The brisk February air departed swiftly as the shimmering entrails of the Salthill hotel enveloped me, while floods of seasoned third, second and starry-eyed (pun intended) first years had already begun the festivities that accompany an event such as the NUIG Arts ball. Looking out of place donning an Adidas jacket and Air Max 95s amidst the sea of suit and dress-clad students, I was reassured when Sean Walsh, one third of Ireland’s premier Hip-Hop/Indie group, The Original Rudeboys, greeted me in a Nike Jumper accompanied by a navy pair of the Oregon brand’s flip flops and impressively unique socks.
Starting out as three standard Dublin lads jamming in a bedroom, their debut track ‘Stars in my eyes‘ went viral on YouTube and the trio of the formerly mentioned Sean Walsh (Ukelele), Rob Burch (Vocals and Guitar) and Sean ‘Neddy’ Arkins (Vocals), took off from there, with two albums under their belts and another one on the way. It was fitting then, that the interview took place in a bedroom, in the hotel with Rob to my left (briefly), Sean in front and of course Neddy being the right hand man. A Holy Trinity of sorts, given it’s almost the week of the Galway Novena.
It may seem crazy and unrealistic but really, The Original Rudeboys are the main reason why Irish Hip-Hop is now a mildly credible genre in the eyes of the public ‘I’m [Sean] not taking credit for anything but I definitely think we opened a lot of doors for a lot of people in this country by bringing something that was never commercial as such to a wider audience, that opened doors for everyone to come through.’ Looking back when ORB first made acquaintance with our ears, rap in Ireland was nothing but an afterthought to the average person and while there were rappers always on the go, ORB brought the topic to the fore ‘It went from being laughed at to something people talked about, whether people liked it or hated it, at least people are talking about it. They might say Irish people rapping is fuckin stupid but beforehand they weren’t even acknowledging it. That’s a good thing. Once it’s in the conversation it’s gonna go to the next level’ So when asked if they were really and truly Ireland’s answer to the Sugar Hill Gang Sean responded ‘The Sugar Hill Gang of the Northstrand! I just think we made it more accessible, I just hope the scene, especially the urban, Hip-Hop whatever you wanna brand it scene in Ireland grows because there’s a great scene there and there’s a lot of talent’
The trio have been vocal about moving back to their original sound, relying more on the acoustic sound, after the switch in sound from This Life to All We Are ‘I think it all worked but the first album worked a lot better’ Ned says. The reception of their last two singles While We’re Young and 4 Words has been tremendous and the three seem much more in their element with the stripped down, simpler sound ‘We’re more comfortable with the old stuff, we tried to experiment, we tried to be smart and do something out of the box, but it kinda didn’t work for us. Half of it worked and half of it didn’t, to be honest’. Naturally, questions about the new album followed ‘It’s in the works. I’m [Sean] aiming for twenty songs to work with….we’ll pick our album from them because were doing it from home now’
What’s most impressive about ORB’s rise to fame is their impression on the international front and how their style isn’t alone alien to Ireland, but to the world’s ears ‘We’ve more listeners in Holland than in Ireland. Them Dutch people they love us’ Ned says while Sean explains that ‘Our biggest listenership on Spotify is Birmingham. Weird isn’t it? That says it all, that there’s a market for this. It’s weird for just three lads from Dublin to be reaching that many people’. What put the theoretical exclamation mark on these statements was the collage of Snapchats from all over the world posted on the band’s twitter account after the release of the aforementioned single, 4 Words ‘It’s always strange especially cos we make it in the house, in my [Sean] bedroom. To make a song there and to send it out to the world and then you realise that people all over the world are writing back to you’. The worldwide recognition hasn’t been solely online either ‘We got stopped in Paris before we played in Paris, on a bridge like randomly, we were in tracksuits going round from the Eiffel Tower’
Not only has becoming musical sensations given them the opportunity to interact with fans but fellow ‘musicians’ as well, like holding competitions to become supporting acts ‘This fella sent me a video of him on a web cam with no top on, smoking and rapping straight into the camera, it was half arsed like he just woke up and his first time ever trying to rap, it was unbelievable’ Neddy tells me about the amateur rappers, with his interactions with already established musicians being even weirder ‘I genuinely walked in on Rita Ora in the toilet’. Sean’s experience with one of Hip-Hop’s most established figures wasn’t quite as intimate ‘I have a pair of Pharrell’s flip flops in the house that I robbed out of his dressing room’.
