Hands in the Éire: 10 Irish rap and r'n'b artists you need to check out
The freshest hip hop, r'n'b, soul and street sounds from Ireland
A musical movement is stirring in Ireland. The Emerald Isle has always had a boundless affinity with the arts and music, but cold rap flows and soul-infused r’n’b are newer additions to its cultural canon. The past few years have seen an upsurge in interest in hip hop and r’n’b, and it’s producing some of the freshest talent around. The scene is sonically diverse, with a strong core of artists experimenting with a spread of sounds and tempos. We’ve compiled 10 of the best hip hop and r’n’b artists making waves in Ireland and beyond in the list below.
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Kojaque is unique in his ability to seamlessly meld fiery rap vocals with quaint utterances of spoken word. His 2018 album ‘Deli Daydreams’ is a mordant reflection of Irish life, with the opening bars on ‘White Noise’ (“I’m just a north side DC baby / Me mammy raised me / By the horse riding council housing crisis crazy”) setting the scene for the poignant picture he paints of the stark realities of life as a modern-day Dubliner. He shows dissatisfaction with this situation on standout track ‘Politicksis’ (“I’m dying in my home town / it’s been this way my whole life”), addressing the claustrophobic atmosphere of his hometown. On top of his musical impact, he’s bringing a strong aesthetic to the scene as an established visual artist.
Cork-born artist Jess Smyth, more popularly known by the moniker Biig Piig, is one to look out for in 2020 after recently being signed to RCA and performing on COLORS. Her music is an eclectic blend of jazz, r’n’b and hip hop. Her debut EP, ‘Big Fan of the Sesh, Vol. 1’, illustrates Smyth’s innate gift for delivering songs that feel as if they have a life of their own, from the vignettes chronicling love and loss to the illumination of her late-night city life upbringing. ‘Perdida’ welcomes us into the introspective gaze of Smyth, who is at the tail-end of a break up. The biting lyrics “I should have never let you in / I should have never let you win, huh?” sees Smyth utter smokey vocals with breathless delivery, seamlessly switching between Spanish and English rap. Biig Piig is building a discography of limitless promise and we are here for the ride.
Hailing from Waterford, 21-year-old artist Alex Gough is one of the most promising artists of the new Irish music scene. He’s been dabbling in music from a youn age, before officially minting his debut solo release ‘The Infomercial Tape’ in 2018. The following year, Gough took his music live with a 4-piece hip hop/jazz band in which he starred on drums and vocal duties. His ‘80% EP’ acts as a brooding journey of Alex’s typical day, accounting for all the positive and negative thoughts he encounters along the way, of which he says “80% are negative connotations and a slightly unfortunate 20% positive”. The highlight of the EP is without doubt ‘Breakfast’ where Gough brings colour to the mundane aspects of day-to-day life, pairing an unhurried, mumble rap type flow with an infectious instrumental loop. Among the “corporate operators” and “corn flakes on the counter”, he succeeds in making light of an often-dreary world we can all relate too.
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Since releasing the single ‘Pink Lady’ in 2015 at the age of just 16, Swedish-born, Dublin-based Luka Palm has been hailed as one of Ireland’s most gifted rappers. The beat is spacious and Luka’s voice is enveloped within the mix, but still stands out with its subtle confidence and sacrilegious bars lusting after “A judas chick chewing on a crucifix”. He provided a guest verse on Kojaque ‘Deli Daydreams’ project, and in 2019 the duo collaborated on joint mixtape ‘Green Diesel’ that was released on Soft Boy Records. Across eight tracks they deliver breathy-yet-biting vocals over sultry instrumentals. Luka ended the year on a further high, supporting Slowthai on his European tour with Kojaque and performing a Boiler Room set as part of the Soft Boy collective.
