Like many countries outside of the birthplace of hip-hop, the true beginnings of Irish hip-hop took hold a decade + after its birth Stateside. Today the European country boasts a healthy, albeit still somewhat underground, hip-hop scene with many talented MCs, DJs, b-boys, and graffiti artists.
In the latter half of the eighties several Irish artists embraced hip-hop, including Sinead O'Conner, who teamed up in 1988 with MC Lyte on the single remix of the track "I Want Your (Hands On Me)." Some years later in the early 1990's O'Conner would collaborate with the political UK based group Marxman, which included two Irish born members, on the song "Ship Ahoy." There were also many scratch DJs (including DJ Mek) and b-boys starting out in the late 80's, a time when hip-hop began to make inroads on Irish music.
Many longtime Irish hip-hop heads cite the late eighties and specifically the occasions when Schoolly D and Public Enemy each played gigs in the Irish capital as pivotal moments in hip-hop taking hold in the Emerald Isle -- kind of like how those in the UK a decade earlier went to see the Sex Pistols in concert and were so directly influenced that they then went out and formed their own punk groups. "That Public Enemy concert at McGonagles changed my life," old school Dublin hip-hop diehard Laz-E, a DJ and former b-boy, told me, adding that many others at that same 1988 PE concert were directly influenced, especially by Chuck D and company. But it took a few years before a real hip-hop scene with a distinctive Irish flavor while also staying true to hip-hop's Bronx roots would properly emerge in Ireland.
And while there were many non significant Irish rap artists to briefly appear on the radar but who merely aped what their American rap heroes were doing (and consequently were not successful), it really wasn't until the early 1990's when the distinctly Irish hip-hop group Scary Eire arrived that true Irish hip-hop was born. Unfortunately, due to record business B.S., they never really got a proper opportunity to shine. Signed to Island Records, who tragically sat on their debut album for ages and then shelved it indefinitely, they only got a small bit of the recognition they deserved when one of their tracks was featured on the 1993 Tommy Boy global rap compilation Planet Rap and when they released the 1995 single with the brilliant commentary about being on unemployment in Ireland in the pre Celtic Tiger years, "Dole Q" (hear below) on indie label 11 Records. Only a few years ago they finally began to release their original album material with 2007's The Scary Era, albeit sixteen years later. However, history proves how amazing they were and the two main members -- DJ Mek (also a DMC champ) and emcee Ri Ra -- remain active to this day. Other early Irish hip-hop acts include Ghost 'N' Jay, who are also still around today.
Scary Eire "Dole Q"
Unlike the US, where hip-hop has long been one of the most popular modern genres, in Ireland (home of U2) rock has always been more popular. And like neighboring Britain, house and electronic music is generally much more favored over hip-hop. In fact, back in the early 90's in record stores in Ireland hip-hop was usually lumped in with hip-house and house. But as a result of traditionally being marginalized, the hip-hop community in Ireland has tended to be a more close knit one, with most artists being aware and supportive of one another.
Captain Moonlight "O.C.D"
Of the many Irish hip-hop artists currently active, my favorites include the aforementioned Ri Ra and Ghost N Jay; as well as the ever political (and controversial due to his outspoken anti-government raps) Kilkenny emcee Captain Moonlight (sample above); the Galway turntablist quartet Vince Mack Mahon (who will be hosting their 3rd annual DJ event Community Skratch Games in two weeks, which will be reported on here); Dublin emcee Ophelia (one of country's few female hip-hop artists); West of Ireland rapper Muipead (who, like several other Irish emcees, raps in the Irish language); Infomatics; Messiah J & The Expert; Dublin rapper Nugget; DJ/producer/beatmaker Deep Burial; Belfast producer Troubled Soul; hardcore rap crew Class A'z; Dublin turntablist/producer Tu-Ki; Ballymun area Dublin rapper Lunitic (who tragically died last summer while only in his twenties due to heart failure); Kerry comedians/rappers The Rubberbandits, who brilliantly poke fun at the genre they love; and the popular Wexford rapper Rob Kelly, who, along with many other Irish hip-hoppers is featured in the videos below. The first clip is the "Hip Nos Performance" featuring the late great Lunitic, who also plays the bodhrán (traditional Irish frame drum pronounced 'bow-rawn") in the live concert piece that he posted on YouTube just two months before his passing last year.
Lunitic (RIP) "Hip Nos Performance"
Ri Ra "25 O Clock In The Morning"
Messiah J & The Expert "Superfamous Supertune"
The Rubberbandits "Song For Willie O'Dea"
Rob Kelly "Take A Look (Bragging Rights)"
The Infomatics "Back To Front"
B-Wonder + Buachaill (Cork 2006 on the street)