Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov
Styling: Michael O Connor
Rap in Ireland is in a golden era characterized by resilience and shared responsibility. Acts have gone from their bedrooms to the world stage and these individual successes have been underscored by the scene’s collective spirit. Recognising the importance of supporting this thriving culture we’ve teamed up with Havana Club for BREAKTHROUGH, a competition designed to pass the torch to the next generation of MCs.
“I’m really into anime, this one is called ‘Bleach'”.
KiD V is simultaneously giving away everything and nothing at all as he connects on Zoom. With his home disguised behind a monochrome background of his favourite TV show, it’s a statement about what matters and what doesn’t. The 27 year old lives in Dublin and makes rap influenced by anime, but he could be anywhere in the world for all he cares. That’s not to say his surroundings weren’t important to him, but that he often has more in common with Dragonball Z fans than he does with rappers from his area.
Though born in Nigeria, Victor Williams moved to Tallaght when he was three and like a host of other artists he was raised on a diet of Youtube type beats whilst soaking in the lives of his favourite artists on social media. He’s part of a generation of young people who found solace with like minded people online. Something that before the advent of the internet wasn’t possible and meant young people with ‘nerdier’ interests were sometimes marginalised.
“It’s become more popular now, but anime was never cool or in music when I was younger… When I was young you’d get slagged for watching it”, he admits.
It’s a story that fans of hip hop will be all too familiar with. In its infancy, the genre, with a few exceptions adhered to strict rules and conventions which rarely had room for Japanese animations: Rap about your authentic reality, don’t stray too far from its essence, present a tough outer shell and stick to the dress code. Just ask Danny Brown, whose malnourished appearance and love of skinny jeans scuppered a deal with 50 Cent’s G-Unit or Kid Cudi who was mocked for his honesty about his mental health in Drake’s ‘Two Birds, One Stone‘.
Anime was never cool or in music when I was younger… When I was young you’d get slagged for watching it.Kid V
While it’s imperfect, the contours of the culture are growing softer with each passing day and hobbies that were once branded nerdy have become the essential glue for thriving online music micro communities. Whether that be Denzel Curry’s love of anime, Open Mike Eagle’s podcasting antics or Adult Swim’s influence on the rap’s underground, fans don’t have to enjoy their different passions in isolation when their favourite artists bring them together in lyrics.
What’s more is, with access to millions of songs at our finger tips finding a story you connect with is more accessible than ever and listeners are less willing to settle.
It’s these developments that allowed KiD V to find his own lane and much like his rap heroes, it’s inevitable that one his passions would leak into another.
“There’s some anime references in the new music”, he says fixing the camera angle on his laptop.
“I’m good at what I do and I work from home so I find time in between work to write a little bit because I might get ahead of schedule and hit my target really early and then I’m kind of free for the day. So I just write, or I might record or pen an idea for what I’m going to do after I finish work and then focus on delivering that.”
Rapping from around the age of 16 means that Victor is now feeling confident in his sound, but it’s not been smooth sailing. Having dropped in and out of rap groups throughout his teens he took a break from recording before starting a music related university course in Cork. Though he cut his studies short, he returned to Dublin armed with a few more years of experience and a determination to pin all his attention on music.
The last hurdle was convincing his parents. Victor concedes they weren’t especially enthusiastic about his decision to follow music.
“I wouldn’t say they were encouraging” he says elongating the final syllable like a child being coaxed into a confession. “But they didn’t stop me, they didn’t say that I shouldn’t do it, but I wouldn’t say they were like ‘yeah, go do it’. They are a lot more practical in the way they think about what is achievable. They didn’t push me towards it but they couldn’t stop me.”
Having a full time job and a rented room of his own to record was both a necessary compromise with his parents and an important safety net for Victor. Now, he can focus on the music, which for the most part is a product of his eclectic influences, something he wants to harness to connect with people who may have felt similarly othered at points in their life.
“In one of my songs I have a Nigerian reference and if you aren’t Nigerian you wouldn’t get it.”
“When I make a reference it’s something that I know about, I know I’m not the only person in the world who will understand this reference. I like the fact that if you don’t watch this you aren’t going to understand what this art is”.
It’s not to say that his music is inaccessible or KiD V is opposed to casual listeners, it’s more of a statement of intent. Victor doesn’t compromise on his message and won’t dilute his experience to make it more digestible for for people that can’t relate. In fact, that’s the whole point. The Dublin rapper is searching for the listeners that will ride and die with his music and coded language, niche references and nods to anime are but just a few of the ways he silently makes contact with future fans.
That’s not to say it’ll be easy though. Inevitably, this mission rarely works smoothly with the music industry machine and Victor is under no illusion that even with talent, getting your music out there is difficult at the best of times. With Ireland lacking the kind of industry structure that artists can avail of on the other side of the Atlantic or even in London, nearly everything is underpinned by a DIY ethos. In some instances, that can be great; people in the same boat are more willing to help each other, artist’s creative process doesn’t suffer from the same interference as a major label act and there’s often a tighter-knit community around the music. However, the other side of the coin is, artists often have to learn a number of harsh lessons in the absence of any guidance and sometimes releasing new music feels like pissing into the wind.
I saw a post by Nealo on his Instagram and something just told me I needed to submit something to competition.Kid V
An important point to remember is that, no matter how isolating it can feel being an independent artist, you aren’t alone. Other acts have went through the exact same thing and experienced heads can provide some necessary perspective and reassurance. Having pipped over 60 other artists to win the Havana x District BREAKTHROUGH competition he had the chance to work on a song with three of Irish rap’s veteran acts in Choice Prize nominee and winners Nealo, God Knows and MuRli respectively. An experience that also presented the opportunity to push his music onto new ears.
“I saw a post by Nealo on his instagram and something just told me I needed to submit something to this, you have some new stuff that people might f**k with. So I was confident going into it, but I also know there’s a lot of good artists, I didn’t actually think I was going to win though… [winning] gave me a big confidence boost.”
The day in the studio consisted of reimagining a song KiD V had in the vault for a while. MuRli produced a new beat, God Knows weighed in with advice and Nealo and frequent collaborator St. Jhd added the final touches with their own vocals.
Alongside the technical help, he admits the validation and knowledge that comes with being immersed in the creative process with established acts was a priceless experience.
“What struck me was, it felt like they were at home, this is not their first rodeo. They live in the studio and it was very professional from my point of view and I really respected that. Another thing that I noticed was, there was a genuine vibe going on with all of them. If they weren’t f**king with something that was going on in the studio at the time I feel like they would’ve said it. They were telling me ‘no we like this, let’s do it’. I could just tell they were genuine and wanted to work.”
“I was definitely getting a sense of inspiration from them, because they’ve done a lot and I respect what they’ve done. If someone can do it, then it’s possible and I can achieve something similar. It’s making me want to work harder and just keep going. There’s days where you feel like quitting, but doing things like this make me want to continue”.
Sensing the optimism in the air, it only felt right to ask what the future holds.
“My end goal would be… I want people that genuinely f**k with me. I want to build a type of following that people are relating to me, rather than just liking my music. I want to build a decent enough following but almost an cult type of following where the people genuinely f**k with what I’m doing as a human being never mind the music.”
Please enjoy Havana responsibly.
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