Friday, March 13, 2009

The return of Messiah J and the Expert

Messiah J and the Expert return to Limerick this Saturday night, playing in Dolan's with Adebisi Shank (woo!). Fresh from appearing at the Choice Music Awards, this should be a good one - Upstairs in Dolan's - by rights the rooms will be groaning with people.
Stealing an idea from Ciaran (thanks!) and because I didn't get a chance to interview the boys before this gig - I have reprinted an interview I did with Messiah J last November, enjoy!

THINK about the genre of hip-hop and you can’t help but conjure up images of rappers, particularly of the American ‘bad-boy’ variety.

Think about Irish hip-hop and you might do well to stifle a dismissive cough and a laugh.
Well, think again.

Messiah J and the Expert are an Irish, two-man hip-hop crew based in Dublin that are doing their best to subvert the connotations surrounding the genre. Key to this is the fact that their latest album From The Word Go features a wonderfully eclectic mix of different types of music, swathed in Messiah J’s often biting lyrics, but not falling prey to the more typical, often misogynistic form of the genre.
Frankly, this is hip-hop, but not as you know it.
The album is driven forward by Messiah J’s lyrics, but is underpinned by the Expert’s impressive musicianship. Importantly, this album is suffused with influences as broad as The Clash to Marvin Gaye to Aphex Twin to Parliament. This is a fact not lost on the duo.
"We take our lead from hip-hop as much as any other kind of music," explains MC Messiah J, aka John Fitzgerald.
"Good songwriting is the bar all the way. We listen to indie, soul, jazz, reggae - whatever; good songwriting is what makes songs stand out no matter what the genre and I think we tried to learn from many sources and express it the way we do.
It is a very eclectic album, there is a lot going on. We are particularly happy with the fact that it all ties together well, it is cohesive."
It is certainly cohesive, not least given that there are some weighty subjects tackled in the duo’s lyrics. Whereas their Choice Music Prize-nominated second album 'Now This I Have To Hear' dealt with more personal issues, 'From The Word Go' attacks and questions the outside world and the realities we all live with.
Take the brash 'Year of the Genie' - "They wave, they smile, they clap, they pose - anything to boost the opinion polls" - which seems to denounce the political system.
"That was written from the perspective of standing at a bus stop looking up at all these election posters promising this and that, but history has proved that these are empty promises," explains Fitzgerald.
"It is a healthy scepticism that fuels the song, it is saying I’m not so sure if I believe you. Politically we are as confused as everybody else, we don’t have the answers but we won't let that confusion be swept under the carpet, we are going to ask questions."
Songs such as 'Panic Stations' or 'Keep The Noise Down' also deal with the issues around growing up and taking responsibility for your actions. As you would imagine, there is plenty of humour and lyrical witticism on these songs.
"Yes, politics is just one side of it, there is also a general fear of growing up," agrees John. "Those songs are concerned with how people change as they grow up, I am personally terrified of responsibility, I feel like a giant child, I'm not ready for the big bad world and never will be," he laughs.
While they demonstrate a willingness to tackle meatier issues in the subjects of their songs, there is also clearly a strengthening in the relationship between this duo, who have been performing together as Messiah J and the Expert since 2003. This will stand to them in a difficult industry; one made harder given that they are in a niche market that can be viewed with scepticism.
John however has a simple philosophy that should help them through and allow their undoubted talent to be exposed to the outside world.
"It can be difficult if people don't like the idea of what you do, but we have always believed that if we are good enough about what we do, it will set us apart. We know that even if people hate the music, at least we don't sound the same as everyone else.
It is difficult to shift records and you just have to gig and do your best and do what you can to make money, you have to be mad to be in the music industry, to be honest. It is a crazy industry, but somehow we all keep at it. And once people listen to us they will realise that there is a lot more to us than just a tag of Irish hip-hop."

No comments: