How long did it take you to get over that initial insecurity of being an ‘Irish rapper’?
I don’t think I was even over it when I released the first tune. ‘Midnight Flower’ was the first track I did. I was sitting on it for about a month, and for ages I was thinking maybe I won’t release it. It’s that thing, when you’re really proud of something and you don’t want to half-ass release it.
I think you end up painting yourself into a corner where you’re proud of it and want to release it but afraid it won’t do well… You’re worried about what other people think, which isn’t a good mindset to be in when you’re trying to create art. Was there an initial message you wanted to convey when you started making hip hop? I don’t think I even wrote any tunes when I was trying to get my friends into hip hop. I was very naïve about it and just assumed it was easy. You’d see people like Odd Future and it was almost like a movement. It was the same way you’d hear people talking about punk. We were alive when Odd Future happened, so we attached to it. They were people around my age who seemed to be doing it willy-nilly and were doing really well from it. That’s what I assumed it was like. You just make one song, put it up and that’s it. I remember I put up ‘Midnight Flower’ and it was up for like a week before it started doing well. Overnight it had like 100,000 views and I thought ‘this is it, I’ve done it, I’m going to be a millionaire and signed and people are going to ask me for gigs all the time’. That’s not the case. I’m very proud of it and it did go viral in a sense because no one had done anything like that before. It’s like a double-edged sword. I got a lot of traction from it and a lot of people were watching, but at the same time not a lot of people were there for the music. But it was a good start.
Are there any parallels the short film you recently directed and starred in ‘Love in Technicolour’ and the concept of your musical work?
Yeah. ‘Midnight Flower’ kind of fits into a body of work that’s conceptual, like the film. I was writing a lot of poetry around the same time and a lot of it was about grappling with masculinity in a sense, and when relationships go awry.
A common theme for a lot of young men is this inability to express themselves properly and that manifests itself in frustration and aggressiveness towards other people. I worked on a film then for a whole year which was based off the poetry and narrative that emerged from that body of work. A lot of people have still yet to hear it.
You mentioned the idea of fragile masculinity – that’s prevalent in the film and in your music as well. Especially hip hop, often it’s this macho mask, disguising fragility and softness. Is that a dichotomy in your work that you like to explore?
Bravado but at the same time insecurity. That’s the thing with a lot of hip hop, it’s this veneer from the outside looking in, of this unstoppable person or hero that’s almost emotionless. Makes money, hates women and doesn’t think about emotions. That’s something that comes up in my work a lot, Kojaque is a character almost. It’s a paradox that walks the same line between braggadocio, but also emotional.
It seems you’ve always had awareness of that. Do you think that problem isn’t just prevalent in hip hop, but in Irish men or masculinity as a whole? That inability to express emotions?
I think we do have a culture of repression, as far back as we can think. It’s natural that it’s going to be ingrained. I went to an all-boys school. There was an all-girls school on the same campus, but they kept us separated. In traditional Irish society the instances where boys meet girls is at religious events or when we are drunk, two instances when you’re not your natural self. You don’t get to grow up at the same time as women, at least I didn’t. It’s mad, the way everything was set up was trying to pit the two genders against each other. Girls are taught to act a certain way in girls’ schools and boys are taught to act a certain way in theirs. And you only ever see them if you’re going to church or get pissed. That’s an associated feeling — if you want to talk to girls about how you feel you get langered and then you text them, or you meet them in a night club. It’s not healthy.
What’s the fallout from that?
Unfortunately, women are taught their place and men are taught not to express themselves. It gets ingrained in us. Then I did art in a third level course and I was one of three lads in the class. It was a flip of a coin, it was like a culture shock because I went to Christian schools.