A music blog from Ireland.
The old story about the salmon of knowledge is one of the most captivating and curious in Celtic mythology, relating the deeds of the mighty Finn MacCool as he sets off in search of wisdom in order to become captain of the Fianna to avenge his father’s death by the rival Clan Morna. Concealing his true identity he finds Finegas, the wisest man in Ireland who is foretold to catch the salmon of knowledge, a fish imbued with all the subliminal meanings of life for anyone who ate it. Finegas was a bard and a seer who taught Finn the magick of poetry, the charm of music and the making and solving of riddles. And one day by the River Boyne, Finn heard his master cry out and found him with a marvellous fish, the salmon of knowledge! He took it away to cook it, tossing the silver hide over to sear each side, and placed it before the old man. Finegas took one look and knew at once; the young warrior had burnt his thumb and sucked the fish’s juices from a blister, but had not eaten. The old man lay the fish aside and told him it was he, Fionn MacCumhaill, who would eat the fish: it was only prophesied that the old seer would catch the creature. Finn only ever had to suck his thumb to gain the wisdom he needed.
Considering this article is about rap and that that old story is about a warrior, it strikes me as funny that strength could come from such a weak-looking move. Thrown aside to the mythical riverbank, that fish is long gone but the quest for knowledge, the magic of poetry and the charm of music live on along with those legends. We’ve always been proud of the bards. Ever since people began mentioning the knowledge in Lethal Dialect’s songs I’ve kept thinking about that old tale. But where have the wise men gone? Who do the young warriors look up to know and where do the quests take them now? One individual in Blanchardstown has his heart set on making music, rather than his eyes on the seat of the high kings at Tara. And dreams are precious amongst young Irish people right now. The Mahon Report was published this morning, outlining the extent of corruption in Irish politics, with the galling practices matched only by the formidable cost of the investigation itself. Wisdom comes the hard way. While poets of the age chronicled silver fish, spears, swords and being driven out back in the dark days; these days now are just as dark and the poets rap about corruption and occlusion, snakes and reptiles, emigration and the nocuous clan still there to fight.
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Upon its arrival in LD50 Part 1 last year the music of Lethal Dialect dropped heavily, Keep It Real‘s density proving too much for the underground. It punctured through to reach…whatever this next level we inhabit that is not the mainstream, I do not know but musical hedge school seems apt. We pass all this music on and good rap was always disproportionately low on the scale but now, Lethal Dialect’s the story everyone wants to know.
In the past six months he’s released a second album, two official videos, featured on the soundtrack to a major TV drama and appeared on a prime time hip hop documentary, given interviews to most mainstream Irish press, supported national heroes Rubberbandits along with Ghostpoet and the forthcoming Action Bronson show, performed and recorded live sessions for popular radio shows, been featured as One To Watch all over, won Artist of the Week on MTV Iggy, participated in a seminar at the Music Show and is written in to this summer’s first Dublin Crawl. For hard facts we’d have to see his album sales but these are not the customary effects of an independent artist entering the music industry, and tonight, he performs the first headline slot of his career. His debut album rated highly in my Top Albums of 2011 and it’s a quote from this blog splashed across the front of the gig poster: “the first great Irish hip hop album of this generation”.
Why has everything happened so fast? I suspect that personally, his talent is unmistakeable, matched only by a ferocious work ethic. When I spoke to 23 year-old Paul Alwright in the new year, he was preparing the release of LD50 Part 2 with the final instalment planned for the summer. He outlined how everything had come to that point, since he was first invited to the studio at a local youth club in Blanchardstown. He set about teaching himself to write, like Finn accumulating wisdom before launching a real, ready attack. He criticised other rappers who were prepared to release their work quickly and sloppily on the internet, believing that the media was hostile towards homegrown hip hop as a result of unmoderated, poorly-finished work. The strong, articulate Dublin accent should have been the first obstacle preventing Allwright from garnering sway from Ireland’s disillusioned music cliques but instead, it charmed them. Charm from concrete misery is a tough brew but the black and white, green and gold flavour is a real taste of life here. For me, it all started with this in November ::
“A lot of people are saying to me, it’s great that you didn’t compromise but it’s got a lot of media attention.”
That line is taken from an interview last week that I haven’t been able to transcribe on time. The word “compromise” is crucial to everything he’s achieved: in the second paragraph I mentioned the weak move, and that has to come into play regarding Irish hip hop being laid out like a chessboard on the recent, dreadful Irish Rappers documentary that sought to define ‘beef’ between two separate groups, with flimsy and tokenistic coverage given to the music. Lethal Dialect and Working Class’ notion of success as reaching an audience and the motivation to give away music were subject to fire from Class Az, who were striving instead for a #1 album. So far, with the LD50 success and that of close conspirator Costello’s Illosophical launch last week, it’s clear to see who’s closer to attaining goals.
Although Irish Rappers tried to open a gateway to Irish hip hop by smashing the lock and busting the hinges, it’s the artists themselves who can do that best, by bringing the affiliates who bolster their work. Forays into new music doing the rounds through LD I’ve properly heard the work of Rob Kelly, Sons Phonetic and Spekulative Fiktion, all outside Dublin, out of reach til now. Then there’s the struggle to reject what’s just not up to scratch, to dismiss and to keep the bar set, to start paying proper attention. That’s just me though, and it was just natural in a packed crowd at Twisted Pepper last week to throw up an ‘L’ in homage to Lunitic, an Irish rapper I never met who died in 2009. I didn’t really feel worthy of the gesture. That should be the most phony shit possible for some newcomer as regards hip hop’s cliched mires of respect, except ‘keep it real’ comes full-circle in recognising that dues should be paid and as far as Dublin’s new glimmer of urban redevelopment, and I know he was the pivotal figure who propelled Paul Allwright and James Costello to making those albums, who laid the foundations for Street Literature. The pair, along with DJ Moschops, G.I., Willa Lee and ACR’s Johnnyboy and Jambo, everyone in the crowd was instructed to raise their hands and indicate their presence and unity. It was a moment that Lunitic could never have imagined when he wrote Stacy’s Story. That quality he instilled is like his ashes have been sprinkled over the collective’s songs and you knew last week in Twisted Pepper that they wished he had been there. That can’t be, which is probably why they’re all so glad to see the new people there instead.
And the next stride forward comes tonight. Having premiered the second album stream on its release, I can already attest to being one of the faithful who wants to watch the new story unfold. Speaking in riddles, Lethal Dialect uses lyrical logic to reconstitute the world he sees, metaphor providing a cover for shots and facts. Magic, poetry, charm, music and knowledge is laced through the songs, flowing without hurry and presented well with quality production. It’s that, no mythical old man or bloodthirsty vengeance that made things happen for him this year, but instead of raising a thumb, he’s raising a mic to spit wisdom and fighting to become leader of the Irish hip hop Fianna.