Sello ushers in the new wave of Irish rap

It's a sound that can't be stopped, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Sello ushers in the new wave of Irish rap

Clondalkin rapper Sello has infused his drill anthems with Gaelic. ‘It’s what makes me different,’ he says.

There's a new sheriff in town and he goes by the name of Sello. The young Clondalkin rapper has just followed the massive drill anthem ‘Dublin’ with ‘As Gaeilge’, and he is getting ready to go on tour with Kneecap later this year. Using traditional Irish samples as a backbone to some of the hardest bars, Sello’s thick Dublin accent stands in defiance of one of the big criticisms of Irish drill so far: That it sounds too English. Sello is anything but, and these street anthems are about to go mainstream this summer: It’s a sound that can’t be stopped.

The first real Irish hip-hop group I heard, back in the day, were Scary Éire, and in one of my first articles about hip-hop, for the University College Cork student magazine, I wrote about their strong identity, how they fused dub and rap with trad and folk. The bodhrán and tin whistles accompanied the turntables and the mic, and the group were something else. In that early 1990’s article, I talked about Christy Moore being the original Irish ‘rapper’, and we have a musical tradition here that is perfectly set up for a blending with hip-hop. Many artists have been doing it, from Strange Boy to DJ Danny Deepo, and it’s extra powerful coming from a young, black, Irish Dubliner.

I chatted to Sello about his quick rise and asked him about Gaelic drill, with ‘Dublin’ sitting on top of ‘The Foggy Dew’, by the Chieftains, and ‘As Gaeilge’ using the voice of Sinead O’Connor to add to the Irish vibe. His pal Savo suggested using the ‘Foggy Dew’ sample and local producer Maxbeats came up with the goods.

“Gaelic drill is what makes me different,” Sello tells me. “It’s why people listen to my music. There’s a lot of good rappers out there, but you need to be different. This is what makes me different, being Irish, being myself. People can relate to me; there’s lots of rappers not making relatable music and it’s hard for young people to connect. Some of the rappers that I listen to, I like them, but the ones that feel like me, look like me, or live where I am, they are not as good as the ones I listen to. I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but I think I’m as good as the rappers I listen to and I am relatable, too.”

Sello is excited by some of the tracks on the way and he’s excited about the tour with Kneecap. “It’s gonna be monumental, it’s gonna be one of the best sets ever. I’m excited for everything.”

Sello is happy to continue “doing me”. “I don’t think I’m the best thing to happen since sliced bread, but my thing is different and that’s why people like me.” Sello just wants “to do shows and see people singing his songs and jumping around” and he wants to be the biggest in Ireland, as there’s no point in being respected elsewhere “if you are not respected in your back garden”.

As of now, he wants to be established as a proper Irish artist, up there with Dermot Kennedy, Hozier, Niall Horan, Kneecaps, and those fellas, “doing them kinds of numbers”. And why not? Drill is still a relatively new sound that is having significant crossover success in both the UK and Ireland lately. Sello is far from the only amazing artist here and he’s not the only one rapping in his own accent, either.

The MCs I’ve mentioned previously here, such as Ac-130 and the A92 collective, are all shining a light on Ireland right now, and there is room for all to flourish and succeed. Sello is a confident young guy, who is full of charm and good humour. He’s assured, rather than arrogant, and he’s got the potential to be a huge star here.

Drill is the sound of the young generation, and there are multiple reasons why our youth feel disconnected and disenfranchised. Music is a great outlet, and these tracks can transport us all, for a few minutes at least.

During this pandemic, many young Irish artists have emerged with anthem after anthem, and I’m looking forward to seeing them all live soon. As Sello says himself, “That’s my buachaill, that’s my bro”; Sello is one of the best young artists ushering in the new era of Irish music.

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