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Last summer the director of the Conor McGregor documentary ‘Notorious’ and the founder of Clear Haze released a film focused on homegrown hip hop.
Artists like Rusangano Family, This Side Up, Mango & MathMan, Fifth Element & Doublescreen and Jafaris are all featured in the film which was premiered last summer in The Sugar Club, with a Q&A hosted by District Magazine.
The documentary is directed and produced by Gavin FitzGerald (‘Notorious‘) and Mark Hayes (who you might know as the man behind Clear Haze).
We’re excited to share ‘The Truth About Irish Hip Hop’ online for the first time for anyone who didn’t make it to the premiere or the selection of screenings. We also caught up Mark Hayes to give you an insight into how the film came about.
What prompted you guys to make the documentary, was it a gradual decision or a specific thing?
The two of us actually began to make the documentary separately and had never met each other, despite the fact that we went to the same school and knew a lot of the same people. I personally had started out wanting to make a short series of videos for clearhaze.tv but soon it became clear that there was way too much to fit into separate stand alone pieces and there was actually a story of sorts to tell about the great things that are happening with Irish hip hop.
Along the way I kept hearing about another guy that was making a similar documentary and needless to say I was like, “FFS!”, but myself and Gav bumped into each other filming at a This Side Up launch party and had a chat. Soon after we began to work together and I think it really helped us both to get the project over the line.
Were you happy with how it turned out and the artists that featured in t? Was there anyone you missed out on that you wish had taken part?
There are always things you would do differently but we are very happy with how the project turned out. The story really reached a high point toward the end and that wouldn’t have happened had we not kept it going as long as we did. Not only were we really chuffed with the acts that we had involved but there were also great acts we spoke to that couldn’t be kept in the final edit for various reasons including runtime; SameD4ence, Rob Kelly and Cuttin’ Heads to name but a few… Seriously great acts.
There were one or two people who were hard to track down because they are very busy but most of those we were lucky enough to talk to in the end and as I say even if we had squeezed in one or two more interviews or gigs the runtime for the doc wouldn’t have allowed for it so I think we really got the most out of it.
Hip hop in Ireland has taken on a life of its own over the past few years especially, with many aspects that usually held it back such as the accent and more being way more accepted by more general audiences, why do you think that is?
I think this is a real central part of the documentary. There are a lot of reasons why Irish hip hop has come into its own recently but I think the main reason is that Irish hip hop artists have become more comfortable in their own skin and that doesn’t just come down to the accent (although that is a huge part).
It has to do with confidence in ability and self worth when comes to expressing our own perspective. I think there may have been an idea before that the narrative of US or UK artists was more exciting or interesting but what is always interesting in a song or a poem is something new and something honest and when it comes to those elements we have an almost untapped and bottomless well to look forward to hearing.
What aspects were you most happy with the documentary?
From my own perspective I was delighted to get such an assortment of styles included, but also to get great interviews with the artists so that anyone who watches it can see the genuine intelligence and integrity behind the music. Often that can be washed away with bravado and bullshit, but when you hear Mango talking passionately about the unique gift that is the Irish dialect, Jonen Dekay talking about using rap as a means of expression that he may otherwise be without or Blindboy Boatclub discussing the hip hop nature of rebel music, you realise there is way more to Irish hip hop than lads with baggy pants trying to emulate their foreign idols.
How important do you think the documentary is in the narrative of Irish hip hop?
This documentary is just a snapshot of something great that we saw happening and wanted to celebrate. Although it is very important generally to document and appreciate events and movements, whether artistic, social, political, it’s the people who are actually creating and making things happen that are really important. If watching this doc encourages anyone to get involved in creating music, hip hop or otherwise, then I would be a very happy man indeed. It’s the music makers that are creating the narrative really.
Was it a specific goal for you to make sure to include voices from all over Ireland rather than focus on Dublin? The majority of the film focuses on non-Dublin acts, was that intentional?
It has definitely been my approach from the get go with clearhaze.tv to find content and stories from all over Ireland but the fact of the matter is a huge amount of the hip hop talent in this country is from outside the capital and it is also necessary to hear the styles and accents from around the country to appreciate the variety of sounds that we have available to us. That is an incredible gift when it comes to rap in particular because a unique accent, tone of voice and style, is hugely important for rappers.
B Real was nearly kicked out of Cypress Hill because he had a run-of-mill voice so he started rapping with a nasal affectation. That isn’t something that a lot of people need to worry about in this country. People’s accents and slang vary from street to street almost. It’s a funkin’ treasure trove.
Since the documentary was premiered, acts such as Mango and Kojaque have released albums and EPs. Is hip hop in Ireland an album or two away from reaching legitimate mainstream credibility?
I think mainstream and credibility don’t always go together. I remember when I was a kid wishing my mates would be into rap instead of viciously ripping it out of me for listening to it, but then rap became popular and we ended up with an era of god-awful stuff coming out of the States for quite a while. So it can be a case of, ‘be careful what you wish for’.
I think the recent acknowledgements of Russangano Family as a leading musical influence in the country and Mango and MathMan getting booked for some savage festivals are certainly steps in the right direction and more of those steps are needed to give hip hop in this country a strength in depth.
It won’t be a case of an album will come out and hip hop will have ‘arrived’ nor should it be, because there should always be a struggle for something more and something new, but the space for that to happen is genuinely here and healthy and long may last.