Much more than ‘Paddy rap’: How the pioneers of Irish hip-hop made their mark

From the archive: Scary Eire first appeared in The Irish Times on December 19th, 1992

The international breakout success of Rejjie Snow, a rapper from Drumcondra, Dublin, preceded another international breakthrough, the Cabra artist Kojaque. Photograph: Getty Images

The international breakout success of Rejjie Snow, a rapper from Drumcondra, Dublin, preceded another international breakthrough, the Cabra artist Kojaque. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The current Irish hip-hop boom now represents the liveliest aspect of the Irish music scene. Artists have been grafting away from era to era, with recognition segmented to a small number of fans despite the fact that international hip-hop acts had huge audiences here. The international breakout success of Rejjie Snow, a rapper from Drumcondra, preceded another international breakthrough, the Cabra artist Kojaque. The DIY, grassroots aspect of Irish hip-hop created something of a carefree prolificness, often shying away from trends elsewhere. It’s clear that local acts will now shift tickets, with Versatile selling out the 3Arena on November 30th. 

Rewind to December 1992, when hip-hop internationally was dominated by the west coast sounds of 2Pac, Dr Dre, and Snoop Dogg, and over on the east coast with Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest. Back in Ireland the pioneers of Irish hip-hop were about to make their mark.

Scary Eire, made up of Rí-Rá, Mr Browne, Mek and Dada Sloosh, first appeared in The Irish Times on December 19th, 1992, in a listing for a show the following day at the Rock Garden in Dublin, subsequently called Eamonn Doran’s.

The next mention of note was a short report from the Hot Press-Smithwicks Awards in February 1993. “The dance music category was won by the rap band Scary Eire,” the report read, under a headline about Mary Black winning best Irish solo performer. 

When Scary Eire took up a residency at Barnstomers on Capel Street (now the Black Sheep Pub) in Dublin, Kevin Courtney reviewed one of the gigs in The Irish Times on March 1st, 1993. Barnstormers was a biker bar with a capacity for around 200 people on the ground floor. Seminal promoters The Hope Collective have archived some of the shows they booked at Barnstormers online, including NOFX in 1992. 

Here’s Kevin Courtney’s Barnstormers review: “The unfortunate term ‘Paddy rap’ has been used to describe Scary Eire, but besides being rather offensive in the case it’s also wildly inaccurate. Scary Eire are indeed a rap band, and they don’t hide their Irish accents, but their music is closer to Jamaica than to Galway Bay, and only once during their set at Barnstormers on Friday did they attempt a forced marriage of traditional and hip-hop. Ragga is where these guys are at, and they do it with style, humour and panache. It’s not a million miles removed from the Ska music of The Specials and Madness and, since Albert’s Ireland has lately become a mirror of Thatcher’s Britain, it’s not inappropriate either. Scary Eire are using the music of rebellion and uprising to state their own birthright, and it sounds as natural as if it came straight outta Brixton.” 

“There’ll be probably plenty of Rizlas at the Fleadh Mór this weekend in Tramore,” the terribly-named Hot Licks column in the newspaper declared in July 1993. “Apart from the hippy-dippy headline acts, Dylan, [Van] Morrison and Joan Baez, there will be more than a bit of noise emanating from the NME stage which tomorrow boasts The Golden Horde, top Irish rap act Scary Eire, Puppy Love Bomb (sigh, my heroes), and Emperor of Ice Cream.”

In August 1993, Mic Moroney was profiling the support acts on U2’s Irish Zooropa shows, including Engine Alley, an “earnestly driven five-piece of post-Leaving Cert flower-children from Kilkenny”, Utah Saints, Marxman (“radical-rapping neo-communist pups”) featuring Donal Lunny’s son Oisín, Björk (“the most eagerly awaited support act”), Stereo MCs, and Scary Éire.

“This white-trash homegrown hip-hop is easily the best of the Irish strain, with their refreshingly scum-punk; in her face’ attitude: two backing DJs on samplers and DAT machines, Mek and Dada Sloosh, behind rappers Tullamore-accented Rí-Rá (Christy Moore meets Ice-T) and the loud, worrying live present of Mr Browne… Only a fully-fledged unit since last July, major word-of-mouth interest flared up around their residency in Capel Street’s Barnstormer’s, and after cutting a quick Fanning session, before you can say Revolution, they were signed to Island.”

Scary Eire were indeed signed to Island Records, a massive leap for a burgeoning act at that time. In September, news from Trinity College was reported in the paper, as the Fresher’s Ball, which Scary Eire were booked to play, was cancelled by the entertainment officer when she failed to reach agreement with college authorities on conditions for the bash.

On November 19th, Brian Boyd alerted readers that Scary Eire were to play the Rock Garden, but six months later, he also noted that their debut album was “delayed for a suspiciously long time”. But that same month – June 1994 – Scary Eire supported The Beastie Boys at the now demolished Tivoli Theatre. 

In March 1995, a documentary aired on Network 2 called Celtic Groove, documenting the fusion between Irish traditional music and modern dance styles, featuring Marxman, Sinead O’Connor, and Scary Eire. Like many acts before and after them, their dalliance with a major label proved to be a cautionary tale. Their debut album was shelved by Island, but their track The Dole Q remains an Irish classic.

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