In all seriousness, becoming a full-time band wasn’t a pre-planned career move for the three ‘I don’t think so, I think it happened so naturally like everything was organic about it, nothing was forced about us we just put out our stuff and let it get shared naturally, that’s the way we always do it, if people like it, it’s gonna get shared.’ But being a band isn’t as simple as it once was and Sean and Ned explained this in an insightful and strikingly manner ‘There’s so much content out there. If you look at Drake, he releases something every month, to just stay relevant and stay in the limelight, which is hard’ The man on the ukelele starts, while Neddy chimes in with an incredibly thought-provoking point of view ‘Music is more disposable. Nobody’s buying a single and listening to it. Remember Eminem’s first album, you’d play it for like eight/nine months solid and that’s all you’d listen to. Nowadays you’re lucky to get a month out of a song [Sean nods in agreement] and you’re just moving on to the next thing. I think the level we’re at, we’re still a pretty unknown band tryna get out there into the mainstream of things. When we started off and you look at the views of our first songs they’re in the hundreds of thousands, [This was when] if you had 70,000 fans on Facebook they all see your stuff, nowadays if you have 70,000 fans on Facebook you’ve gotta pay a lot of money for every one of those fans to see it which is unfair, if they’re choosing to follow you they should see your content, but Facebook decide, no we wanna make money off you’ Sean went on to say ‘It’s harder to make a
living from music than it was 10 years ago. People come along ten years ago and drop a one-hit-wonder and make a million quid, no one’s getting money anymore off labels, like you’re making all your money doing this, playing gigs…. Look at Kanye West’s album sales.
His first sold a million in a week or something. I’d say his new album is gonna sell 20,0000 if he’s lucky in America. But there’ll be millions and millions who’ll have the album because they can get it on any website or whatever. People don’t realise they have to pay for music. They don’t realise it’s illegal to download it but it’s that normal that that’s how it is’
Looking back on their own work it’s clear that the lads are proud of the legacy they’ve already created in Ireland ’15 years ago in Irish Hip-Hop everyone was doing the same thing and then you said “Lets rap over guitars” “Oh God no! You couldn’t rap over guitars! Why would you do that? Let’s just what everyone else is doing” But everyone else isn’t doing a lot in terms of making moves “Right, well then lets rap over guitars” Arkins animatedly explains ‘You do it and you get somewhere and everyone else is like “Maybe we should’ve listened and rapped over guitars”’ The bearded lyricist perks up from his relaxed position on the plush covers of the hotel room bed ‘But the message wasn’t that [To rap over guitars]… It was just do your own thing, make it different from everyone else and see what happens’ Walsh, echoes this ‘Just make your own thing, like the way Lethal Dialect is doing it’.
As a genre, Rap in Ireland is slowly building up a head of steam, but there are still preconceptions and stereotypes that go along with it, and while ORBs’ truly unique approach to it has broken barriers, every Burch vocal and ukelele note at a time, not everyone is willing to lend a helping hand according to Sean ‘A lot of people are on their own path and don’t wanna cross paths, especially in Ireland, it’s a scene but it’s not a community as such, everyone’s tryna do their own thing, there is elements of a community to it. Look what happens in the English scene, they all help each other get to that next level, so I don’t know why it should be any different over here AND it’s a smaller country and a smaller music scene.’ Rob, who seems quite exhausted after the juggernaut journey from Dublin to Galway, adds ‘You’ve gotta say it straight, there’s a lot of bleedin eejits over here that don’t want to jump onto the ‘helping each other’ bandwagon, unless you fit into that mould’
Being ‘Original’ is the main thing though ‘All our songs come from reality, that’s our main thing, I always tell Ned and Burch to write songs that are stories cos people wanna hear stories they don’t wanna hear bullshit about everything else, so we just say what we know. Everything we’ve ever wrote about we’ve experienced.’ and while they may not actually be the rudest boys, their telling honesty, both in discussion and in their songs is the most telling feature of the three twenty-something year old pioneering artists.
You can hear the full interview on Wednesday, including tracks from ORB and more on the 17th of February on Waveforms on FlirtFm at 11pm until Midnight, the link is in the page’s drop down menu!