Ra Gerra: New Vessels review – Limerick’s hip-hop hot streak continues

Rapper MuRli and producer Kobina have teamed up for an auspicious collaboration

New Vessels
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Artist: Ra Gerra
Genre: Hip-Hop & Rap
Label: Self-released

Irish hip-hop is having a bit of a moment. Limerick, in particular, has proven a hotbed of the genre, with acts such as Denise Chaila, God Knows, Strange Boy and Hazey Haze at its vanguard. Another key player on the scene is rapper and producer Mawuli Boevi aka MuRli, the Togo-born, Shannonside-raised MC who has been involved in some of the most exciting hip-hop to emerge from Ireland in recent times– not least as part of the pioneering Rusangano Family.

On new collaborative project Ra Gerra, he teams up (remotely) with Amsterdam-based Dubliner Sean Arthur aka electronica producer Kobina. The distillation of the duo's combined worldliness and their disparate musical backgrounds makes for an often thrilling if occasionally underused partnership. MuRli is an MC known for his evocative and predominantly personal lyrics, as heard on his two EP releases to date. Both featured songs about his own life framed in the context of the wider world. Here, he takes a similar approach: Medicine is a track steeped in nostalgia about childhood, family, ambition and belonging. Out Loud sees him find inner peace ("I could sleep for a year and still have no Fomo / Cos I finally learned that not a single thing is normal"), but not without a wryly puffed chest ("I remember when I quit rap for the Illuminati / Then I came back to illuminate it"). On one track he name-checks Liam Neeson; on another, African freedom fighters Patrice Lumumba and Nelson Mandela. On another yet, he references Chris Hemsworth and Marvel's Thor character. There are also several love songs: Guapa, There and the Drake-esque Feels are declarations of romantic blissfulness without the corniness, although the moody Indecisive comes with a warning as he combatively notes "Your love is so demanding".

What really ignites the rapper’s thoughtful observations, though, is the soundtrack provided by Kobina. The intro of Terrified incorporates African music before descending into woozy electronica. The AutoTune and looped vocal sample of Feels refreshes the tracklist at just the right point. The late-night R&B of There tips the right balance of sex and sleaze, but the off-kilter experimental horror soundtrack of the tightly wound Pressure is laced with enough vocal and musical barbs to make it the undoubted highlight.

It takes several listens to fully grasp both MuRli’s message and the textured intricacies of Kobina’s musical palette and sometimes feels like they might have exploited each others’ strengths to make a more daring record. That said, such subtlety allows the listener to fill in their own gaps. All in all, an auspicious beginning.

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times