Spinal Rap

Temper-Mental – “shouting a collection of nouns”

Some things just don’t go together. As an example, at no point would you add cheese to Chinese food. It doesn’t work on any level. Parmesan or mozzarella on sweet and sour chicken balls? No. It just doesn’t make sense.

Well, thanks to BBC3, a documentary named ‘Irish Rappers Revealed’ was broadcast and shone a light on two intriguing and traditionally strong cultures, colliding with predictably terrible results. We were informed by the helpless narrator that from the streets of Dublin’s undoubtedly tough council estates, under the guise of economic austerity and tougher times, apparently hip hop had blossomed as a form of expression for disaffected youth. I like hip hop. I like underground movements of expression. This should work, right? Right?

It starts with a room full of lads freestyling in a ‘battle’. And, truth be told, it isn’t that bad in terms of rhyming. It was rudimentary, basic, and not really in time with the beats, but this was not the biggest obstacle. Sorry, I need to get to the crux of the problem straight away. Like the analogy above, it just didn’t fit. The Irish accent over hip hop beats was the wrong combination. Imagine Bob Marley singing ‘Dirty Old Town’ or ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues – if you dare. It would be amusing, sure, but would it be possible to take it seriously? It would be an immediate ear-laxative, making you spontaneously shit yourself at in inappropriate time or location.

Given that from this viewer’s eyes the rappers already had one hand behind their backs – just through their geographical birthplace – the production of the documentary was almost insulting. It was so cheaply done, that the actual content started to become a sideshow: why interview 3 rappers from the Working Class Army, currently involved in a feuding ‘beef’ with rival crew The Class A’z in a dark alley, when two clip-clopping, bloody great big shire horses walk through the shot? It was a scene from Guy Richie’s homage to Gypsy bare-knuckle fighting Snatch, without the laughs or creative swearing. If their first single had been called ‘FECK!’ it couldn’t have been more stereotypical.

These two crews have beef because one wants to be successful, and is looking for a payday. The other feels that success can never truly be gained unless their music is regarded as authentic. Real. But it is frankly very difficult to take any of it seriously, as they trade stances in their JJB-inspired adidas shell-suits and terrible trainers, shot on a cheap camera at dusk. There is no reason that at some level it shouldn’t work but, by contract, one reason the London grime scene felt genuinely authentic and real, was that the cuts, breaks and production were honed from the angular and aggressive garage/warehouse party scene that also had strong roots in all parts of London. It was music to suit the rhyming style and language, not raw lyrics over inappropriate and lazy production.

Clip-clopping, bloody great big shire horses. Yesterday.

If this is their ‘scene’, then fine, and this reviewer genuinely wishes them well – it takes balls to get up and do it in the first place, and commitment. But the identity and authenticity is potentially a key differentiator, one not to be underestimated – yet there isn’t one. You would walk past these guys all day long, because there is nothing to elevate them above every Chav in every town in Britain (or Ireland, it would appear). It was almost as if Welsh legends Goldie Lookin’ Chain never happened, and they were a parody. A successful one too, who’s charm was based on the irony of their Newport identity, shitty jewellery and funny lyrics. They were Spinal Rap, and their world was fun to be in, albeit for a short space of time. There is an apocryphal story that one very famous singer saw the original Rob Reiner-directed “rockumentary” and thought it was real. Uncle Tom Dobly and all…

The following introduction to female ‘rapper’ Temper-Mental MissElayneous  – no, I am NOT kidding – added another twist of jaw-dropping viewing: standing in a half-empty pub, with some guy trying to mix beats, she stands in trademark hip-hop stance: hand looking slightly palsied, as she twitches with tourettes timing to punctuate her rap. Her hair more multi-layered than a JLS vocal, apparently just talking into a microphone. Hardly rhyming, no discernible flow, just shouting incoherent words. And, like her hair, it is a terrible mess. Some friends film her on smart phones, apparently encouraging her. They know they are witnessing comedy gold, and as such would have become Youtube stars had a real, actual film crew not been there. It was as cringeworthy as a Grange Hill end of term disco. Awful.

She isn’t alone in this pub-level performance, as later in the show, two ‘rappers’ enter into a call and response in a working mens club with what appears to be their mums. Also with one of the females who is old enough to know better twice over, starts trying to ‘wind her batty’, a shapeless arse in less shaped Primark jeans, at the camera. It was now compelling viewing. Essential.

It gets better as we follow our female rap assassin – and by that I mean she is literally trying to kill the artform completely – through a car park, and she stops a haggard grandmother on the street. “Give me a subject, I’ll rhyme about anything….” And so, she starts again, apparently just listing words, “a random collection of nouns” as my brother recently described a speech we witnessed, whilst the old bird stands there with her shopping straining on her Popeye-like arms, flat-faced and emotionless, trying to actually process what the lyrical fuck is going on in front of her ever-crinkling face.  At the end of this stream of unconsciousness, she asks what her silent audience of one thinks.

“Graaaaaand” she said, inappropriately. Although, there is a fair chance that if Q-Tip landed on the same street in a space ship, bumming Larry Mullen’s motorbike, holding the severed heads of Jedward and throwing €50 notes everywhere, she’d probably think that was “grand” too. Awful.

But, thankfully, this isn’t just restricted to Dublin. Oh no. Cork, apparently, has a different rhyming style. This is not the East Coast/West Coast US difference. This is the difference between Slough and Uxbridge. We are introduced to ‘rapper’ Matamatiks. One can only presume this is phonetic for ‘mathematics’ and not a clever play on Matt O’Mattics, as keen-eyed and sharp-tongued friend of the show Andy Wood pointed out.

Yet again, we have to endure a couple of minutes of ‘freestyling’ from on top of a building, whilst behind him, another rapper nods in approval, occasionally smiling as he recognises a ‘clever’ lyric, which isn’t anything other than a teenage sex rhyme. Now, I can’t do any better, I appreciate that. But I wouldn’t try. Not everybody can rap. It is a skill, and I don’t have it. But I have listened to a hell of a lot of people that can, and written about how much of an impact it has had on me and middle-class whiteness. Yet not everyone has the natural tools to do so, even if they have the balls, and with tools this bad, maybe making a 12” high, polystyrene Stone Henge is about the scope of their ability. Awful.

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