For the sake of this article I have defined celtic hip-hop as being of two things… hip-hop made by people from a celtic background and hip-hop that is fused with celtic music. For that reason I haven’t included any rappers/hip-hop from the countries of origin. Mainly because I don’t know any but also partly because this blog is to celebrate and promote the celtic diaspora and the influence of that diaspora.
1. HOUSE OF PAIN
Not a lot to be said about these. Their are probably tribal villagers in the rain jungle who have at some point jumped around to that song!! Formed in 1991 in New York the group of school-friends became absolutely-bleeding-massive with the release of, yes, ‘that’ song in 1992. They released three albums and a compilation ‘Shamrocks And Shenanigans’. Although they stuck pretty close to the standard hip-hop way of doing things and never really included any celtic/Irish instruments they did occasionally use signatures reminiscent of Irish jigs. Absolutely huge world wide and can be credited with being a huge influence on Irish-America and the wider Irish diaspora, even today. Still performing but more so these days to promote the lead singer Everlast’s solo career.
From their name you ought to be able to tell they veered a wee bit to the left. Formed in Bristol by college friends towards the end of the 1980’s these boys did not mess around! Marxman were unrepentant socialists and championed the underdog and victims of social injustice. Their first album ’33 Revolutions Per Minute’ included the song ‘Sad Affair’ which comprised lyrics from the Christy Moore penned song ‘Irish Ways And Irish Laws’ and was subsequently banned by the BBC. They also touched on themes such as domestic violence and slavery. They incorporated Irish instruments alongside the music making something totally original for that time. They sadly faded away after their much less politicised 2nd album came out though they are credited with being one of the fore-runners of the ‘Trip-Hop’ (see Portishead or Tricky) genre which originated in Bristol.
We’ve already done an article on the Seattle born rapper Ben Haggerty here so head there if you want to read a bit more on him. Suffice to say he’s another Irish-American rapper who wears his roots proudly on his sleeve. Debut album ‘The Heist’ came out in 2012 and this year his massive hit ‘Thrift Shop’ hit #1 in far too many countries to mention here! His lyrics are a million miles away from most major hip-hop artists and although he doesn’t use any celtic instruments or tunes his song ‘Irish Celebration’ can leave you in absolutely no doubt where he stands!
4. BELTAINE’S FIRE
Formed in 2005 in San Francisco by solo-anarchist rapper Emcee Lynx they started out as ‘folk-rap’ with influences alongside their hip-hop from Scottish and Irish music but soon evolved and introduced other musical elements and aspects into their sound. They have released 3 studio albums, the last being ‘Anarchitecture’ in 2011 (the profits of which they donated to Occupy Wall Street). Huge supporters of file-sharing much of their music is either free or ‘pay as much as you can’. Another highly political band and they have played many benefits and appeared on many compilation albums for causes such as the Anarchist Black Cross and Iraq Veterans Against the War.
5. SEANCHAI AND THE UNITY SQUAD
Chris Byrne a Irish-American cop co-founded the celtic-rock band Black47 with Larry Kirwan in 1989. While playing with Black47 Chris set up these lot as a side-project. A ‘seanchai’ is a traditional Irish storyteller/historian and ancient teller of old tales so in this respect its a absolutely spot on name! They’ve released several albums and all contain the same mix of hip-hop, Irish folk, rock and punk, R&B, reggae/ska, protest anthems, rebel songs and prank phone calls to radio hosts that we have come to expect. Really, when you put on a Seanchai LP you never know if you’re gonna hit a punk song like ‘Irish Catholic Boy’ or hip-hop like ‘Sportin Paddy! A casserole of cultures that will soon make them a staple on your musical menu.
Not being a huge hip-hop fan I was going to keep it short and just do the Top Five but after coming across this band I thought I better expand it into a Top Six. Manua (the old Breton gaelic name for the Isle Of Man) were formed in 1998 in Paris by members of that cities huge Breton diaspora. In 1998 they had a massive hit with ‘La Tribu de Dana’ which tells the story of the tribe of Dana, and is the name of a group of figures in Irish mythology. They have released six albums, the last being this years ‘Fantasy’ and although they have moved somewhat away from the celtic sound sometimes those early releases are absolute stand-outs in the celtic-music world.
Well so much for a Top Six! Slaine, or George Carroll as he’s known to his mammy, is a Boston born rapper and these days a quite famous actor as well. Inspired by the House Of Pain and a move to New York he became active in that city’s burgeoning underground hip-hop scene. He’s released several albums and been on countless compilations and has just released his latest called ‘The Boston Project’. He teams up with Danny Boy O’Connor from the House Of Pain to perform as the House Of Slaine and they sell some of the most brilliant alternative Irish t-shirts on the internet. Well worth a look here.
A couple other notables are the ‘Lordz Of Brookyln’ and ‘Da Ded Rabbitz’ but no one could tell me anything about them …
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- Celtic-Hip Hop! Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – ‘Irish Celebration’ (londoncelticpunks.wordpress.com)