We’re a bit late to the party, but given the current circumstances we’ve got plenty of time. I may or may have not got a bit too festive over Christmas and completely forgot to post the top 20 Irish hip hop tracks of the year. But better late than never?
After much discussion and careful deliberation we’ve narrowed it down to just 20 tracks. There’s numerous different styles and approaches, reflecting the growing scene within the country and while there were some painful omissions it’s a list filled with top quality music.
Sit back, relax and sink your teeth into 20 of the best hip hop tracks to come out of Ireland last year.
20. Citrus Fresh – Heart
A perfect example of the importance of pacing on a track. Though he sounds like he’s had one too many sleepless nights, Citrus’ delivery before and between verses on the posse cut feels like an exhausted WWE announcer introducing each subsequent fighter to the ring.
Almost as though they are reacting to the cheers of the fictitious crowd, each MC brings their own distinctive energy to the record as you are granted time to catch a breath between verses.
19. Offica – Skiddibop
Multi-lingual, masked artist Offica rose to prominence after his viral ‘Naruto Drillings’ track was hijacked by a KSI remix last year. However, it was another release that confirmed his star potential with ‘Skiddibop’ putting his drill influenced sound through a more danceable lens.
For those with a keen ear you can hear Offica firing shots, whilst simultaneously claiming ‘best in Ireland’ on a track ripe with subdued sirens and busy drum patterns.
18. RTL.Bluuwoods – Settles
RTL.Bluuwoods’ dark, twisted record ‘Settles’ is anything but comfortable. Feeling like the soundtrack to a hip hop sleep paralysis, RTL’s quirky adlibs make up a distorted soundscape that feels like a collage of glitchy sound bites.
17. Mango x MathMan – Deep Blue
Coming as the lead single for their long awaited debut album ‘Casual Work’, MangoxMathMan’s ‘Deep Blue’ is a love letter to Dublin.
Perhaps, it’s not a conventional hip hop track, in fact it’s arguably a dance record, but whatever way you want to try box it in, ‘Deep Blue’ is the synthesis of years of honing their sound.
Forgoing their previously more abrasive sound, the record still enlists running hi-hats, but this time alongside more grand sounding production and a soothing feature from Lisa Hannigan.
16. C.O.B – Nonchalant
The spine-tingling production in C.O.B’s ‘Nonchalant‘ wouldn’t look out of place on a Flatbush Zombie project. Following the haunting intro, the Base Life spitter whips up a lyrical whirlwind and lets the handbrake off for the guts of 4 minutes. There’s an element of self-reflection littered throughout that could easily be missed when savouring his relentless approach to rapping on the track.
15. Nealo – Angel On My Shoulder
While in essence ‘Angel On My Shoulder’ is an ode the city that birthed Nealo, it also highlights the complexities of modern day Dublin. It illustrates those conflicted feelings that many natives have about a city that is slowly becoming unrecognisable.
It’s about finding beauty amongst the disarray and noise, and there is something very poetic about a 30 something year old rapper, husband and father cutting through the fatigue of modern trap music with a jazzier, old school approach to things. There’s a sense of familiarity and comfort in the track that can’t be taught and to date ‘Angel On My Shoulders’ is Nealo’s most rich musical possession. It’s an arm round the shoulder, a pint with your mate and an anthem for those needing reassurance.
14. Kojaque & Luka Palm – Paris, Texas
With an instrumental courtesy of Soft Boy Records reseident beatsmith Gaptoof, ‘Paris, Texas’ has a distinctly different vibe to much of the more trap-fuelled instrumentation on ‘Green Diesel’. It sees gentle clicks, shakers and serene synths soundtrack a sexier song with a palpable feeling of finesse.
13. Dubzeno – Know your place
Dubzeno doesn’t make the rules, but he’s beginning to feel like Ireland’s lyrical enforcer. ‘Know Your Place’ is sharp, cut throat and illustrates harsh realities with a hint of rap bravado.
Gimmicky pink Land Rovers aside, Dubzeno is proving to be one of the Country’s best when it comes to genuine street anthems. With the Irish scene having previously struggled to drop the americanisms and material highly derivative of the States, it feels as though Dubzeno is making much needed headway with his own brand of hip hop.
12. Gavindavinci – II much
Throughout the relentless debauchery of ‘II Much’ there’s little to no time to catch a breath. GavinDaVinci’s horror movie-inspired blares are as hypnotic as they are suffocating with the hook inducing trance-like symptoms for any PX Music virgins.
It’s like Stockholm syndrome, the song is so unsettling, yet addictive and the sense of unease is compounded with each subsequent feature on one of Ireland’s most slept on records of 2019. There’s shades of DMX in this cut and with each subsequent release PX Music are beginning to feel like Wu-Tang Clan’s fucked up younger brother.
11. Jafaris – Invisible
On an album that generally favoured a more melodic approach, ‘Invisible’ was a record for the hip hop purists. Diffusion Lab signee, Jafaris is seemingly immune to fatigue as he spits ferociously on ground-shaking production, with the rock-tinged instrumental cushioning his raw approach.
Despite the intensity on display it never seems like the beat will get away from the Choice Prize nominated artist.
10. God Knows – Crown Feat. Awir Leon
God Knows has become a mentor-like figure in the scene in Ireland and following his time in Rusangano Family he’s moved towards solo endeavours. One of which is ‘Crown’. Across the cut he doubled down on his paternal side and shouted out many of the other artists doing bits, while simultaneously demonstrating his own lyrical dexterity and arguably snatching the crown.
