Dublin rappers Versatile, who raised a storm at Longitude festival this year, and who seem set to sell out a November gig at 3Arena, have been criticised widely this week and accused of writing racist and misogynist lyrics.
Versatile are Casey Walsh (aka "Casper", 20), and Alex Sheehan ("Eskimo Supreme" , 21), who work alongside producer and DJ Evan Kennedy. They generally don't do interviews (bar a video with Hot Press at last year's Electric Picnic) and declined to speak to The Irish Times for an article published earlier this month. They had not responded by time of publishing to a request from The Irish Times for a comment on the criticism.
The group, who claim to be from Ringsend in Dublin and tweet as @outburstpal, rap about selling drugs on Middle Abbey Street, raising hell, and women. They have built a following among young teenagers, partly on the back of YouTube videos.
The lyrics of one track, Dublin City G’s, seems to have provoked most reaction. The song has been around for some time, but following their performances at Longitude and Live at the Marquee this year, and their upcoming gig at 3Arena, it has has come under more scrutiny for its racially-charged and sexually-explicit lyrics.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Irish-Nigerian author and broadcaster Emma Dabiri tweeted, “I present to you @outburstpal, “The face of Irish rap”.
She went on to say that: “What’s even better is all the white Irish people defending this, saying it’s only a bit of craic and why can’t all these snowflake haters just support Irish music?! Wow. If this is the ‘face of Irish rap’ Irish rap needs to hang its head in f**king shame. Now I appreciate they are a couple of talentless ‘rappers’ leveraging their whiteness & outrage to gain traction so I’m pretty loath to post about them, but I’m genuinely staggered. I’ve only seen this convo doing the rounds in Irish networks & think others need to see it.”
Amnesty International Ireland director Colm O’Gorman responded “I’d generally avoid tweeting something this offensive and profane, but calling this out is really important. How the hell can anyone defend this?”
Dublin R&B singer-songwriter Erica Cody also posted on Twitter.
“This shit makes me so fucking angry. Our scene is finally thriving and the quality of music is INCREDIBLE in the urban hip hop scene full of artists who encourage and respect the CULTURE and don’t get half the recognition that these lot do. This is not hip hop (most certainly not the face of the hip hop scene in Ireland). This is not “ah it’s only a joke”. This is the normalisation of classist, racist, homophobic & sexist lyrics that have now managed to become a part of mainstream Irish media. And you best believe I’m not gonna sit here and say nothing about this while our black women get degraded. Not today Satan, bring your party elsewhere.
“To anyone who says I’m “jealous” or “not supporting Irish music”. Firstly: I am not jealous of the horrific lyricism aka homophobia, casual racism and sexism (that is not an art form hun) . Secondly: I LOVE seeing Ireland and it’s creatives succeed & strive for greatness. I just won’t sit back and say nothing when the success is at the expense of minorities and glamorises & portrays pure ugliness. It’s 2019 and also the first day of Leo season so please be kind.”
Drimnagh rapper Sean “Fynch” Meehan, who has criticised Versatile previously, said “I’m well-aware they’re a comedy act. But lazy passages of lyrics which can be construed as racist/homophobic isn’t comedic . . . This could all be easily dealt with if they didn’t constantly play up to their personas. So much so, that it makes you doubt if they’re really playing personas at all, and it’s rather an extension of themselves.”
The group’s members appear not to be the hard-chaw drug dealers they present themselves as. A post by a former classmate of Eskimo Supreme on a St Conleth’s College site, mentions he was “en route to the Jordan Peterson rap gig when we were suddenly addressed with a mighty ‘Yo!’ from across a crowded Starbucks. Lo and behold, Eskimo Supreme himself approached with hearty greetings and warm reminiscence. See, once upon a time, Mr Supreme was known as Alex Sheehan (Class of 2014) and we had the pleasure of his company in Latin class. Alex showed his verbal dexterity (and, yes, his ‘verse-atility’) even then, often handing in his own lyrics, or those of noted American rapper Maximus Minimus, instead of the the requested lines of Catullus”. The post also mentions “Evan Kennedy, also of the Class of 2014, and the dominant musical performer, producer, guru and roadie of the St Conleth’s music scene during his six years at the school.” St Conleth’s is a fee-paying secondary school on Clyde Road in Ballsbridge.
The privileged background lends a different flavour to Versatile’s lyrics for Ketamine, where they say “I’d like to thank all the smack heads on Abbey Street/ For paying for the fresh Lacoste that are on me feet/ I sold you brown, then you lost all your f**** teeth”
Comedy hip-hoppers Rubber Bandits said of them in 2017, “These Versatile lads are consistently class. Brilliant Irish rap and always have class beats”. But this week Rubber Bandits steered clear of the controversy, instead tweeting a long thread about Irish rappers they admire, with no mention of Versatile. One comment on the thread asked “Is this a diss at versatile? It’s effective.”
Cork rapper Craic Boi Mental addressed the issue with his release, RIP Versatile: “What real man calls women whores,/ All your friends were born in 2004,/ Craic Boy’s won, you feel sore,/ The crowd don’t want Versatile any more. You claim to be tough but you’re from D4.”
Dabiri has retweeted several calls for the promoters of the 3Arena concert to reconsider the booking. The promoters, MCD, are currently only advertising resale tickets for the gig, which will mostly attract young teenagers, for €48 plus a €2.50 “handing charge” and 15 per cent of the ticket price as “service charge”, giving an actual price of €57.70.
Neither Versatile nor MCD responded to requests for comment.