a price to pay - TCXL, Curtisy, Fynch, and The State of Irish hip-hop

a price to pay - TCXL, Curtisy, Fynch, and The State of Irish hip-hop
photo via https://www.instagram.com/p/C4ikVukNeyN/

We're so back? From the Bandcamp tapes all the way up to the charts - maybe Irish hip-hop is better than ever? NUXSENSE has been operating at peak efficiency, dropping EP after EP of work that by right should skyrocket them into the international hip-hop underground, Kojaque and Nealo are rolling off evolutionary second albums. Artists who had their plans derailed by the pandemic are finding their feet. Friend of the site Alex Gough has been toying with a more colourful take on his sound, but also entire new ways of releasing music - his latest EP hit streaming with a secret companion project and received a separate capstone single after the fact. As I write this paragraph I've just heard Travis & Elzzz have the #1 record in the country; the first Irish rap album to ever do that. You can pull up to any given Cold Summit and leave with four new favourite rappers (I'd pick Zimback and Sweetlemondae). I kicked off 2024 seeing Bricknasty running the mother of all gigs - playing FIVE SETS with KhakiKid, Aby Coulibaly, Kojaque and Maverick Sabre. Kneecap secured a Sony Pictures deal, played Jimmy Fallon, and never betrayed their convictions. As much as I rant and rave about the time before the pandemic - and some day I will - the scene is operating on higher levels despite weaker support from the likes of streaming platforms.

Go on a proper NUXSENSE binge and infect your YouTube algorithm for the greater good.

I do need to mention the pandemic, though. I remember back in 2019, in the closing minutes of Bobby Zithelo's documentary UP NEXT, there's a clip with Shane from Soul Doubt Magazine saying it's impossible to plot the exact future of the genre - who even knows what's possible five years down the line when all these rising artists have albums out? The ones he named never did get albums out though, and although it was so much fun being a part of the hype machine back then, we paid the price in two years of rarefied air - fantastic music was getting made, of course, but it's weird to look back at the great records that deserved more cultural impact.

Sounds and Noises, by TCXL
11 track album

You'll see my review on the Bandcamp page: "Navan Co. Meath PS2 Music"

Case in point, TCXL. I got to his 2021 album Sounds and Nosies late in the game and instantly knew we needed him in this scene. Sounds and Noises never lets up for a second - kicking off with an instrumental called Riverdance On these Hoes and by the time you're four minutes the record hits you with its first emotional peak and brings in a sample of Metal Gear Solid 3. The whole project is immensely DIY, impossible to pigeonhole into a simple genre, impossible to guess what the next decision is. Like, Papermach3 is massive breakbeat hyperpop, the bonus track is named after a Hardy Bucks line and has the last sample you'd ever expect. This album is about grief and isolation, nostalgia, escapism, to some extent the goddamn Sony PlayStation 2. It's way better than I'm selling it - believe me. I got put on to his music while I was looking to make a remix album of Actualacid's Boredoms 400. Some day I might actually get that thing made. If I do, Tomo's on there, and that's non-negotiable.

When he emerged again over two years later with Da Hangover, it got incessant repeat for me. His off-kilter, dynamic production, unparalleled stream-of-consciousness writing etc. were all polished and ready for ascent. The music video dials it up with lo-fi animation and footage collage dragging in perspectives. A new project was to follow.

Two other singles:

(Wicklow Bitch Give Me) Bray Head - maybe this year's equivalent to Ná Caitheamh Tobac (it must be reiterated - I say this with nothing but deep love). The exact opposite of Da Hangover - the most saturated 808s of all time, braggadocio and a call-out to those playing Irish rap on easy mode; a clean shot against the lazy cut-and-paste vibes of the least interesting people making Irish rap music. It's great.

And of course, Da Price - with Curtisy and Fynch. Each takes a turn in the spotlight. Tomo spins a tale of a waning situationship over a rare boom-bap beat in his catalog, but he spends most of the track behind the boards.

