Sunday, 11 June 2017

Interview: Gavin FitzGerald - The Truth About Irish Hip Hop

The Truth About Irish Hip Hop Gavin FitzGerald

The Truth About Irish Hip Hop (Trailer)

Info: 'The Truth About Irish Hip Hop' is an upcoming documentary about the rise of hip hop in this country and the changing attitudes towards the once foreign art form. Ireland is renowned for it's writers and poets so why hasn't hip hop entered the cultural mainstream here? Well this documentary shows it happening before our eyes and the movement will only increase with the dedicated new wave of rappers breaking through the scene. 

Featuring Rusangano Family, This Side Up, Mango & MathMan, Fifth Element & Doublescreen, Jafaris, Ophelia MC, Nialler 9 and many more.

On a personal level I had a great interest in this documentary and really can't wait to see the finished product. Up until the beginning of last year next to no hip-hop or rap had featured on the blog with the exception of Los Angeles duo King Fantastic who I had the pleasure of interviewing a good few years ago. It wasn't until Ballymun pair 5th Element & DoubleScreen sent me on their new track and video at the time, '2.0', that I had to actually sit down to reviewing the genre, it was a little bit daunting. Of course I was a fan, listening to the Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, House of Pain, NWA and Public Enemy to name a few since my early teens, but I was by no means an expert at describing the genre, and I'm still not.

That said, it opened up a new door on the Irish music scene and I've had the absolute pleasure of seeing numerous live shows since including Jafaris, This Side Up, 5th Element, Rusangano Family and Mango off the top of my head, all of which feature in The Truth About Irish Hip Hop produced and directed by Gavin Fitzgerald and Mark Hayes. I had the chance to pick Gavin's brain regarding their new documentary, what it meant to him, how the idea came about, and what his view of the current state of the Irish hip-hop scene is.

5th Element & DoubleScreen - The Illest (feat. Mango)

Remy: You’ve recently released the trailer for upcoming short documentary The Truth About Irish Hip Hop, how did the idea first come into your head to explore this topic? What was the process like?

Gavin: I was a big fan of Messiah J & the Expert growing up. I used to go to his sold out live shows in Crawdaddy and I was always surprised that he never made it on an international scale. In my head, he was as good as any American or UK rapper so it got me thinking about the Irish perception of rap which is, or rather was, quite negative. I think the Irish have a tendency to cringe at the sound of our own voice, whether that be on television or in the music industry. 

So what started as an exploration of Ireland’s dismissive attitudes towards rap turned into something much more positive. I learned that there was a huge amount of new music since those early days of Irish hip hop and the standard was really high. The stereotypes had been broken down over the last few years and anybody who goes on Youtube for a half a day can see a new wave of Irish hip hop emerging. I wanted to explore the reasons for this change in attitude towards the once American art-form. 

Remy: You cover many acts in the film, such as Jafaris, Rusangano Family (recent Choice Music Awards winners), This Side Up and 5th Element to name but a few. What did you yourself learn throughout the process of working with them that you didn’t know before? Or to put it another way, what surprised you most from going through the project itself.

Gavin: I think the most surprising thing is the sheer amount of talent out there. I met Mark Hayes of ClearHaze along the way and he was making the same documentary as me so we decided to team up in order to cover more ground. Every rapper or DJ you speak to is eager for you to talk the next guy… we literally didn’t have the time to speak to them all but everyone we did interview shared an unwavering passion for hip hop music and a belief that Ireland will have as well an established hip hop scene as the UK.

This Side Up
This Side Up - Photo: Remy Connolly

Remy: Would it be your opinion that Irish hip-hop is on the verge of entering a broader public consciousness now, or do you still feel it will retain its underground presence for the forseeable future? Or a mixture of both?

Gavin: It may take a long time but I think Ireland will have it’s own space and we will start seeing more hip-hop festivals happening across the country. They already are, but as Ireland continues to become more multicultural, that influence will only create more diversity and vibrancy to the scene. You only have to look at our neighbours in the UK to see what effect hip-hop has had musically and culturally. London is packed with hip-hop clubs and that’s what Ireland is missing right now. We need a space where you can go in any night of the week and hear new Irish hip hop. They’re great fun nights and we need to see more of them. 

Remy: Were there any particular frustrations about exposure expressed by the subjects of the documentary with regards to the Irish music press / websites etc.?

Gavin: To be honest, it’s all very positive these days. Perhaps there would have been in the past. Very talented rappers such as Scary Eire and Messiah J & the Expert perhaps didn’t reach the heights they deserved, but the documentary doesn’t dwell on that. It’s about looking forward, a new Ireland who has broken down the barriers of stereotypes and is producing quality hip hop music. 

Rusangano Family - Soul Food

Remy: Finally, has the whole experience provided you with an ongoing interest in Irish hip-hop in general?

Gavin: Absolutely. It would be great to do a feature-length documentary sometime down the road but for now we’re just going to put this film out with a big night of Irish hip-hop and keep an eye on the talent we met along the way. I feel like there’s a bunch of Conor McGregors lurking in the shadows and one day that talent will explode and everyone will be saying; "Nah, I was always into Irish hip hop". Whenever that happens, I’ll be waiting with my camera.

To keep an eye on updates regarding the release date and other news, head over to The Truth About Irish Hip Hop's Facebook page and give it a Like here

Jafaris - Photo: Remy Connolly

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