One thing God Knows is never caught lacking is passion. This is most frequently communicated through the delivery and tone of his bars and ‘Crown’ is no exception. Frequently switching up his flow over off-kilter strings and dusty percussion, it is elevated again by his emotive delivery and provides what feel like adrenaline shots to the soul. Awir Leon comes through with some James Blake-esque vocals on a stripped back instrumental and provides some welcome sonic juxtaposition.
9. Celaviedmai – Confessions
Mai doesn’t follow established formulas. Bouncing between RnB tracks lamenting lost love to almost debilitating trap anthems, she’s cemented her place as one of Ireland’s most versatile performers.
One such anthem is ‘Confessions’. Featuring a cinematic intro, followed by crushing drums and razor sharp bars, it’s a gripping track, unconcerned by outside opinion.
Structured in an unconventional way, the fleeting bars leave a lasting impression and have us wanting a part two.
8. Skripteh – Secure The Bag
Featuring production from Chris Rich, the maestro behind the hits of Aitch, Dig Dat and more, ‘Secure The Bag’ saw Skripteh reinvent his sound slightly.
Gravitating towards the trademark sirens and drum patterns of drill music, his cadence is anything but generic. It’s an interesting evolution and the little space that exists between the bruising percussion was ample for the New Ross spitter to parachute in with his crisp wordplay.
Content wise, the narrative is obvious, this is one for the trappers. It’s about getting that cash flow with minimum messing. Sometimes less is more and Skripteh has nailed it with this one, the beauty lies within the simplicity of the cut.
7. Denise Chaila – Copper Bullet
Part of a two track EP that dropped in early 2019, Denise Chaila set the bar high for any other artists that planned to release that year.
There’s serious penmanship in the record and Denise calls out those trivialising women’s participation in the genre. The razor sharp bars and UK rap-inspired production ensured the record was a contender for banger of the year from the off.
6. Hazey Haze – What’s that
Hazey Haze’s ‘What’s That’ was released as part of the ‘Somewhere In Ireland’ in early 2019, complete with riotous video that is in need of a warning for anyone with epilepsy.
The initial strings feel like the slow chug to the top of a peak on a rollercoaster, you can sense the pending chaos, but instead of closing your eyes and wincing you embrace it. Whether it’s the ugly cackles sitting underneath the thumping percussion or Hazey’s demonic shrieks, the hyper-violent track celebrates relentless energy of the south west.
5. Malaki – 46a
Malaki was one of 2019’s break out acts. The young artist made waves with his confessional style of hip hop and ability to weave poetic narratives with ease.
Almost working exclusively with close confidant and producer Matthew Harris, they cooked up a winning formula his ‘Butterfly Boy’ EP at the end of 2019. ’46a’ is a window into the hazardous mind of a defeated victim of heartbreak. Borrowing elements from spoken word, the track feels like an oration from the personal diary usually kept locked up in the corners of his mind.
It’s a sure fire to get you in your feels.
4. Hare Squead – Meeting With Myself Feat. Jay Prince
After a relatively quiet 2018 Hare Squead returned with a number of pop-leaning cuts in 2019. ‘Petty‘ was the perfect summer anthem and following that release the duo recruited Jay Prince for ‘Meeting With Myself’.
The perfectly weighted synths provide the ideal landing strip for Tony and Lilo’s smooth lyricism and wavy adlibs. Jay’s feature complements without overwhelming the pair’s contributions. Their best track of 2019.
3. Strange Boy – String Theory
Strange Boy is Ireland’s answer to Danny Brown. The Limerick spitter has the innate ability to rap over just about anything with one of the more unique cadences on the isle.
While he goes hell for leather over a relentless instrumental from AKIA on ‘String Theory’, what’s arguably more impressive than his flow and lyricism is his reflective storytelling. Not relying solely on his speed and versatility to impress, Strange Boy holds a mirror up to himself and ruminates on darker days.
Recalling a late night stroll that almost took a turn for the worst, the young MC is thankfully in a better place while recording, but keeps one eye on the past as a means of not falling back into bad habits.
You could be forgiven for being totally enamoured by the technical ability on show, but it’s worth diving into the vivid pictures painted on this cut.
2. Nonzus Magnus – Outta Love
‘Outta Love’ is a faux-romantic launchpad into an alternative universe. One built on swirling synths and blaring horns.
Feeling like an orbital slap in the face, ‘Outta Love’ is the result of two of Ireland’s most slept on artists colliding. In a seemingly unconventional collaboration, the powerful opening is succeeded by Nonzus‘ quintessential husky groans and is quickly contrasted by Ama‘s tea-jerking crooning. It’s creative, ambitious and has limitless replay value.
1. Kojaque & Luka Palm – Phoenix
In a collaborative EP filled to the rafters with bangers, Phoenix is a track that stands out. The back and forth between Kojaque and Luka Palm in ‘Phoenix’ is especially convincing as they swap bars and pass the mic leaving the transaction feeling easier than buying Taytos from the vending machine.
Though it features the same kind of bone rattling production littered throughout ‘Green Diesel’, there’s an extra level of sheen that elevates this track. Enlisting veteran producer New Machine, who has credits for the likes of Maverick Sabre, Chip and Slowthai, he brought extra oomph that was perhaps lacking in some of ‘Deli Daydreams’.
The sparkling keys and synthetic snares complement the almost sibling-like interchanges on an under-appreciated EP. This is a certified underground hit.