As far as rapping goes, ultimately, you want to make it feel effortless. Something about the form itself makes it so obvious when someone is trying too hard - and the opposite of a late-career Eminem is whatever the fuck Curtisy is on. I've seen this guy do a gig in Star Wars PJs and freestyle for five minutes after. There's that classic video of him, Ahmed, with Love. and E The Artist crushing Madlib beats for half an hour. I think the first time I caught his stuff was the honest to god hit Men on a Mission - stream of consciousness flows over a blistering Rory Sweeney beat, but he's inescapable. He's a serial collaborator, with multiple other links with Rory, tapes with TXPE_EATER and D*mp, features across the spectrum. 

Curtisy's presence on Da Price keeps the same immaculate presence; Tomo keeps the beat dynamic and gives him the room to play around with the format - room in the breathe in the middle to give the track the closest thing it has to a hook. "Da price went up."

There's a few throughlines in Da Price. One, of course is that all three are trying to win 2024 by any means necessary, dropping long-awaited projects that by all accounts should elevate them from local concerns. But I think maybe more than any other trio you could put on record together, these three are obsessives, because as much as Curtisy makes it look effortless, this album run has been flawless so far. Three sublime beats from three rising Irish producers. Some of the best-looking videos to come out of this country full-stop. One of the first indie hip-hop projects in ages not only getting a proper physical release but also a vinyl run, although with what's happening to Dublin Vinyl it may be one of the last for another while too.

The potential in all three of these artists projects is what drove me to write this; you can go practically any direction from this track and get somewhere else in Irish hip-hop where something genuinely exciting is happening. It's true: the price went up. We should pay it.

Youngfella, by FYNCH
11 track album

Remember what I said about obsession being the thread? Fynch is not like us mere mortals. I learned this when Balls.ie ran a game show called Stump Fynchy for a while, where he dispatched football trivia questions like some sort of human database. He's something of an oracle of the Irish rap Bebo era and I do not want to face him in a fantasy NBA league. What we get out the other side of all of these obsessions is storytelling brilliance though. To use his own words, it's the "Dutch Golden touch"; even if every project he's ever done has had me googling footballers at least once.

When Tomo switches up the beat for Fynch on Da Price, you see frantic connections that he's making land all at once. Blink and you'll miss the chain of references from Paul Wall to Craic Boi Mental via Recess, Camp Rock, Fatboy Slim and more than I care to list. On a group track like this, he's shining differently to how he was just two weeks prior on his long-awaited debut album.

Fynch's Youngfella is an unmistakably cozy album for most of its runtime. It is, for all it can be, a love letter to the D-Unit - despite the growing hostility of Dublin in the depths of the housing crisis. Nialler9 did a great piece where he just let Fynch talk about the places at the heart of the LP, from Bricker down the canal.

On the album's strongest track The State, the frustration builds up, struggling to imagine surviving on the "septic Isle", coming to the end of opportunities, eyes on the next port, prepared to leave home for now because it's all that there is to do.

Irish hip-hop loves a jazz beat, and this album spends a good while in the after-hours setting. Most of the tracks are driven by a fuzzy bassline, his vocals are mixed clear but warm up front; begging to be put to wax, surely an easy case to be made for bringing it into the next Bricknasty residency. It's not a record that wants to live or die by its production or hooks, though it's got hooks. The second half of it gets into beat-driven stuff for a bit - the Local Boy assisted Now Do A Silly One! is the clear radio pick - but I mean, this is a real labour of love, and it's slow-moving in a different sense to what Curtisy's up to. It's an easy recommendation for me to anyone who's been enjoying the last few years of Irish jazzy hip-hop cuts and I want to see it win because we need projects like this to win.

But we have to make them pay the bills, and we need cities that can sustain them.

That's the price to pay.

Fynch's Youngfella is out now.
TCXL's I Am Bollixed releases April 1st.
Sounds and Noises is available on Bandcamp.
What Was The Question is available for preorder via Dublin Vinyl. Caveat emptor: Dublin Vinyl is closing soon, but Curtisy has said he's pretty sure you'd still get your order.

Fynch and TCXL play Upstairs at Whelans' on Thursday April 4th via Singular Artists. I won't be in the country so make it count.

If anyone mentioned in this article wants to put their stuff out on cassette tape Fourth Best is interested.