Jack Keegan explores Dublin’s ever-expanding hip hop scene, and why the male dominated genre inevitably is the way it is.
Drury Street has become a social hub in post-pandemic Dublin. An area bursting with eclectic aesthetics brought by equally eclectic artists. The walls surrounding the street are now tapestries of self-promotion – DJs, painters, pop singers and indie bands merge to form a collective call to action to support their artistic endeavours. Yet, one thing is absent within this mural: Irish hip-hop artists.
DJs, painters, pop singers and indie bands merge to form a collective call to action to support their artistic endeavours. Yet, one thing is absent within this mural: Irish hip-hop artists.
The matter isn’t that Ireland doesn’t like hip-hop. On the contrary, DJ Shadow tickets sold out faster than you can say Endtroducing and JPEGMAFIA performed two sold-out nights at The Academy in 2021. Similarly, Irish hip-hop heads entered a frenzy when MIKE and Sideshow recorded a music video outside Dalymount Park. So, where are these elusive MCs?
One place you’re sure to miss them is on the renowned Late Late Show. The well-established program will occasionally invite a rap group or artist to perform and, due to the older viewership of the show, the producers do not want an Immortal Technique-esc performer who will inevitably ruffle a few feathers and bombard the national broadcaster with complaints. The irony of that leaves a bitter taste: the result is a toothless and tokenistic version of hip-hop that only belongs in one place — An bosca bruscair.
The picture is not much prettier on social media; the algorithm often churns out MCs or cyphers filmed in recognisable areas of the nation. However, there's usually a serious issue with these videos. These rappers often mimic a UK accent and resort to a bland drill beat that perhaps a diluted Central Cee would use. They often give in to copying or “biting styles”, despite this being one of hip-hop’s cardinal sins. Dublin rapper Curtis is not surprised by this phenomenon and believes it could eventually become detrimental to the Irish scene:“Artists are copying what is going on in the UK because they can see the success from it,” says Curtis. “If you look back to the early hip-hop scene in Ireland, they copied what was going on in America. The people that are copying the UK sound are holding our scene back by trying to propel themselves forward.”
'The people that are copying the UK sound are holding our scene back by trying to propel themselves forward.'
It is no coincidence that the aforementioned artists from abroad all have something in common. They all fall into the subgenre of abstract and experimental hip-hop, a sub-genre famed for its heavy use of sampling, left-field production choices and esoteric lyrical references. This form has always been present; it was just much more challenging to find in the 80s and 90s when rappers like MF DOOM, Kool Keith and Dälek were only accessible via word of mouth and crate digging. Today, anyone can discover artists like billy woods through major publications and album reviews posted to YouTube.
The rappers originating from Ireland have an abundance of grá for this style. Rappers brimming with poise, personality and pen-game are exploding onto the scene right before our eyes. Dublin rapper Archy Moor had a stellar 2023. Beginning by releasing his debut EP Bonnie Hill, opening for Denzel Curry at The Olympia Theatre, and releasing his sophomore effort Cosy while finishing up with performing a headline gig to a heaving Workman’s Cellar in September. Both of the tapes listed above are stellar and are worth a listen, particularly the incredibly sticky track “Chain on Legs.” Moor believes that the creative freedom available to artists in Ireland has made the rap scene a much more enjoyable experience, “It’s cool, man,” says Moor. “I think everybody is having fun doing their different things. That’s all you can hope for. Everybody enjoying their craft, that’s what matters the most.”
The rap scene has not only given opportunities to those holding the microphone – Cian Bolger, a DJ and photographer, has been documenting the stories of these rappers through his lens. But, even among the opportunities now presented to those in the hip-hop scene, Bolger finds a lack of space to co-exist with other artists in the Irish hip-hop ecosystem, “I think fighting for venue space is more of a problem across all genres rather than just being specific to hip-hop,” says Bolger. “You have spaces like The Workman’s Club, The Sound House and Whelan’s that are all around 250-400 max capacity and the next step up from that is Vicar Street, The Olympia Theatre and The Academy. When an artist can easily sell out the smaller venues, they must almost double their ticket sales to move to a bigger venue. This is a big risk especially since most shows are being put on independently or through an independent booker.” This echoes the sentiment that has been on the lips for months in Dublin and Ireland as a whole – there is a lack of variety within Irish nightlife. Especially spaces where women feel safe to go out and have a good time.
Amongst a lack of women in the crowds at hip-hop gigs and events, there is a distinct lack of female rappers in this community as well. It is a great shame as rap was and still is used as an avatar for the marginalised and now it no longer seems like a viable vehicle of expression for women in Ireland unless they are hip-hop adjacent via R&B, and can feel unsafe in the hip-hop community. This is at odds with the international hip-hop scene as FEMCs across the globe are bending the game to their will. Artists like Sexyy Red, Ice Spice and Little Simz have finally given female rappers the credit they deserve, whereas once upon a time, rappers like Rhapsody were pushed to the side for being female.
Amongst a lack of women in the crowds at hip-hop gigs and events, there is a distinct lack of female rappers in this community as well.
This country is famed for its writers’ poets and writers, but now, in 2024, they are holding the microphone. Watch for them; they’re in your area and about to cause mass hysteria.