Class AZ Veritaz
Paddy Whack- Beyond House of Pain
by T.K. McNeil
Irish rap, strange phrase is it not? Yet still, one that exists to describe a sub-genre of music. And if you have the words "House of Pain" running through your head please, give it a good hard shake. While there have long been shrieks of "cultural appropriation" any time anyone remotely pale tries anything even remotely associated with non-white culture, there is a clear and obvious exception to be made in the case of Irish rap. Who understands the rage, fear, poverty and desperation that lead to the creation of American gangster rap in the mid-‘80's than someone growing up in a place that was quite literally an urban war zone and to this day has five-times the number of gun deaths as comparable countries.
As one might expect, history and the Troubles are a theme, though not a major one and mostly from acts from the Republic rather than the North and usually in brief mentions. These span the scene from those who are known for such intensity like Class Az ("I'm hungrier than Bobby Sands"; "we know the Brits forget their history man/We last four seconds/We say ‘1916' they say ‘a quarter past seven") and Big Siyo ("I was told from God to blast these heathens like a tin-man firin' squad"; "The air smells of treason, every four seasons/I have the answer but I wanna know the reason") to usually funny punchline rappers like Nugget ("I'm a modern day Pierce ‘cause I'm Irish o' course/I'm also a poet that'll die for the cause").
The main concerns of contemporary Irish rap are smashing the stereotypes that have persisted for years and the situation when it comes to the rampant drug trade and attendant violence. Two of the most powerful acts concentrating on the latter theme are Ace and the duo Veritaz. Too young to have any cogent memories of The Troubles, Ace's main concern is how to survive on the streets of modern Belfast. His songs feel very personal, almost all his lyrics being written in the first person ("these lyrics are where I'm puttin' this pain/Everyone has their sunny days, only from rain"). His young age combined with his insight adding an extra power to verses such as: "And we're just livin' in the land o' the violence/Drug habits, robbed cars, hearin' nothin' but sirens/And that's the type o' stuff ye have ta embed/Be street smart otherwise ye'll get da gun ta da head."
If Ace is Chuck D then Veritaz are Ice-T with absolutely no punches pulled. They go so far as to simulate a daylight gang execution in a public park and a teenager hanging himself in prison in the video for their song "Dark Ages." There is a strong temptation to transcribe the entire song but to avoid ruining it here is the second verse with a recommendation to find the video on YouTube: "Wouldn't have too far to see a mother in her kitchen thinkin' ‘bout how she's gonna trick the doctor for prescriptions/The life she has is not the life she planned out for her children, gettin' phone calls from the State, say her son just died in prison/Said they found ‘im dead dis mornin' with shredded strips of linen tied around ‘is neck, self-afflicted asphixiation killed ‘im/ Suspicious circumstances, she knows that somethin' happened, ‘cause he'd never take his life while on remand for minor charges."
On the issue of stereotyping there are actually arguments for reverse cultural appropriation from the Irish by the Americans as is so eloquently by Redzer from Class Az: "The Yanks think a shamrock is very American-like that's why we're on the mic to fight and bury the stereotype/They think my area is like filled with marys and mites/We're all contrary and nice and live on fairies and shite/We all drink Guinness and we finish every session with fights/Fuck this business and their simis man, I'm settin' ‘em right." Even a cursory investigation will show that there are a lot more links between the lower-class Americans black kids who started rap and the lower-class white Irish who have picked it up, particularly in terms of discrimination and repression by a dominant culture. Big Siyo for example seems to be on a personal mission to reclaim the derogatory term "paddy," much like black rappers reclaimed the N-word ("so feel this Paddy-whack hit ye with this Irish rap"; "I be chillin' with the Paddys in the front bar."). And let us never forget that the term "wigger" (a contraction of "white" and "nigger"), now used to lampoon rich, white, suburban teenagers fond of black culture was first coined to refer to the Irish when they started coming to America, specifically so they would not need to be recognized as social equals despite being white, English-speaking, Europeans like the majority (social and by numbers) of Americans by the mid to late-19th century. Oppression knows no bounds but luckily, neither does music.
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