A famous definition of globalisation is ‘the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, idea’s and mutual sharing, and other aspects of culture’. This expansion of idea’s and culture knows no boundaries, and Hip-Hop music has certainly had its part to play. From its 1970’s roots in the U.S., Hip-Hop has become the sound of generations across the globe, finding its niche in places as diverse as Japan and The U.K. Here in the land of green, a minority hip-hop sound still emerges from time to time, yet has generally struggled to establish itself. One man who stands out as an exception though is Dublin rapper Lethal Dialect, who continues to prosper not only at the helm of Irish hip-hop, but also in the greater Irish music scene.
Born to the name Paul Alwright, ‘Lethal Dialect’ first started making noise in 2011 with the release of his album ‘LD50’. This was followed by the release of ‘LD50 part 2’ just over a year later, with both albums receiving critical acclaim from magazines such as Hot press, and bloggers such as Nialler 9. A wave of anticipation greeted his third album ‘1988’ (named after his year of birth), which was released in 2014. Comparisons to rappers such as Nas have been common, as have regular gigs in some of Ireland’s best music venues – including performances alongside Damian Dempsey and Glen Hansard.
Yet despite all the praise being directed towards him as Ireland’s own ‘voice of Hip-Hop’, it is clear that the Cabra native wants to stay on humble ground. A man of casual charm and confidence, he prefers to see himself as an individual artist rather than falling into a specific category or movement. It is this drive that has shaped his career to date and continues to inspire him.
We at Babylon Radio caught up with Lethal Dialect before his gig in Whelans last Friday night, where he talked about the importance of doing your own thing, the changing nature of Hip-Hop, and his plans for the future.
What age did you discover Hip-Hop, and can you remember the first track you heard?
LD: I have always had an interest in music since I was a kid. My grandfather bought me an old school walkman when I was just two years old, and he used to play me Roy Orbison – mainly to just calm me down! It was my cousin who first introduced me to Hip-Hop though, and I mainly started off listening to the real cliched type artists – Eminem, 2pac, etc.
My interest in the genre continued to expand and grow, but it was actually by fluke that I started writing and producing Hip-Hop. I was down at the local foroige youth club, and my best friend was messing about with some studio equipment, recording vocals and stuff. This was back in 2005 when the Internet was still kind of a big deal. He asked me to come over and to record some vocals, so I gave it my best shot. I then listened back to the recording, and I just felt amazed by what I was hearing and the potential. I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way. I was just transfixed by the whole thing, and it was then that I discovered ‘this is what I want to do’.
You grew up in the North side of Dublin, which has sometimes become a bit of a cultural phenomenon – open to the odd joke or stereotype. What was your experience growing up there and how did it shape your rap?
LD: Growing up in Cabra during the 1990’s, there were a lot of things going on. It was also one of those places where everyone kind of knew each other. I guess you could use the term ‘six degrees of separation’, in that you would always maybe know someone – or know of someone – who was involved in some form of illicit activity or trade. But I’m proud of where I come from, and either way the place you come from doesn’t define you. That’s something I came to realise the older I got.
Dance music was something you also had a soft spot for in your youth, and your latest album ‘1988’ includes many dance inspired samples. Was there any particular reason you chose the Hip-Hop route rather than finding yourself behind the decks?
LD: Because nearly everyone I grew up with in Cabra was an aspiring Dj! Then I moved to Blanchardstown and it was kind of the same thing, people aspiring for all types of things. I guess Hip-Hop was always my passion, and was my way of finding a specific niche. Don’t get me wrong, dance music is great. But I think the difference is that dance music can be a lot of fun, whereas Hip-Hop is something which allows you to be a thinker. That aspect of Hip-Hop really appealed to me.
Was there much of a Hip-Hop scene in Dublin when you started off?
LD: There wasn’t really a scene at all, apart from a few lads doing it here and there. One thing I have always maintained though is that I am self-driven, and don’t wish to be defined by a category. People might see you as ‘Irish Hip-Hop’, but there’s always far more to what you’re doing. I guess the way I see it is this: Don’t try to push any scene, just push yourself.
Cam’ron and Nas are just two of the artists who inspired you most when younger. Which contemporary Hip-Hop artists inspire you the most?
LD: My taste is changing all the time. Cam’ron was great to grow up listening to, as he came out with the Harlem attitude and was just completely himself. Nas was another one of my favorites, and listening to him was like listening to a street journalist providing social commentary.
As for today, I really like what Kendrick Lamar’s doing and I think he is the main man today. At the same time though, I’m not sure if he is a game-changer. We have had a lot of game-changers in Hip-Hop, and I think we’re due another one sometime soon.
You also have a background in science, and to quote you, ‘a street education and a formal education’. Do you think the days of Gangster Hip-Hop are dying out, or does it still have a role to play?
LD: I guess when gangster Hip-Hop started off you had groups such as N.W.A., who felt they were depicting the reality they saw. There were many ‘conscious songs’ out there, which got you into the mindset of the so called ‘gangsta rappers’. Today you have people like Kendrick, who can still have the same impact on people but with a different perspective or message.
Whether gangster rap still has a role to play, it completely depends. There is more responsibility nowadays though, to make sure people aren’t being negatively influenced by it. That being said it is a joint responsibility, in that it is also up to the listener to not take the message too literally. It’s a fine line, but I think it’s important for artists to be aware of it.
If you could pick one artist, dead or alive, to collaborate with, who would it be?
LD: I have to go with Marvin Gaye. He has been sampled loads of times by the Hip-Hop community. I think the great thing about Marvin was that he managed to make socially and politically conscious music, while still making it a song. Take ‘Troubled man’, for example. It’s one of the slickest songs ever, but I also interpreted it as being about someone who is into illicit activities.
You have an acting role in an upcoming Irish film called ‘Carboard Gangsters’. Any other big plans for the future?
LD: I had a few other auditions recently, and acting is something which definitely interests me. There are a few other projects which I’m quietly working on, so I guess we’ll see how they go.
Finally, do you think there is a certain lack of confidence in the Irish Hip-Hop scene, where aspiring musicians might think Hip-Hop is not really an Irish thing?
LD: I think there might always be a bit of stigma attached to it, but you really have to just be your own person. If people aren’t liking it, or don’t think it’s meant for a particular audience, then it’s your responsibility to change their perception. When playing live these days, I open to a full band, rather than a Dj. I also often have a singer with me. This gets people’s attention, and defeats the ‘MC’ stereotype.
The way I see it is if you have a product which you feel is of good quality, then you have to package it. If you repackage it but still have that same substance in the package, that’s how you get it.
Follow Lethal Dialect on twitter at: https://twitter.com/lethal_dialect or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Lethal-Dialect-186626141358217/?fref=ts