I was first met Niall Morahan about nine years ago in The Bernard Shaw. He cut a charming and friendly figure and moved with a posse of effortlessly cool friends. At the time we were both throwing parties in Dublin City, albeit very different ones. Niall was running ‘Electric Relaxation’ with Anna Cosgrave, a night aimed at entertaining the slightly more introverted Trinity College students with a decidedly eclectic music policy and some impromptu performances from the many aloof up- starts that college seems to spit out. Meanwhile, I on the other hand was throwing a midweek night called Gaff Party where the music policy was strictly electro bangers and the clientele was pretty much any mangler that would pay €8 in to see three terrible DJs get too drunk in a DJ box.
After 2009 I rarely saw Niall again, but still held fond memories. Fast-forward to 2017 and by some twist of fate he got himself onto the bill of District’s London launch party in Hackney’s Moth Club. We’d both come a long way since then, but there were striking similarities in what happened that night compared to our previous lives in the late 00s.
Niall came equipped with a crew of Emoji- masked dancers conveniently called ‘The Emoji’s’ and performed his first ever show in the most non-traditional hip hop sense you can imagine. Meanwhile I cut the same forlorn figure as I did in 2009, standing on the door wondering if another 25 people will come in and buy a magazine so we can break even on the trip.
Since that night we’ve kept in constant contact and after months of planning (and potentially waiting for the latest emoji update on ios 12) he was finally ready to give the first insight into Blue Niall.
Is Blue Niall a character? Is there a persona that comes alive with Blue Niall that is alien to Niall Morahan?
I think the Blue Niall in the ‘Blue Summer’ EP is for sure a character. He’s lonely, he’s confused and he’s vibey as fuck.
With this project I wanted to look at heartbreak in the age of emojis, isolation sound tracked by Spotify playlists, and if there’s a possibility of finding the human in all of this. I ended up creating this guy who’s a kind of sad 2018 sesh cowboy.
George Voronov, who took the photos for this piece, said it sounds like the feeling of having had a breakup and then hitting the sesh hard, telling everyone you’re fine while downing Buckfast (or Blue WKD). Another friend described it as comedown music. It was important to me to give a sense of juxtaposition, making it emotional and sad but also bizarrely upbeat. In future releases I might get a lot more raw and real with Blue Niall, but for now I invite people to enjoy partying with this slightly deranged character who’s having a Blue Summer.
What would Blue Niall normally be getting up to if he wasn’t on stage with his laptop, a mic and box of Blue WKD?
Oh, he’s on the sesh, getting his heart broken again.
Do you feel there are challenges to overcome being a middle-class Irish rapper?
As far as art goes, I feel everyone has the same challenge – to accept yourself for who you are, give of yourself generously and make art that’s authentic and individual to you. If you can do that, people will fuck with you. Everyone has shit about themselves that they’re self-conscious about, ‘I can’t do this because I’m too old, young, fat, thin, male, female, rich, poor, middle-class’. You have to push past that and realise that those things you don’t like about yourself are the things that give you a unique viewpoint and story to share with people.
I suppose what’s interesting about it in a rap context is because historically rap wasn’t made by people like me, there’s nowhere for me to really hide. If I come along and start rapping like I’m 50 Cent, it’s going to ring alarm bells and people aren’t going to rate it. Whereas if I was from a different background maybe I could do that and it’s passable, but it’s not going to be great art. I think coming from a non-stereotypical rap background is good because it forces me to straight away consider who I really am, and to strive to make something that’s true to that. The goal is to walk into a room and start performing and for people to be like, ‘Oh, I get it. This works.’
It also forces me to work extra hard to justify my place in the culture. I never want to be a vampire that just takes, and I never want to be disrespectful of where all this amazing music came from. Ironically, the best way to do that is not to copy what exists but go your own path and create your own sound. Should Irish people or middle-class people rap? I think it’s down to the individual to earn that right, by producing quality work. Ultimately that involves embracing who you are. I don’t think I’m there yet! But I’m getting there.
Has anyone ever tried to dissuade you from this project because you’re not what people would classify as the stereotypical rapper?
Not recently, but I do remember as a teenager people would slag me a lot for my music taste. I remember wearing a pair of G-Unit sneakers to school one time and getting so much abuse that I threw them away. Unfortunately, I let that stuff get inside my head, and I think that’s why I didn’t pick up the mic until I was about 22. I just grabbed it one night at a rave in London between two rapper’s sets and started belting out some rhymes. The drummer from the previous act started kicking a beat, and the crowd starting really vibing. That was one of the best feelings I’d ever had. When I finished I just dropped the mic and ran straight out of the venue.
What frustrates you most about being a fledgling artist in Ireland?
Nothing! Ireland is popping right now, and everyone’s been super supportive.
Do you feel an obligation to tackle issues like toxic masculinity in your music?
I feel an obligation to express my experiences and what I see with the greatest honesty I can. I think if you approach things any other way, you’re just ticking a box and people will feel that it’s disingenuous. At the same time, fuck all the bullshit expectations we put on young men in this country, fuck the suicide rate and fuck the messed up attitude we still have towards sex and women.
Do you think Irish hip hop is in the best place it’s ever been? What sort of contribution do you want to make to its landscape?
Yes, 100 per cent. It’s so heartening to see shows like the recent District Neighbourhood Watch show with queues out the door. Coming from a place of being laughed at for liking hip hop to seeing it become such a normal thing for young people in Ireland today is incredible. We are a nation of poets, we were destined to fully embrace hip hop eventually – and it’s only just starting. In terms of the role I want to play, do you want the Irish answer or the rapper answer? Irish answer: I just want to tell my stories to the best of my ability and give what I can to the scene.
A dream would be to make a landmark ‘Growing Up in (My) Dublin’ album akin to Kendrick’s ‘GKMC’, and to pull in a lot of other Dublin artists to make it happen. Rapper answer: Lowkey, in ten to 15 years, I have a vision of Dublin playing a role in global hip hop similar to what Atlanta does now and I want to be one of the artists that helps that happen. Global domination baby.
Tell us about the inspiration for your current project and how long have you had the idea for it?
The inspiration was a compounded series of breakups mixed in with a quarter life crisis and a mental health breakdown, all sound tracked by trap, dancehall and afrobeat. I never really had the idea as such, I just lived that, and it came through in the music so heavily. It got to a point where I had made like 400 tracks over two to three years, and I was like, ‘Ok I need to take four of these and draw them together around a concept’. The name ‘Blue Summer’ only came up a few months ago but it just seemed to fit.
Which Irish artists, hip hop or otherwise, would you like to collaborate with?
All of them [laughs]. I am a huge fan of so many Irish artists right now. I’ve already been in the studio with Crybaby, Cian Tisdall from Unit1 and, of course, my girl Jill Staxx. I really want to work with Bobby Basil one day, I’m also a big fan of Nonzus Magnus. Every time I hear one of Mathman’s beats I want to leap on and spray some grime bars. I feel like to make my ‘Good Kid m.A.A.d City’ Dublin album I will need Kojaque on there, and my favourite Irish rapper of all time, Paul Alwright.
How long has Blue WKD been a part of your life and why is Blue WKD still part of your life?
I actually dated Blue Wkd briefly back in 2006, we’re still on good terms.
Blue Niall launches ‘Blue Summer’ The Bernard Shaw on November 8 with Unit1, Jill Staxx and District Magazine DJs.