No need for a voice coach for these true-skool Irish crews

For Irish collectives The Animators and This Side Up, the accent is on rapping in your own voice, and not trying to sound like you’re straight outta Compton


‘Say you like me hat,” Tom Cruise urged Nicole Kidman after lobbing her into the bath in Far and Away – a flick that saw the wee man brought before the UN Human Rights Commission on charges of lexical crimes against humanity. Not since Seamus McFly did the time-warp or Sean Connery got kidnapped by the little people had we suffered such savagery at the hands of Hollywood vocal coach villains.

In fairness, our crowd are no angels. We’ve also slaughtered a few mother tongues in horrendous acts of ethnic phrasing. Gabriel Byrne has strolled onto several sets passing off his Walkinstown warble as everything from the authoritative voice of a Viking warrior to the drawl of the divil himself. Thankfully, Colin Farrell stepped things up a notch after Alexander, but his Russian ruffian in The Way Back still had a touch of insurance-selling meerkat about him. Getting accents right is far from simples.

Accents indicate authenticity, and if they’re slightly off, it’s easy to scoff. Elvis Costello once quipped that someone should give Sting a slap and tell him to stop singing in a ridiculous Jamaican accent. Lily Allen is back topping the charts, but the patois-influenced Mockney is getting a little tired; maybe Elvis could have a word.

It’s refreshing to hear artists who are comfortable and confident with their own voice, who express themselves naturally, without affectation. Step up Rob “Russell Flow” Pearce, “Ricki Rawness” Lewis, Jesse “Smokey J” Heffernan, Karl “Mango” Mangan and Adam “MathMan” Fogarty – collectively known as The Animators.

The familiar black-and-white rectangular form of the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” graphic is projected onto a screen at the back of a stage before this hip-hop collective get animated, but in this instance it reads “Warning: Contains Irish Accents”.

The first hurdle for an Irish hip-hop act to clear is whether they can pull off an art form that should be culturally alien to these shores, without becoming a pastiche of the genre. The Animators clear the fence easily and, within the first few bars, the audience at the Trócaire Live mini-festival in The Grand Social are smiling and nodding appreciatively. These boys can jump.

The Animators own the stage, dealing out assertive, creative, engaging, grooving and thumping hip-hop that transcends the need to attach a Guaranteed Irish label. Getting Hypnotic Brass Ensemble to feature on the recording and video for Those Were The Days is testament to that, as are support slots with The Pharcyde, Afrika Bambaattaa and Big Daddy Kane. The thing that stands out about The Animators’ performance, though, is how much they enjoy themselves up there – it’s infectious. There’s no doubt they’ll be bringing that same vibe to the stage at Life Festival at Belvedere House next weekend.

My favourite west coast (as in Sligo) crew, This Side Up, have just released a video for their track Be Staunch, filmed around their performance at last year’s Electric Picnic. This act answered Wu-Tang’s chant “Wu-Tang ain’t nothing to fuck with” by getting their crowd to colloquially and appropriately respond: “These lads are feckin’ class.” As long as The Animators continue to namecheck Bosco and This Side Up drop lyrics like “The head on you, I said, the price of cabbage/hand me the mic and I’ll do damage”, the Irish branch of true-skool is in safe hands.

This weekend I’m like Michael Owen’s hamstring; torn again. They’re slinging serious choons at Fleadh Nua in Ennis as we speak; Dublin Writers’ Festival kicks off an impressive nine-day programme on Saturday; and there’ll be some serious beard-stroking at the Liffey Banks Folk Festival in Whelans on Sunday. But the only way I’d be able to stomach The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine is if Myster-E and Smokey J head down to give Rachel Allen some elocution lessons.

Safe travels, don’t die.

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