music genre emerged as an underground genre in mainly black neighbourhoods in the Bronx, New York. It was at a time when racial unrest was high and the residents of New York City were quite poor. It was a way of reflecting the issues of the people writing the raps and captured a part of society which otherwise would’ve went unheard.

Nowadays the music that once was only prominent in the Bronx is a multi-million dollar industry created by platinum artists such as Jay Z and Drake. Instead of hip-hop being confined to historically disadvantaged areas, its music can be made by people from many backgrounds.

 

The hip-hop scene in Ireland has never been big but in recent years has become the genre of music that most realistically reflects the changing face of society and a way for people to speak out against society.

Belfast based duo Kneecap centre their music around the Irish language, although not always accepted by those in authority or the public. It’s not unusual for hip-hop music to be based on heavy nights out, but for these songs to be penned in the Irish language is to most people unheard of or even impossible to make relevant.

It was reported that their music has been banned from RTÉ’s Irish language station in 2017 Radio na Gaeltachta due to references to drugs, sex, cursing and the PSNI (police service of Northern Ireland). They were also kicked off stage whilst performing at University College Dublin (UCD) last year, according to UCD’s student newspaper The University Observer. However the Belfast duo defended their music saying it is supposed to be a ‘caricature of life in west Belfast’ whilst speaking to The Sunday Times.

They described themselves as “Good Friday agreement babies” to The Irish Times and said that many of their influences are from Irish rebel songs, which is evident through their music. Member Móglaí Bap said, “Because we’re detached from it (the Troubles) in that sense we can look at it with a different perspective”.

“A lot of people carry that trauma still,” he continued. ‘We take this opportunity to actually have a joke about it and look at everything and discuss it all, that’s what our point is: nothing is safe from having the piss taken out of it. It’s all in the equation."

James Forde, a photographer who worked with Kneecap and other Irish artists, told Vice, “Artists have realised there’s power in owning their own identity instead of pretending to be someone else”.

“If you don’t speak Gaelic then it’s difficult to follow along or understand sentence for sentence,” Forde said. “But then you have this pride that they’ve brought out in Irish people that do speak Gaelic, or went to the Gaeltacht or all-Irish schools, but don’t use it in their day-to-day life. Now they go to a Kneecap gig and they wanna speak Irish with their friends.”

The only question Forde has is “How long will it take for the Irish accent to be accepted and normalised across the board, like English hip hop artists have?”

 

American hip-hop has always pushed the boat out and some see the music as “politically incorrect." It has always discussed topics that never would’ve seen daylight through other genres. In this sense the Irish version of the movement has definitely mirrored artists such as Eminem and 50cent.

A major player in the Irish hip-hop scene are Versatile who come from Ringsend in Dublin. They have amassed a huge following and now play sold out headline shows which historically would not have played host to many Irish acts, let alone rappers.

The duo Casper Walsh and Alex Sheehan along with their producer, DJ Evan Kennedy, have created buzz at Longitude and played the same night at Electric Picnic 2018 as Kendrick Lamar, yet all the focus was on them.

Most recently they have collaborated with American rapper Coolio, who created one of rap’s most treasured creations “Gangsta’s Paradise”. In the song “Escape Wagon” Coolio calls Ringsend the “Compton of Europe” with Compton famously being a city that struggles with poverty and high crime rates but has produced some of the best hip hop artists in the world, such as Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre.

However Versatile’s music videos are being compared to Limerick comedy rap duo The Rubberbandits. They both share a passion for all things Irish yet could be seen as a part of the reason why Irish hip-hop is still not taken seriously on the international stage.

Just like Kneecap, both Versatile and The Rubberbandits’ profane lyrics have come under fire but a lot of the Irish youth love it. The beats are reminiscent of American hip-hop artists, and their image plays a huge part in their success. Their music is striking and can sound compelling, childish, profound and comical all at the same time.

Fans have commented on their Youtube videos with praise comparing their music to American artists. One said, “I feel like I’m watching an Irish version of 90s west coast gangsta rap video” in reference to their hit “Who Robbed the Hash from the Gaff."

Sticking to the origins of hip-hop and appreciating the great artists who built the hip hop empire is not a negative thing until it gets to the point where all originality is lost, which is not the case with Versatile or most Irish hip-hop artists.

Although their beats and videos are similar to those of the early hip-hop artists in the U.S, their lyrical content is based on the society they are living in. This is part of what makes them hip-hop artists.