Irish Battle Rap Round-Up (#1 of 1)
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. With half the internet blacked out – the interesting parts at least – to protest SOPA, and Twitter clogged up with people making crap jokes about Wikipedia being offline, I was supposed to get a lot of work done yesterday. Instead, I spent half the day searching out battle rap videos on Youtube and the rest watching that mad cunt Pepe do his damndest to chop down Messi in his prime.
Just about every night these days, I seem to get sucked into a kind of Youtube Roulette, where watching one video leads me to a dozen more via the related videos list, and I’ve been returning to the above track more and more the past week or so. ‘I’m Back’ features Redzer and Terawrizt of Dublin crew Class A’z and, though it’s a pretty straightforward track with ordinary enough self-congratulating lyrics, the muted guitar and choral sample are the perfect backdrop for some really precise rhymes delivered at breakneck speed.
Redzer is the current president of DFI – Don’t Flop Ireland, aka Da Fightin’ Irish – the main (only?) battle rap organisation in Ireland. I haven’t been to a battle myself (I know, I’m a sad sack of shit), but the videos are really well put-together and, though DFI has only been going a year or two, already a few names are starting to stand out, particularly Nugget, Rawsoul, Jee4ce and Redzer himself. Here’s six of the best battle vids featuring Irish artists I’ve watched over the past couple of weeks – some of the domestic stuff is great, but it’s when they come up against UK and American artists that it really starts to get good.
Most battles clock in between 10 and 15 minutes. Watch the videos before reading the blurb unless you want to see spoilers.
A nice jumping-off point here: Cork rapper Nash vs Dubliner Jambo. The two MCs bring completely different styles: Jambo is all in-your-face aggression, getting straight into the personals and practically growling out his roll of insults, while Nash is craftier and a bit more wordy, even working in a nice sodium chloride pun.
This one created a bit of controversy after the fact due to Redzer calling MC Dubh – a half-black rapper from Waterford – a ‘Paki bogger,’ a Packie Bonner reference that was probably lost on the UK audience who took offense to it. Watching Irish rappers battle at home and abroad, one thing that marks them out is that they’re more willing to take on racial issues in their battles, but still it’s a bit surprising that this became such an issue, especially as rappers black, white, pink and blue see no issue with calling one another faggots a dozen times a night without any sense of irony.
Now we start to get a little bit international. Here’s Redzer taking on Manchester rapper Chronicle, and again it’s the complete contrast of styles that makes it such a great battle. Chronicle has that whole John McEnroe thing going on – permanently on edge, on the brink of exploding – but Redzer completely disarms him by promising to spend the entire three rounds rapping about how he looks like a horse. You’d think that would get old within about a minute but, amazingly, it doesn’t. You really have to see it to believe it.
Here, Ballyer rapper Nugget takes on Sheffield’s Nate in the UK and manages to win over an away crowd (though a couple of his thornier jokes bring calls of ‘racist’ from the crowd). Like I said before, Irish rappers seem a little more prepared to bring skin colour into the conversation in a non-derogatory way, though there’s something a bit self-conscious and insecure about Nugget’s attempts to equate the Irish and black experiences in England. Still, he nails him with a couple of golden lines, particularly the ‘No dogs, no blacks and no Irish’ punchline at the end.
This doubles battle appears to take place in a fish & chip shop or something – I have no idea why, but I like it. Jee4ce and Nugget take on Scottish pair Gasp and Depths with two completely different approaches – the Irish lads trading verses, while the Scots take a much more collaborative approach, finishing each other’s lines a la Run DMC. It’s a ding-dong battle, and probably the funniest of the lot, because I think everyone knows the Scots and the Irish are the funniest on the planet. Plus I can never get enough of Scottish accents.
But in terms of actual quality, Nugget vs Georgia rapper Star Almighty is where the bar has been set for now. DFI has only been going a couple of years, and this battle kind of shows the different in experience between the Irish boys and the guys in the US who are doing on it on a much more consistent basis. Nugget is clearly the best Irish battler, and the first verse is the best I’ve seen him, but still he’s self-conscious – at one point he starts explaining American racial history to the black man from Alabama, and it all gets a bit confused. You can see Star Almighty is just more confident and more experienced, and his material is just that tiny bit cleverer (“[Your mom] invited me to sleep on her mattress / So I went to town on that ass like Jesus of Nazareth”) than Nugget’s.