The State of Irish Hip-Hop
FAC Focus: “Irish rap is like marmite, people either love it or hate it.” Alfie South and Don Kobz discuss the Irish hip hop scene.
Subculture in Ireland has been a feature of society for generations. In 1798 Ireland was rocked by a mass rebellion against British rule to have a right to a democratic republic, and whilst the current hip hop subculture doesn’t show the same severity, the principle remains similar.
Two Irish rappers at the forefront of that battle are Alfie South and Don Kobz. The pair are lifelong friends on a quest for establishment in the rap game in Ireland, and they explain to me how one evening of planning on Kobz’ bedroom led to their first track together, Pigeonz. “We made our own little studio and had our own little microphone. We sat down together on Colin’s laptop and used this microphone software” explains Alfie South, “We were just excited to get something done and we just went looking for an instrumental and found a Dos Gringos instrumental called Update which reminded us of an old track we both enjoy so that’s what drew us to that instrumental, that xylophone sound.”
Don Kobz explains how well the piece was put together as they hadn’t heard each other’s work for the track. “We didn’t hear each other’s verses before we recorded and he just came over to my gaf’, we put on that Dos Gringos beat on, I spitted my verse and Alfie spitted his and it just went together perfectly, and the beat fades out when his verse ends so it just ended up working. Originally we didn’t know whether or not to release it and get the ball rolling and it ended up getting well received for our first drop and then we started thinking about the next tune we were going to do.”
Writing rhymes is something that fascinates myself personally due to the obvious challenges involved, but South explains that lyrics are something he always has ready at his disposal. “With Pigeonz we had verses written on our phones from a while before and we didn’t want to put too much thought into it try too hard to push a message, we felt it was too early in the game to try that. We just wanted to put something together that was fun and easy to listen too.”
Due to the aforementioned subculture vibe surrounding rap in Ireland I was curious as to how these two young men got involved in rap and both Kobz and South credit the graffiti scene in their early teens to how they got started. “We had been rapping for years. It started when we were real young and we were all either break dancing or doing graffiti. We would go into the All City Jams or Concrete Jungle and we would see people in rap battles and we were only 9 years old and we would see these people spitting and putting their heart and soul into rhyming words and back then it didn’t make much sense.” Kobz says that was definitely a part of their rise to starting in the game. “It definitely had an influence, the whole graffiti scene. It’s important that people from the UK and Ireland keep rapping because it’s not just a black thing over in America, and back then it was something we loved doing, rapping over beats nearly as a joke.”
Kobz feels he found a place in rap due to the small size of the subculture scene. “It was very small and I can feel it bubbling. Everywhere I go I hear of a new artist and it’s just growing and growing. I knew a few people in the game already and I made Pigeonz and started sending it around and luckily someone I know sent it on to District Magazine and they were digging it and created an article which was cool.”
Despite being a hobby for years, South explains he never felt it would become a thing he would share with the public. “When we started around the age of 14 we never expected that in future we would make songs for people to listen too it was just for fun back then. we were from Dublin, we were white kids, to a lot of people that doesn’t make sense.”
The scene in Ireland for Rap is something that has grown in recent times due to the success of Rejjie Snow and Versatile, but South feels the normality of subculture genres makes it easier for establishment in the music game. “I suppose these days we have more subculture genres, whereas before there was this Dublin sound where you had to talk about crime and stuff and I think now it kind of like American rap where you just find branches of different sounds and music just going into their own subgenres. There is a new wave of talent that are changing the game, it started with Rejjie Snow who flipped the scene on its head and showed us we don’t have to talk about drug dealing and he took a slack jawed approach and was sarcastic about pop culture.” He feels the new talent are pushing boundaries that everyone else thought shouldn’t be pushed. “With rappers like Kojak or Soft Boy Crew, they pushed boundaries on new sounds that people hadn’t thought of or it was opposite to what people thought Dublin rappers should be talking about, so they stand out to me along with people like Lethal Dialect, one of the best lyricists I’ve ever heard.”
Talent is Ireland something South feels we have in abundance and something he feels is starting to show in the rap game. “We have seen this new talent of producer coming into the game. Even music video directors are growing and becoming popular, and I feel Ireland always had that talent. Ireland has that feel were there’s always gems and we always manage to showcase that talent.” UK Grime is a scene that was once similar to Irish culture in the sense that it was taboo but it’s now one of the most popular genres in Europe if not worldwide, and South feels Irish rap could face that same explosion in years to come. “Rapper that have taken their talent to other countries like Rejjie Snow, and there’s a quirky thing about it similar to UK Grime. 10 or 20 years ago nobody listened to grime or would have been a taboo thing because they talked about gun violence and crime but it slowly became more and more expected, and more of a thing that everyone wanted to hear. I hope the Dublin scene keeps rising and keeps producing the talent I know it can and I can’t wait to see in 10 years what the rappers then are talking about and what they sound like and what beats, because today it’s still fairly infantile.”
Don Kobz feels similar to South about the Grime explosion but feels with the right support Irish rap can take off. “It people get behind the game and support it, it definitely can happen. The key is consistency and I listen to a lot of UK Hip Hop and that scene has been present and strong since the early 2000’s and it only started popping off in recent years and that’s like Grime, which is getting bigger than ever now. We probably won’t get as big as Grime because we’re a smaller country but we want to keep pushing it, and it that is the case then it’s bound to have a good outcome.”
Despite the fame that is possible with becoming an artist, South feels that he just enjoys rapping for what it is. “I just enjoy writing, I enjoy rapping and I find it sort of therapeutic. I enjoy making beats and stuff so as far as music is concerned every time I make music I’m aiming to make it the best thing I’ve ever made and I just try to keep hitting that sound that people are going to like. I know at the moment some people hate it and some people don’t but it’s that Dublin culture similar to marmite, you either love it or you hate it.”
In the future Kobz feels an album will be on his agenda, but at present his concentration is on gaining a following to give him a base to work with. “At the moment I’m just looking to enjoy it and create a following, then when that happens it will be time to sit down and think about an albums or mixtapes and just pushing it and growing that way. Getting bigger gigs and more consistent gigs and stuff like that.”