Words: Dean Van Ngyuen
Jack Daniel’s and District share an authentic love for music culture and as Ireland’s palette continues to expand and intertwine we’ve joined forces to document the major developments as they happen. Dean Van Nguyen has selected 10 essential tracks showcasing the rappers in Ireland pushing drill music to the fore in 2022.
Drill artists remained at the forefront of Irish rap in 2022. Here’s 10 songs to prove it. There’s a mix of scene stalwarts and fresh faces; artists dining at major label tables and compadres staying fiercely independent; traditional drill strongholds holding down and the sound finding its way to new corners of the island. Let’s get it.
You cannot begin to discuss Irish drill without mentioning A92 right now. 2022 saw the group crossing a new frontier with emissary A9Dbo Fundz recording a high profile collaboration with stars Lethal Bizzle and Giggs titled ‘Dapper Dan‘—plus hitting pool-side to record the video for the vibrant ‘Andale‘. But ‘A9 Freestyle 2.0‘ is the squad purified. A follow up to a track on their excellent 2020 album 92 Degrees, this one is again produced by Charlie Mockler. His low key beat doesn’t attempt to do too much work here—the point is to provide easy prey for a sizable number of the squad, the demonically deep-voiced Dbo among them, to run wild, which they do to a man.
Dublin and London have been natural allies in drill—see the aforementioned A9Dbo Fundz, Lethal Bizzle and Giggs team-up ‘Dapper Dan‘, but sometimes you have to assert some boundaries. Ac3 doesn’t overdo the theme—’Dublin Not London‘ is mostly him spitting hard bars about girls, cops and stuff. Because showing personal excellence can also be a display of hometown pride.
HYFIN (né Jordan-Lee Brady-James) received a visibility bump this year by featuring in a Netflix short documentary that charted his noble pursuit to become Derry’s “first professional rapper”. I cannot confirm the city has never had a pro emcee before, but I do know that if HYFIN is to rise to the success levels he envisions, it’ll be built on songs like ‘Back Up Plan‘. Teaming up with the always exciting Jordan Adetunji, HYFIN uses the chorus to dispense with the idea that he needs a fallback plan—it’s rap or bust.
INK wants us all to go whap-whap-whap-whap, a roll of the tongue on the “p” if you’ve got the skill. It’s an infectious little vocal refrain when unleashed over this creeping, understated beat in INK’s croaky voice. But don’t let the presence of a catchy chorus fool you – this is still as tough as we’ve come to expect from his material. “INK is a headcast,” he spits, his declared interests here veering from Hongqi S9 cars and TEC-9 weaponry.
We’ve covered the perennially great AC-130 before. Sadly, his album DM1 Beats Volume has not yet materialized, but AC’s been forging strong bonds with new crew 707. ‘Plugin‘ is the perfect flagship track. AC is joined by JayEm and JuggRite, the trio holding onto the mic only briefly before passing it on, their fluid rhymes floating above the warbling horror movie riff that linchpins the beat. There’s no chorus because they really don’t need one.
In the anime series Naruto, ‘Sharingan‘ is the ability that allows a ninja to copy their opponents’ techniques while gaining advanced reflexes and the heightened ability of perception. On the song of the same name, Offica spits over what could be a traditional Japanese instrument refrain. He blends mentions of the series with Biblical references, and shot outs to Usain Bolt. Forget the power of mimicry, this is the work of someone seeking a zone where he’ll be without peers.
District, why are you so 2021? Sure, Reggie dropped a video for this late last year, but it received a fresh push in 2022 by being added to Spotify. And besides, we’d be remiss not to talk up the Irish drill version of “Area Codes”; this nationwide loverman shouts out the girls he knows intimately of all creeds from all counties. Still, Ludacris and Nate Dogg never boasted about Dundalk F.C.’s 14 league titles, did they?
Sello began the year on the cover of The Irish Times Magazine’s annual 50 People to Watch edition, recognition for his unique fusion of drill music and Irish culture. The sample used in “No Love” isn’t immediately identifiable as a traditionally Irish piece – if it is, in fact, that at all – but Sello makes light work of the tweaked vocal loop over a hard bassline. He’s hooked up with Warner Music these days with a debut mixtape, gloriously titled SELLOTAPE, in the chamber.
Though TraviS X Elzzz operate as solo artists, their musical partnership felt more formal this year with the release of the joint EP Independent and a few other loosies. ‘Rain‘, the opening track from the EP, is a gritty, mid-tempo piece full of shadowy atmospherics and late-night intensity, showcasing two voices that are well balanced: Elzzz’ deep, grizzled vocals playing off TraviS’s more candied flow.
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