“Power, belonging and the need to be heard:” an introduction to Irish hip-hop


Photo by Emma Hopkins

From creeping into the mainstream through the likes of Rubberbandits, Super Extra Bonus Party and featuring in Love/Hate, to the Rusangano Family’s debut album taking home the Choice Music Prize earlier this month: the rise of Irish hip-hop has been as dramatic as it has been unlikely.

It helped, of course, that the rise of the scene fell alongside a massive recession instigated in part through regulatory failure, repressively rising urban rents and mass social protests. Angry, pointed voices sat naturally with their new audience. As Dublin-based hip-hop star Temper-Mental MissElayneous tells it: “It’s hunger that’s causing hip-hop’s boom. It’s also identification with the social dynamics of the birthplace and creators of hip-hop, and a willingness to learn and lead. But we value cultural identity and the lyrical Irish roots: saints and scholars. Poverty, loss and grievance.”

While on the poppier end of the spectrum, Temper-Mental embodies much of what’s strong about the budding Irish scene: a distinctly locally-accented sound, quick wit, cultural references and original beats. In ‘Create the Pain to Alleviate It’, she shows her depth, with the imagery of rotting apple cores set against a world of social and gender politics: “questioning, self loathing, dissatisfaction, doubt… We refuse to believe we’re animals yet… Poets once honoured are now in McDonalds, a dozen a dime.”

Temper-Mental identifies many of the topics of Irish political discourse as her themes, singling out misogyny, heterosexism, God, transformation and pain as her core elements.

“It’s a cultural revolutionary movement,” she explains. “It’s on the concrete, on the corner, it’s in classrooms, yards, youth clubs, community art centres, it’s in prison, in the bedroom studio, on the stairwell, down the lane and held privately in a heart’s rhythm waiting to be translated to words.”
A distinctly accented, smart-quipping artist who rose alongside Temper-Mental MissElayneous at the height of the recession in 2011/2012,
Lethal Dialect has a harsher dynamic to his sound and also cites local cultural figures as key influences in his lyrics, nodding in particular Irish folk star Damien Dempsey.

Despite being three albums into his career, the rapper admits “I’m only really finding my own sound now. There’s some old stuff where you could nearly tell what I was listening to at the time.” His north Dublin lilt and conceptual approach to albums, however, have often stood out.