Zimbabwe-born and Tallaght-raised, hip hop artist Percy Chamburuke, known by his stage name Jafaris, is shaping up to be one of the most exciting new prospects from Ireland’s rising wave of artists. His debut album ‘Stride’ launched him into the limelight, melding cleverly crafted beats with poignant lyricism. The album illustrates Percy’s tireless quest for self-knowledge. In lead single ‘Stride’, he admits that “I need direction, I need to feed on my own discernment”. The album is layered with insightful questions about religion, relationships and his identity. On the title-track, he delivers the question “Am I a son of man or a son of God?” with smouldering angst, reflecting, in a sinister tone, upon that yearn for change: “I follow sheep, I’m not man enough to reject the serpent”. There is no doubt he’ll soon cement his place as one of the front runners in Ireland’s newly thriving music scene.
Rapper JyellowL was born to Jamaican and Nigerian parents and raised in Ireland, later studying politics at UCD University in Dublin. Tracks like ‘Ozone’ may initially allude to the rapper as a bad boy who boasts about his “Michelangelo brilliance” in a world with “no limits”. But a deeper listen draws you to a more distinct sound, where he tackles social issues including racism, police brutality and politic systems that have all impacted him personally. The track ‘Cold In The Summer’ details the oppression he has dealt with as a person of Jamaican and Nigerian heritage in Ireland. The catchy and equally conscientious seven-minute track warns the listener of the impact of ongoing racism that threatens to turn his “culture into a memory”, with a jazz-infused instrumental present throughout.
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SHOOKRAH are an emerging six-piece collective from Cork, with a sound sitting somewhere between neo-soul and the emerging schools of r’n’b/soul coined as ‘Future Soul’. Their debut self-titled album took influence from the likes of Solange, Thundercat and The Internet, crafting a sound that sent listeners into blissful states. Tracks like ‘Notion’ are symbolic of their trademark sound that flips the lid on minimalism, offering listeners a soulful palette of electrifying jazz and striking vocals. With the release of their recent single ‘Why Can’t You Stay’ and a UK tour planned, the collective looks set to take their sound beyond the Emerald Isle soon.
Celaviedmai is an artist from Galway steadily becoming one of the most prominent names in the Irish Music Industry, having recently opened for well-known artists such as Mac Miller, Lil Wayne and Section Boyz. The Galwegian artist is now gaining the platform she deserves with her potent brand of hip hop that empowers women to challenge the male-dominated scene in Ireland. Her track Hudis-featuring track ‘For Me’ sees Celaviedmai refusing to accept the mistreatment she’s had from a partner: “He wanna be with me / but I can’t be wifey / settle down, unlikely”. The latter half of the track shows a more vulnerable side to the artist, where she cries: “I’m tryna figure me out, but I can’t do that if I isn’t with you”. Her work aligns with a welcome rise of vulnerability in a genre where previously many artists have filtered out any sense of weakness they may have.
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Fia Moon is an artist who has been performing since the age of five, as the child of parents both trained in jazz and classical music. Standout release ‘Water Runs Through’ sees her gracefully deliver the line “You can be a woman / the fire’s in you”, seamlessly melding jazz and uplifting lyrics in way that stokes the inner fire listeners. When she isn’t in Ireland, the upcoming artist divides her studio time between London and LA, developing her already burgeoning reputation as one of Ireland’s most promising musical talents.
Hailed as Ireland’s answer to BROCKHAMPTON, NUXSENSE are a seven-piece hip hop group comprising of Bogzy, sivv, Yung Peso, Jehnova, Lethor, AL-I and Prophet Goon. While all members grew up in Ireland many were born outside the country, having heritage in countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil and Romania. Their ‘Non-Linear’ mixtape is an eclectic collection of tracks, that sees the group masterfully combine a mesh of influences catapulting listeners into a sound that oscillates between introspective insight and classic hip hop bravado. In a Luthorist track he embraces diversity as the tool that has brought the group together ‘just leave us alone/ can do this on our own/ we’re right in our zone’. There is no doubt these guys are going places, pushing their unique sound with lyrics that champion diversity.
Josh Crowe is a freelance writer, check out his blog BabyStep
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