Irish TV’s take on homegrown hip-hop
To judge by the domestic TV schedules, Irish hip-hop is having a bit of a moment. A few weeks ago, the first edition of RTE’s new arts show The Works featured a short report on some of those involved in …
To judge by the domestic TV schedules, Irish hip-hop is having a bit of a moment. A few weeks ago, the first edition of RTE’s new arts show The Works featured a short report on some of those involved in the Dublin scene. Last night, we had a jump in profile and length in the shape of Ireland’s Rappers, a Reality Bites documentary focusing on what the show makers called “a highly creative and dedicated subculture with a cast of incredible and sometimes barely believable characters”.
That should have been a warning in itself. When a TV show talks about “incredible and sometimes barely believable characters”, you know what you’re in for and Ireland’s Rappers didn’t disappoint in that regard. This was as cliched as they come, with such nuggets as a “feud” between two Dublin hip-hop collectives and a 25 year old rapper living at home with his ma (stop the press! 25 year old Irish rapper lives with his Ma! Just like Biggie Smalls did when he was starting out! No doubt we can expect future RTE documentaries to look at 25 year old indie musicians, folk singers and classical players who live at home with the Ma) featuring in the rushes. There was also some odd loose threads in the narrative about pending releases which were mentioned once or twice and never followed up on, a shoddy piece of continuity and a sign that this show had its own agenda from the get-go.
Then, there was the fact that a show called Ireland’s Rappers didn’t bother going beyond Dublin and Cork in search of stories and “incredible and sometimes barely believable characters” who could rock the mic. Indeed, we could fill the rest of this post with the names the show should have featured, but Cheebah tweeted it best of all last night.
But did we really expect anything else from a show which opened with a throwaway line eulogising the Rubberbandits and ignoring a vibrant history from Scary Eire and Marxman to Messiah J & The Expert and onto Maverick Sabre? I genuinely thought that narrator Damien Dempsey would have known better than to get involved in this hackneyed, awkward, cliche-riddden, negative, incorrect protrayal of the country’s hip-hop scene. Surely Damo, of all people, recognises a set-up and an agenda when he sees it?
And there was an agenda. The problem with Irish TV shows of this ilk is that they’re all about the caricature. The show makers played up the comedy aspects of a 25 year old living with his Ma – surely not an odditity in Recession 2.0 Ireland – a rapper hanging out with his girlfriend and her family celebrating a 21st, people rapping in strong Dublin accents (they’re from Dublin, what do you expect?) and the Workin’ Class Records crew giving an interview to camera with a few horses wandering around in the background. Did those who agreed to take part in the show know that this was how it would turn out? Is this really what Irish hip-hop is all about? Answer: it is to RTE and the people who made this show. They saw the idea of Irish hip-hop as something which could produce some cheap laughs for the gallery if presented in a certain way and away they went. Laughs ahoy!
Strangely, Ireland’s Rappers focused very little on the music, but RTE TV, as we have seen again and again and again over the years has absolutely no interest in music so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that they went for the comedy rather than musical factor. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t see such musically on-point acts as Melodica Deathship or mynameisJohn on the screen as they saw this charade for what it was (an exploitive reality TV show dressed up as something else). Then again, the people who made the show probably didn’t bother asking these people in the first place.
The one silver lining in what was an atrocious abuse of the TV licence fee was Temper-Mental MissElayneous, who lit up the screen every time she appeared. She’s the lady who features on the brilliant Willa Lee track “Fallin’”, which we featured here last week, and her own “Proletarian Restitution” EP is well worth checking out (and paying for). Whether it was watching her freestyle on the street in Finglas or mentoring other female would-be rappers about their flow, she was on-point, lively and fascinating, one of the brightest sights and sounds on the Irish music scene right now. There’s someone who’s a whole lot more than just being one of the “incredible and sometimes barely believable characters” the show set out to capture. She’s the real deal.
Why didn’t we have more people like her (because they’re out there) rather than taking-the-mick scenes involving rappers at home? Because it was easier for everyone involved with the show to send up this idea – per TV’s cliched way of looking at hip-hop, rappers are supposed to live in gaffs straight out of MTV’s Cribs rather than in a terraced house in an estate in north Dublin – rather than explore the real stories and inspirations behind the Irish hip-hop scene. It would be wrong to call Ireland’s Rappers a missed opportunity because the show and the station had absolutely no intention of going anywhere near the real thing. Instead, we got what TV thought we wanted – cheap laughs at someone else’s expense while ignoring that scene’s strong, strident positives. Anyone really surprised? (If you missed the show, you can watch it on the RTE Player here)