Tuesday 12 December 2017

Reality Bites for Irish rappers

THERE were times during Ireland's Rappers when it was hard to suppress a smile.

Though Rory McCloskey's colourful documentary about the burgeoning rap and hip-hop scene in Dublin's sprawling working-class housing estates was deadly serious, it often had the feel of an elaborate spoof -- This Is Spinal Rap, perhaps.

The whiff of unintentional comedy was strengthened by the sight and sound of young (and sometimes not so young) Dublin men operating under names such as Terawrizst, Matamatik and Lethal Dialect.

There was room for one female rapper, Finglas's 24-year-old Elayne Harrington, aka Temper-Mental MissElayneous, who preaches a political and sociological message that's undermined slightly by her choice of headgear: a Washington Redskins cap, which is about as corporate America as you can get. At the moment, though, Irish rap and hip-hop seems to be mostly a boys' club.

Ironically, the most outspoken character in McCloskey's film (the best so far in the choppy Reality Bites strand) was 29-year-old Kieron Ryan, who goes by the relatively tame name of Redzer, on account of his red hair.

"I hate anyone who has even a little hint of authority," says Redzer, who's part of the Coolock outfit The Class A'z (that's how they spell it).

Redzer's list of establishment hate figures extends to gardai, politicians, teachers and even car clampers.

In fact, anyone who's been to college is probably liable to find themselves straying into Redzer's rant radar: "College doesn't teach you to f****n' choose between medicine or food, or drugs or whatever."

Funnily enough, Redzer's anti-establishment stance doesn't extend to corporate record companies. He craves fame, fortune and mainstream acceptance. "I want the number one, I want the awards, I want the accolades," he says.

The desire for commercial success means The Class A'z are involved in a long-running feud with Blanchardstown collective The Working Class Army, who don't believe in courting commercial success and prefer to keep their music bubbling under the mainstream.

The rivalry manifests itself in the kind of on-stage rap "battles" depicted in Eminem's film 8 Mile. The Working Class Army deride The Class A'z for making music without "substance" and for not "keeping it real". Alas, keeping it real comes at a price -- namely, the intrusion of other people's reality.

Redzer's girlfriend Ester, who we saw celebrating her 21st birthday at a notably rap-free party, often thinks it's about time he ditched the hip-hop and tried to find a job.

"I know I should, people keep telling me I should," says Redzer, who's been plugging away for four years, "but I don't want it. I can't help it. Hip-hop is like heroin. Once you start, you're hooked."

Redzer's Class A'z bandmate Siyo is also suffering a blast of cold, unforgiving reality from another source: his mother. "He's in a whole little world of his own," she says.

While she believes Siyo belongs up on stage, she doesn't feel he still belongs under her roof at his age. "I don't think I'm doing you any favours," she told him. "You need to be out there on your own, sink or swim."

So Siyo duly went looking for a house to rent, making sure it was close enough to his mother's place so he could nip home for dinner every day.

The more McCloskey's film went on the more you warmed to Redzer and the rest, and found yourself hoping they'd find that vital breakthrough. Yet for a fortysomething fart like me, who doesn't speak hip-hop and grew up with rock 'n' roll, punk and New Wave, the chief stumbling block is that all of it eventually merges into a muddy, monotonous torrent of profanity. And when it's delivered in a Dublin accent, it sounds faintly ridiculous.

But I guess that's my problem. As Working Class Army's Lethal Dialect put it, "We're writing what we know. If people don't like it for what it is, then they've no business listening to it." Fair enough.

ireland's rappers HHHHI

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