Strange Boy: Holy/Unholy review – A fusion of hip-hop and Irish trad. And it works

Fri, Jun 18, 2021, 05:00



Strange Boy

Welcome to the New World

Hip-Hop & Rap

While it might be ill-advised PR to describe Limerick rap artist Jordan Kelly as “a 1,000-year-old poet channelling through the body of a young man”, you can catch the drift via cultural influences and provocative narrative strands employed throughout his debut album. 

Keen-eared listeners would have encountered Strange Boy in the spring of 2020, when his song It’s Alright was included on the soundtrack to Normal People. Holy/Unholy takes a different direction with a fusion of hip-hop and Irish traditional. The good news is that the vast majority of it works. 

Opening track Beginnings (“Where should I start when I’ve had nothing to begin with?”), features rapid, fluent delivery underscored with ambient vocals by Clannad’s Moya Brennan. Closing track Prayers is a one-take voice track balanced with banjo, flute and bodhrán. Hahaha, featuring fellow Limerick rapper Hazey Haze, floats alongside a singularly lonesome flute. One song, Forgotten, seems sorely out of place, matching typically fluid delivery with lifeless Oasis-like interludes from Strange Boy’s brother, Séan Kelly McNally. 

The dominant sense is of an artist trying something that hasn’t been done before (or if it has, not with such vital character). Kudos, also, to Irishman Enda Gallery, who composed the music and produced the album, which to these ears is Irish hip-hop at its most culturally, intrinsically authentic.