Stevie G: The story of Irish hip-hop, on film

In his weekly column in Downtown Stevie G gives his take on RTE's 'Origins-the story of Irish hip-hop'
Stevie G: The story of Irish hip-hop, on film

Messiah J and the Expert.

LAST week RTÉ screened “Origins-the story of Irish hip-hop”, a documentary made by Red Bull over the last few years. It promised to be the most comprehensive look at the story of Irish hip-hop to date, and thankfully it was a pretty respectable effort.

On the plus side DJ Mek of legendary rap crew Scary Eire co-operated with the doc and helped steer a segment on the group which got to the essence of their own impact on the scene in the early 90’s. It was a great start to the documentary and a nod to a pioneering group that had it all really, and that were years ahead of the game here. Their influence is still being felt, and it’s really good that such a mainstream documentary will help turn heads on to their legacy. This segment of the doc had everything, and got to the heart of the trailblazing swagger that showed Irish hip-hop at it’s most potent and original, with brilliant beats, samples, cuts, rapping and a potent use of sounds ranging from irish trad to dub reggae.

For a documentary calling itself the “Origins of hip-hop” this was a good opportunity to bring more of the elements of the 80s and 90s into play. Scary Eire were the single biggest influence on Irish rap back then so they deserve this segment, especially seeing as previous attempts to document this story often left them out or brushed past their impact. They will admit that they weren’t the first and that they came out of an 80’s scene rich in heritage across the whole genre here, from breaking and graf to DJing and rapping. Sadly most of that wasn’t mentioned in the doc, but in 52 minutes i guess they had to pick and choose only bits. DJ Mek rightly pointed out since that if the doc attempted to talk to many of those involved back then, it would have probably not have been as attractive to most mainstream viewers either.

After this the documentary fast forwards to the impact of artists such as Messiah J and the Expert, Collie, Costello, Lethal Dialect, Rob Kelly and Ophelia, before ending up with a fairly decent cross section of rap artists that are making a big impact in 2020. I was delighted to see so many women gain the spotlight, and also that the multi cultural nature of rap here was covered well; Denise Chaila, God Knows, Murli, Jafaris and more are all some of Irelands very finest. The section on the early 2000’s was pretty good and it focused mostly on rappers who deserved a mention too, but like the whole doc it is more a feature on Irish rap than hip-hop. Thankfully, unlike some attempts to document our hip-hop history, it was mainly a celebration of good irish rap and there weren’t any cringeworthy artists involved.

I would have preferred to hear a better selection of journalists who were more involved in the music scene over the years. Shane Curtain was briefly featured, and his insight is welcome. The likes of Damien Dempsey and other commentators were very respectful and I guess the documentary makers wanted established names rather than those at the coalface of the music scene. Limerick was well represented which was cool. Kneecap also got featured. Biig Piig is a superb artist who was born in Cork but I dunno if she’s someone who most of us would ever associate with the history of Irish hip-hop. Cork wasn’t mentioned despite having many pioneering club nights, djs, radio shows, festivals, graf jams, battles, MC’s etc, but I’d imagine loads of Irish rap people feel the same about their own scene.

Overall it was a pretty good attempt at documenting where Irish rap has come from and gone, but it’s more a documentary on Irish rap than hip-hop. Origins was superbly shot by skilled filmmakers. For the labels like All City, the independent mavericks like andy deviant, the Sons Phonetic, the MynameisJohns and The Kabins you’ll have to go somewhere else. For the record digging, the breakdancing, the graf, the rap battles, the club nights, the dj battles, the mixtapes, the internet forums and other big contributors to the scene, you’ll also have to look elsewhere. But most people under 25 will love it and it will also turn many music fans into a hip-hop format that was often ridiculed so I guess overall it’s a pretty decent attempt.

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