Hip-Hop and Non-Stop Dublin Tradition

“Raised on songs and stories, heroes of renown. The passing tales of glory, that once was Dublin town.”


Dublin has always been a hotbed of artists, writers, critics, thinkers, and indeed drinkers. From James Joyce to Imelda May, from Brendan Behan to Glen Hansard, we have always been a city to tell it how it is. To fight for the underdog through our songs and stories, through our art and music.


Throughout the centuries, we have been at the forefront of cultural angst against injustice however that creature may appear and no more so than our poets and wordsmiths. The single voice in the darkness shouting “No More!”


A new generation has grown up in this vain and they use their art to show the city in another light. Like the greats before them, they use words too, as a rallying cry. 


Spoken word and rap artists in Dublin have always been in the shadows of their more mainstream singer/songwriters and poetic contemporaries. But as John Lennon once said “Sometimes the only truth is screaming from the underground”


I’ll be honest for a long time, I myself had a habit of ignoring them. In the course of years working on the radio, I would have played tracks from hip hop artists a handful of times. I had no clue there even was a spoken word scene in Dublin, even if I did, the artistic snob in me would have seen it as the unruly child of the poetry of Yeats and Swift that I grew up with. 


That changed when I was working for a station in Dublin and decided to go to a poetry slam in the International Bar and came across Emmet Fonzi O Brien.

His pure stage presence was mesmerizing. He owned the stage. His melodic delivery was like the transcendental experiences I used to feel like when I was a teenager watching Jim Morrison at Woodstock on an old VCR tape my brother used to own. 


But it wasn’t just his presence, it was what he was speaking about. Not the flowery poetic musings of Yeats and unrequited love but real-life issues. The stuff that as a fellow Northsider, I could relate to… Drugs, Crime, Loss. The musings of a forgotten people. But the fact that it was done in such a fashion that it wasn’t thrown at me as so many could do, I absorbed it through his words.


It was he that made me want to listen to more. And I did. I went on a journey of musical and artistic enlightenment from the legend of Clonsilla Nealo to the magnificent Lethal Dialect I found myself in the same place all those years ago when I was listening to Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew sing about a Dublin they knew. The injustice of poverty and now here I was listening to people rap and talk about a Dublin I knew with the same issues. A voice still screaming “No More!”


Not a Dublin in the rare old times but a beating heart of Dublin now. And for that, I will always be grateful.


Noel Murphy
Noel Murphy

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