Debate: Irish Rappers Revealed
Up until last week, not much was known about Irish rap artists. It is seen as a very small, underground scene, limited under several different confines. Irish hip-hop has always been somewhat of a hidden genre, eclipsed by its English and US counterparts. However, a documentary on BBC 3 last week called Irish Rappers Revealed made many aware of the music – it also prompted many negative comments online…
At the same time, fans of the genre also took this opportunity to lash out on social networks, making some very good points about the programmes content and the director’s rationale. For example, where was Maverick Sabre? The artist started his career firmly rooted in Irish hip-hop and went on to be one of Ireland’s biggest exports - surely he deserved a mention?
Dublin rapper Nu-Centz also wasn’t in the film, despite winning a competition to feature on a track with Lupe Fiasco. Wouldn’t this have been a more positive angle? I believe this would have been a better showcase of Irish talent, as opposed to the questionable rap battle scenes and wobbly camera shots that followed the ‘struggling rappers’ to the dole office.
The biggest question to arise from this documentary was the absence of Rob Kelly. He is one of Ireland’s rap veterans and is frequently playlisted on US radio and BBC 1xtra – he has also collaborated with Memphis Bleek.
I got on the phone with Rob Kelly to ask him his thoughts on Irish Rappers Revealed and why he wasn’t in it.
“I wasn’t asked to be in the documentary.” Rob explains. “From what I’ve been told, everybody around [the director] was telling him, ‘you can’t make a documentary about hip-hop in Ireland without Rob Kelly in it.’ Apparently his response was, ‘oh no, Rob is too successful, he’s done Fire in The Booth, so he’s not really what I’m looking for.’”
Rob said of the rappers we saw on screen: “I know most of the guys in the documentary personally. Some of them are good friends... others are not good friends, but I respect everybody’s talent. All the guys that were featured in it actually make really good music. There is a lot of talent there, but instead they wanted to make them look like a gang of clowns. They were showing things like gigs in pubs and horses in the street. It played into every single stereotype.”
Rob didn’t like the way neither Ireland nor the people involved in the film were portrayed. One rapper in particular named Siyo was depicted as an unemployed financial burden to his mother, with pipe dreams of becoming a rapper in-between playing video games.
“There is no shame with Siyo living at home with his mum in the middle of a recession. It’s a recession, the country is in a mess, but he could have focused more on his music. He really is a talented guy. Out of everyone involved, Siyo actually came out the best, because he really is like that in real life. He’s natural comedy.”
Lethal Dialect, who also featured in the film, has done loads musically. “They never focused on any of that. He was very upset about the outcome. I believe they were trying to get the footage back at one stage.”
Aside from the negative stereotypes and failure to include the most relevant artists, a lot of people expressed opinions online that being Irish and a rapper just didn’t work, due to the accent and lack of ‘swag’. Why do we find Irish hip-hop so difficult to digest?
“The exact same thing was said about UK hip-hop 10 years ago. In Ireland they listen to more UK hip-hop than they do US now! I never got playlisted on Irish radio until very recently and that is only because of people like Charlie Sloth, Nick Bright and MistaJam playing my stuff over there in England. It wasn’t until those guys started to show me love over there in England that I could even break on Irish radio.”
In a bid to counter-act all the negative opinions, Rob Kelly will be making his own documentary which begins filming soon. ‘Kelly Vision’ will offer what he hopes will be a more authentic view of the Irish hip-hop scene.
Throughout this feature we have thrown in some of the Irish hip-hop that didn’t make the documentary. Whether that is a good or a bad thing, have a listen and we will leave it up to you to decide.
To stay up to date with Rob follow him on Twitter.
Words: Trina John-Charles (@ATrinajcTweet)