The land of saints, scholars, and rappers

Over forty years have passed since the birth of hip hop in the United States, since then it’s become one of the most popular genres of music among young people. However, across the pond Ireland’s hip hop scene can escape you almost entirely, unless you put in the effort to seek some out.  In fact, unless you go searching for Irish rappers, it can be hard to ever hear their material, or know what Irish rap is all about.

 

“It’s a really self-contained culture, the same people have been at the gigs since I started going, and that’s 13 years ago” explained Gary ‘Nugget’ Nugent.

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Gary “Nugget” Nugent

Rapping since he was 17, Nugget shares how he feels there has been a lull in the last few years and that the Irish hip hop scene has stopped moving forward as rapidly as it had been.  While the genre has never been more popular, he thinks the lack of rap battles and better organised gigs are holding Irish hip-hop back from being taken seriously by a wider audience.

  

“I think the accent puts some people off at first, people think of an American accent when they think of rap music, but the diversity of the Irish accent is a key defining feature of Irish hip hop,” he added.

 

The comedic storytelling with the unique Irish humour and the variety of tones, accents and backgrounds are other defining features of Irish hip hop, according to Alan Newman.  “I suppose it comes from the background of the Irish being good poets.  Irish rappers are the poets of this generation, Irish rap is just real, and it deals with real issues and real people” he said.

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Alan Newman. Photo: Jason O’Callaghan

 

In 2014 Alan set up Boss Level Series, a group that brought Irish rappers together to collaborate on music projects.  The producer and rapper who moved to London when he was a ten year-old credits his time spent living in the UK for his musical interests.

 

“The music in the places I was living was eclectic.  I was hearing reggae and afro beats for the first time.  It was a culture of cliques of rap artists collaborating and I was trying to achieve something similar with Boss Level over here when I came back” he said.   

 

While the Irish rap scene is a lot smaller in size than that of the UK and US, the talent is not lacking. Ireland has a long history of famous poets and storytellers, and a generation of Irish hip hop artists are emerging hoping to rival the likes of Joyce and Wilde.

 

“Some of the most talented and lyrical emcees I have ever heard are from Ireland, there’s a very poetic value to it here.  Most of us rap about what we know or what we see, it’s not all about sex, drugs and money like in other countries, but you still get some of that” explained rapper James Costello.

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James Costello

Costello says the inspiration for his raps come from things he sees walking around North Dublin.  “I like to tell a story with my raps but I’ve been fortunate to not have many struggles myself” he said. “I write about the things I see walking around places like Finglas and Ballymun, near my home, and what life’s like for my friends, family and other people living there,” he added.

 

Getting the support of the media and the general population has been an ongoing struggle for Irish hip hop artists.  “It’s hard to get over people’s misconceptions about what Irish rap is” explained Nugget. “Some people just think it’s a joke, it’s very hard to get something on TV or radio promoting Irish rap in a serious way.”

 

However it doesn’t help that Irish rap keeps getting compared to its US and UK counterparts, explains Alan Newman.  “I’d love to see Irish hip hop appreciated for what it is, and not constantly compared to things it’s not.  Like should be compared with like; you wouldn’t compare Dizzee Rascal to Kendrick Lamar so you shouldn’t compare Irish hip hop to US hip hop” he said.

 

One of the biggest struggles for rappers and producers making Irish hip hop is financial strain.  “Paying for studio time, a producer to make beats if you don’t do it yourself, and someone to do music videos costs a lot” said Costello.

 

But it’s not all struggles and negativity; some great things come from having such a small contained sub-culture.  “Everybody knows everybody really, and there’s a lot of respect among the artists, it’s kind of like a friendly competitiveness,” explains Costello.  

 

While all have differing opinions on what defines Irish hip hop, be it storytelling, the poetry or the Irish humour, one opinion they all shared was that the Irish accent and the purity of the craft is what makes Irish hip hop special.

 

(Originally published in FILTR magazine http://www.filtrmagazine.com)

INTERVIEW OF INTEREST: Darren Thornton

Mary Kate Hickey speaks to Darren Thornton, director of A Date for Mad Mary about winning at The Galway Film Fleadh, his inspirations, future projects and more. 

A Date for Mad Mary is Darren’s first feature film, which he co-wrote with his brother Colin.  The film starred Seána Kerslake, of Can’t Cope Won’t Cope fame, as Mary.

“It was really cool winning Best Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh. Honestly, it was one of the best screenings we’ve had and the audience responded really well to it, it was really special because it was our first feature film,” Darren said.

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A Date for Mad Mary was based on Yasmine Akram’s theatrical monologue of the same name, which Thornton also directed.

“It all went very organically,” he said about the adaptation from play to feature film. “The characters stayed very similar, but we tried to put more emphasis on the relationship of Mary and her best friend when we were writing the script.  While the play was out and out comedy about dating, the film is more of a drama about real life with comedy in it.

“Myself and Colin are always very interested in exploring deep into relationships and looking at characters and how they’re feeling.  When we’re writing a script we tend to come up with a broad idea, and then use that to tell something that’s quite intimate and personal.”

They changed up the dynamics of some of the relationships when adapting the play for the big screen.  “In the play Mary falls in love with a boy, but we changed that for the film.  In the film she falls in love with Jess, we thought it would be more interesting to explore how the other people in her life would feel about this relationship, would they be okay with it, and would Mary herself be okay with it.”

Mary’s grandmother also played a larger role in the play, being the person who helped to raise Mary, but Darren and Colin felt it would be more interesting to explore Mary’s relationship with her best friend Charlene and her mother more deeply.

A coming of age story of a girl who should have come of age long before, but never got the chance because of her behavioural problems was the story they wanted to tell.

“I’d say some of my inspiration comes from the likes of John Hughes, those coming of age stories are movies we grew up with, and I think they give us a lot of inspiration for the types of movies we like to do,” said Darren. “We’re also big fans of Alexander Payne, Steven Soderbergh and Mike Nichols, and of course some Irish and UK directors too.”

A Date for Mad Mary was filmed mainly in the brothers’ hometown of Drogheda.  “It was great filming at home in Drogheda because I could just roll out of bed and be on set in ten minutes!” Darren laughs.  “The really great thing about filming there is the great support we got from the local community, the nightclubs and pubs literally opened their doors to us, and if we were in need of extras, some of the locals made themselves available to help.  It was brilliant, and it’s not something you’d regularly get anywhere else,” he added.

Darren, who has been making his own films with his friends since he was in secondary school, always knew he wanted to end up in film. “I’ve been leading up to making a feature film for a while now.  I’ve directed plays, shorts, and TV shows before this,” he said.

“My biggest ambition is to continue making films that I love, and to get paid for them would be great too,” Darren said.

The brothers have plans to make more feature films in the future. “We’re currently writing two more feature films, and a TV show, so hopefully we’ll have something new coming out soon,” Darren said.  “The plan is to hopefully do two more films in Ireland and then we would like to go further. We were in LA for the last few weeks, and we would really like to make a film over there at some point,” he added.

A Date for Mad Mary was released in Irish cinemas in September, and will be released in the UK an the US in the New Year, along with a DVD release afterwards.

 

(Originally published on TheCity.ie https://thecity.ie/2016/12/07/interview-of-interest-darren-thornton/)