There’s a storm brewing on this island. For a nation of people who pride ourselves on our artists’ ability to twist and contort the English language masterfully, it’s surprising that our hip-hop scene has taken so long to come to fruition. Where in the past we would have had the likes of Messiah J and The Expert to represent us on the international stage, we’ve slowly but surely been building up a roster of top-tier artists. In recent years, Rejjie Snow, Kojaque, Hare Squead and Limerick’s Rusangano Family – to name but a handful –have proven without much doubt that we as a nation have a voice in this realm that is as powerful as it is its own.
It’s in this growing, exciting subset of culture that the debut EP from Mango X MathMan thrives. The pair have been figures of note in the scene for the last five years, with Mango and MathMan, the MC and producer respectively, cutting their teeth in The Animators collective, where they worked with the likes of Ricki Rawness and Russell Flow. When part of the collective, the two men made much more brass heavy, soul-oriented songs. On their own now, they have opted for the darkness. Wheel Up, their debut, offers a strictly Dublin interpretation of grime that is foreboding, aggressive and simmering with unresolved tensions. The beats are fast and furious and Mango’s flow is captivating and exhilarating in equal measure.
There is a sort of menace in this collection; a fierce, determined energy. Mango’s grunted delivery is seething with a barely contained rage, while MathMan racks up the tension with glitchy staccato melodies and percussion. MathMan has captured and recreated what works so well about the UK’s underground scene with a production technique that is atmospheric and dank, but still incredibly danceable. Take the pulsating strings on ‘Forgot About Me’. It’s a simple touch but their thundering rhythm builds and builds to the point of discomfort and then ploughs on anyway. By the time they’ve peaked you can’t help but move. Leaping on top of these beats is Mango, who struts like a man ready to clatter Conor McGregor. He spits so much fury that you can feel the drops of saliva peeling off the mic.
From the lyrics, we get a real sense of location. As with the genre’s London counterparts, these words belong to a subculture and a city. The obligatory shout-outs to various parts of Dublin and the buckets of colloquialisms marry the music to the capital. Take the wordplay that fuels the fantastic ‘Rapih (Selecta)’, where a specific pronunciation of rapid is used a lynchpin for an absolute belter. Or take the opening track ‘Buzzin’. Mango wastes no time getting right into the nitty gritty intricacies of life in the Dublin on a braggadocios cut that finds him flinging out an absolute litany of coded references and nods. It’s in these moments that the EP stands tallest and it is heard elsewhere on ‘North/South’ – though the guest verse from Dania could and should be more comfortable than it is.
Throughout Wheel Up you’ve got off-handed allusions to Adidas, shouts to the Flats and an absolute barrage of slang thrown out without a single care for an outsider understanding. With no intention of holding back so the world can understand, maybe it’s time the world leaned in and listened harder. This music is Dublin’s. These songs are about, made in, and belong to this city. And that’s a breath of fresh air. Will Murphy