It’s a Renaissance moment for Irish rap and hip hop, with acts like Denise Chaila, Tebi Rex, JyellowL, Mango X Mathman and others ploughing a musical furrow that is rightly earning plaudits at home and abroad, while the recent Origins: The Story of Irish Hip Hop documentary hints at a promising future ahead.
It’s not the first time that Ireland and hip hop have intertwined, with the early 90s seeing acts like Scary Eire, Marxman and Jus Like Family setting an early template for others to follow.
Back in the February 1994 edition of dSide magazine (featuring the late Dolores O’Riordan on the cover), journalist Tony Clayton-Lea chatted to Brian Cross, author of a book on ‘rap, race and resistance in Los Angeles’ – It’s Not About A Salary – about the Irish influence on hip hop both at home and overseas.
“Irish rap isn’t just one thing,” Cross explained. “It’s a multiplicity of things, as can be seen from the diversity of acts we’re talking about.”
Within the article, Scary Eire are described as “the first group to fully take the model set up by Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and all the groups that came after them, by using your own accent, your own slang, your own cultural background […] and make hip hop out of it”, while Marxman, whose Sad Affair was infamously banned by the BBC, are deemed to “have their work cut out” for them in terms of seeking US recognition. International acts with an Irish slant, such as House of Pain and Snow [of Informer fame], also feature.
Notably, the article references Irish rap’s role in continuing the traditional oral folk tradition, something that has similarly been referenced by today’s crop of artists.
“If hip hop ever got to a position where it could hear other kinds of beats, one of the first people it would have to hear is Christy Moore, because he makes total sense,” said Cross. “He is the Irish hip hop connection.”
Swap out Christy Moore for another legend of Ireland’s traditional music scene, and you could have just as easily been talking about the stunning recent collaboration between Denise Chaila and Sharon Shannon.
You can read the full article below, from the February 1994 issue of dSide.