Origins: The Story of Irish Hip Hop is a brand new documentary presented by Red Bull and Collective Films charting the development and growth of the Irish hip-hop movement over the last four decades. Multiple years in the works and due for release on RTÉ One this Thursday, Origins takes a deep dive into the stories and mythologies of the scene through key figure interviews, live footage and narrative talking points. With an inimitable soundtrack (surely an official compilation is on the way?) and a familiar, amiable tone, Origins is the appreciative ode that Irish hip-hop deserves.
Some of Origins’ greatest strengths lay in its gentle balancing act of the seductive lore of Irish hip-hop’s past and its newfound prominence and accessibility. Considerable screen time is given to generating the legend of Scary Éire, the explosive forefathers of the genre. We hear from journalists and A&R people about the entertaining musical exploits of an act that set the stage for a whole sound to come. Each stage of the genre receives its credit with Rob Kelly, Messiah J and the Expert, Ophelia and Lethal Dialect sharing their delightfully interesting experiences of trying to make it big before the internet hype train took hold.
Newer artists provide their perspectives on the sound that has gone before them whilst setting the stage for the current hip-hop explosion. An acapella performance from Limerick’s Strange Boy is a documentary highlight – bubbling with the urgency and drive that forces these young artists into a hitherto uncommercial and overlooked genre. Voxpops from Mango, God Knows, Denise Chaila, Jafaris and Breezy Ideygoke to name a few, posit Irish hip-hop’s rising stars as eloquent, driven individuals who have no interest in being held back by the size of Ireland or their own personal doubts. They inspire with their personal perspectives and it is clear to see that they hold the future of Irish music in their hands.
As is often the case with music documentaries, Origins occasionally falls into a trap of romanticizing its subject without confronting some of its tougher elements. Little to no recognition is given to how a predominantly white, Irish scene can reconcile itself with its responsibilities to a black art form beyond surface-level idolizing of major hip-hop influences. A sense of accountability is glossed over through one of Origins’ narrative lines that Irish hip-hop removes the machismo of American hip-hop. There are far more complex nuances to the conditions and racial subjugation that have resulted in US hip-hop’s culture and it feels ahistorical to level praise at Irish hip-hop for being able to avoid that.
Similarly whilst Irish hip-hop may have less outright misogynistic lyricism, there is still a clear gender imbalance and lack of inclusion which is never addressed in the documentary. For all of its more positive elements, in general the artists of Irish hip-hop who receive the most praise and the largest platforms are white men and Origins fails to tackle this. For a genre still in its infancy, Origins could have brought these topics to fore and created a broader discussion about how to move forward rather than shying away from critique.
Aside from its avoidance of critique, Origins’ clear love and appreciation for its subject treats the scene with a level of respect and dignity that is often eschewed in more ‘novelty’ focused documentations of the genre. This is a documentary which chooses to prioritise paying homage to Irish hip-hop and its rich history rather than offering up a clean, palatable introductory piece. Origins is a learning experience that preserves and promotes an underground world that is finally bubbling to the surface. Kelly Doherty
Origins premieres on RTÉ One on Thursday, 3rd of September at 10.15pm.
Streaming on RedBull.com from Friday, 11th of September