Since the late 1980s Ireland has had a tumultuous relationship with hip hop. Scary Éire were the genre’s first success story and landed a major record deal nearly 30 years ago, but few had reached the bar they set. That was until a renaissance of Irish rap began around eight years ago.
Cue, Mango Dassle.
In the late 2000s Mango played nearly every venue in the city and further afield with his widely-beloved group The Animators. However after creative but amicable differences broke the crew up he decided to create music his way. Alongside fellow Animator MathMan, the pair have since grabbed Ireland’s music scene by the throat with their raw and punchy grime-inflected sound.
It was a shake-up that coincided with the country’s newfound love for urban music. Mango was just what the city was crying out for.
“Dublin has the most profound effect on my work. From the way I talk, even from the videos, the sound as well. If this was the UK we might be trying to make a more traditional grime sound, but the fact that we’re introducing hard rave sounds into it is reflective of how small the city is. It’s a techno city, it’s a rave city, so that’ll be in the work.”
For Mango rave culture is a representation of the spirit of the capital. It’s where he absorbed the music he was exposed to, in the infamous Twisted Pepper basement, right up to the recently demolished Hangar. These were places he frequented so often that a simple bump of the fist guaranteed entry. But how important was that scene in shaping him as an artist and a person.
“It was massively important. You’re in love with a sub-genre of music not all of your mates you grew up with are into it. So when you go to these clubs you find a whole new world. It opens your mind to performing, getting involved, because of that community spirit. But also you get to see the city and hear from voices not like your own. I’ve been at after parties full of working class lads or an LGBT party. It makes you a better person when you can understand the different walks of life that run through this city. That’s shaped massively by clubs, music and cheap session houses. All we’re going to be left with these days is music the way it’s going.
“No one ever had a life changing moment in a hotel bar.”
While these iconic venues are being closed down, turned to rubble and repurposed, it’s the industrious nature of his fellow Dubliners that instills Mango with some remnant of hope for club culture.
“Taking no opportunities and making something from nothing, it’s the ethos of rap music. But it’s also an ethos of Dublin. Somebody turned an old fruit and veg market into a space where I could throw a grime rave. Dubliners will find little hacks, little tricks. We’re very crafty people. It sounds good and bad, because it is good and bad, but we’re very crafty people.”
Another layer that’s important to the heartbeat of the city for Mango is the aesthetic of the streets, the style. At a recent show he had a ‘strictly tracksuit and trainers’ policy. It wasn’t enforced, but combine that with the barrage of lyrics about Air Max (“They’re to Dublin what the Air Force One is to Harlem or the Chuck Taylor to LA”) and it’s clear the garments he wears represent more than just clothes.
“Awh, how long have you got?” He asks when his love of street style is brought up. “There was fuck all happening in streetwear here until about 2012 or 2013, but even before that looking your best, especially when you don’t have money, was so important. Even from my uncles’ days of 501s and Lacoste tops, the same principle is there even though the clothes change.
“London thinks it invented the tracksuit thing. But they always had something else. Dublin stuck and stays with tracksuits, even when it’s not high fashion anymore.”
If you see Mango strolling down a pub-laden back street of Dublin city, and it’s hard to miss the 6’ 3” ‘red-headed regular’, you’ll see him stop several times to chat to a few heads. According to the rapper, that’s the beauty of his hometown. It compliments the creativity that flows through the streets.
“It’s a small city mentality where everybody knows each other and it’s a social currency to know movers and shakers. ‘Cause you’ll run into everybody, it’s a town, it’s a village, so if you know or hear about somebody doing well you’re like, ‘Ah sure that’s me cousin’s mate’.
“I love how connected the place is. Like finding out my Da and my best mate’s Da went to the same Bob Marley concert in Dalymount in 1980. There are no six degrees of separation here. It’s more like two and that can make the city feel more like a community.”
That closeness the city boasts means when Mango hits his favourite pub for a quiet one it could end up turning into a networking session, albeit soaked in pints of black.
“If you want to do something, or you want to get at this party, or you want to find out what they’re doing, it demystifies what you need to do. ‘Cause you’ll probably end up in a boozer with these people at some stage and they’ll get yapping to you about what’s going on and how they hustle. You can pick their brains a little bit.”
It seems those evenings having the ears burned off him by makers, doers and heads in candle lit snugs, blended with raw talent and a rabid work ethic, paid off. For the last two editions of Electric Picnic he was on stage with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra for the ‘Story Of Hip Hop’ in front of thousands of people. Alongside his partner in grime MathMan they sold out The Complex on Capel Street to launch their ‘Wheel Up’ EP and they’ve stolen the show at just about every festival in Ireland since 2017. As a duo they’ve even performed with a string quartet on the fabled stage of the National Concert Hall and have supported heroes of theirs, Wiley and Mike Skinner of The Streets.
But, for the Finglas man, the city drags him back to Earth and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“I’ve been working 10 or 12 years to get into this position. I want to do gigs full of people, not so these people love me, it’s so that I can have a barometer or measure of how well my art is doing. But with Dublin there’s always an ego check there. So you can’t really get too hype about it. I get off the stage and say, ‘That was deadly!’ and then I go back to lifting boxes in a stock room. It can humble you, but it’s bleedin’ whopper.
“Dublin has changed me for the better because it gives you a warmth and sense of humour and it also gives you a humbleness that you might not get somewhere else. We deal with bad stuff pretty well. We take the piss out of it, or make art out of it. To turn tragedy into triumph is something I’ve learned from Dublin.”