Irish drill rappers cherish their anonymity. In a hard-boiled genre that values wickedness, balaclavas and ski masks free these kids of consequences and responsibilities. It’s easier to stunt in a music video when there’s no fear of kick back from peers, police, or parents.
Watching Irish drill become the island’s most scintillating sub-genre, I’m reminded of Heath Ledger’s The Joker. Batman’s malevolent arch nemesis has no tangible supernatural abilities – that is, he can’t fly, turn invisible or whatnot. But when you unburden yourself from all societal norms, the ability to say and do whatever you want becomes a kind of superpower.
Ledger tapped into something that no other actor in the role had done previously: he depicted the noterity a human being can achieve by, through sheer force of their personality, simply not giving a fuck.
Watch a clutch of Irish drill videos on YouTube and you’ll see these very young men display the same kind of magnetism. Like The Dark Knight, this is art that offers graphic depictions of decaying urban environments. The difference is that nobody out there is calling for Batman to be banned though, are they?
Here’s the thing: hiding your identity and offering zero biographical detail is a tough way to build a career in music. Unless, of course, you’re our diabolical saviour MF DOOM, and good luck finding a coherent rhyme or reason to his career. So it was a thrill and a surprise to receive a press release promoting Reggie and Chuks and their new collaboration track “Heist” that included actual portraits of Reggie plus some background details on these rising Irish stars.
Using traditional methods to publicise their music tells us that Reggie (sometimes known as Reggie B, hailing from Dundalk) and Chuks (from Balbriggan and a member of the AV9 crew) are ready to ratchet up their burgeoning rap careers. Quite right, too. Because these are the guys right at the spearhead of Irish drill, an uncompromising strand of Irish hip-hop mostly being popularised by teenagers drawn to its short, punchy bars and murky beats.
It was back in the first flickers of the decade that drill music was forged in the fires of South Side, Chicago. The scene largely collapsed as its troubled young stars struggled to sustain that early energy, but their legacy has been resuscitated in the British and, now, Irish underground, where artists have recast the concrete-hard beats as something gloomier and more nebulous but equally sinister.
In the UK, videos have been ripped off YouTube, accused of promoting knife crime. And it’s YouTube that is the portal where this island’s artists like Ink, J.B2 and Cubez find heavy rotation with their slimy, grimy visuals – far heavier than Irish rap artists considered to be top of the game right now. This makes sense. The genre’s fanbase is mostly made up of kids who tend to absorb music through video streaming. Not to mention the sizeable British audience open to Irish drill ingenuity.
In less than three minutes, “Heist” epitomises the sound of the scene and offers a clear iteration of Reggie and Chuks’ super powers. Their partnership might be informal, but like the best rap duos, the pair compliment each other – Reggie’s low rumbles acting as the perfect counterbalance to Chuks’ more dynamic flow as they pass the mic back and forth like a hot potato.
You might mistake the pair as being from South London, such is the region’s influence on their cadences and slang as they drop somber rhymes. That is, until the duo drop references to Fiona from the Shrek movies and Finding Nemo, rare moments of levity in a genre that favours brutality.
The video is typically blood-raw, featuring a group of young men, faces mostly obscured, flexing for the camera through a thick haze of weed smoke like they feel invincible. And if you’ve any doubt what nation they’re repping, the word “Heist” appears in the colours of the tricolour.
Their other numbers are similarly bruising. Chuks’ “GSP” depicts local gang warfare. “Blade to your leg, man don’t think twice,” he growls before being geographically specific: “This Laytown beef can’t settle.” Laytown is the Meath village noted as being a favourite shooting location of Neil Jordan (see: The Crying Game, Michael Collins), now pulled back into the cultural ether through music. You take this depiction as seriously as you want to take it. Whatever the case, these young artists lend enough power and authority to their craft to create a world as gripping as it is unsettling.
On “Crooks Anthem”, Reggie’s baritone hangs over the track like a doomed wraith. Though you’re unlikely to hear a visiting spirit boast about his crew making more money than their teachers, bragging about their designer fashion and being able to pass for 20 years old.
Then there’s “Risk It”, a collaboration with Cubez. Reggie, over some chilly piano keys, asserts that the 9 to 5 life is not for him. So don’t do it, hone your artistic craft instead. Fortune favours the bold and, in this case, kids who remove the masks from their features for all to see.