What does hip hop mean to you? In Ireland, we have had visions of The Bronx, Harlem and the neighbourhoods of Atlanta and Chicago transatlantically beamed into our periphery, thus inspiring our rap ideology’s and informing our understanding of the culture.
Irish hip hop has existed since the eighties – since the early pioneering days of Scary Eire – but the genre has seen something of an explosion in recent years. No longer niche, Irish hip hop is now distinct, enlivened and
world-beating. We are gaining an understanding of how our culture informs our art, and in doing so delivering contemporary classics such as Kojaque’s Deli Daydreams and Hazey Haze’s Is Mise; records inspired by American rap styles, yet so distinctly Irish.
In Limerick, PX Music are reimagining the Irish hip hop optic, finding refuge in the experimental hip hop aesthetic. Going from strength to strength in doing so, is local artist Citrus Fresh; a member of the crew alongside founder Gavin Da Vinci, Hazey Haze, Danny Lanham, Krome, Strange Boy, Aswell, Mankyy, AKIA, 40hurtz, matchbox youth and Liv 3.
The first single, You and Me, from his forthcoming album Operating System dropped a couple of weeks ago; exploring themes of mental health woes through the concept of talking to yourself in the mirror yet treating the reflection as a different entity entirely. His work is honest and original; brimming with inward-gazing lyricism and exploratory zest in balancing the abstract and the relatable.
“I take a lot of inspiration from hip hop artists who have weird takes on the genre, like Earl [Sweatshirt] and MIKE”, he tells me as we link up via WhatsApp call, “but to be honest with you, with this album a lot of the
inspiration came from music outside of hip hop. I’ve been listening to loads of The Beatles and really trying to dissect it. Lots of Mac DeMarco and King Krule, too. Krule’s music is mad. When you put it down on sheet music it’s essentially jazz, but when you listen to it it’s glitch hop. I really love artists that make albums like they’re making a movie.”
Limerick has become something of a creative capital for hip hop in Ireland. Beyond the close-knit PX Music family is artists like Murli and Denise Chaila, both of whom have been making waves within the island circuit and beyond recently with their forward-thinking and collaborative attitude. Now that the popularity has risen, how does the reception compare to the early days?
“Y’know it’s funny, it’s hard to answer that question because we’re very inside the bubble”, he tells me. “Even with the likes of Denise and Murli; we’ve known them since we were like fifteen. It’s hard to know how it’s been received, because we’ve just been spending time with the people making it for, like, the last decade.”
“There’s a mentality in the Limerick bubble because it’s not a massive thing here yet. We’re very lucky that the competitive spirit is healthy. When I see someone putting something out, I think I need to top that. Then if I do
that, another artist has to top what I’ve done. We’re all building each other up. We’re close with the indie scene too; we spend time with these people. It’s great to have others wanting to help.”
It’s weird, when you’re writing the album you feeling everything, but then you look back and think I don’t really feel like that anymore. You just have to remember you’re capturing that moment in time.
Our gaze turns from locality to the sounds and experiences we can expect to hear on his forthcoming record. While his previous EPs carried a sample-heavy aesthetic, Citrus jokes that his debut full length is grammy- ready; meaning that every sound, snippet and sample has been created originally.
“It’s a very depressing record”, he says laughing slightly. “I’ve been going through a bit of an emotional toll since I was born, so I figured I should write about it. I really went into it with a cinematic point of view. The last two EPs were very sample heavy, so we thought let’s try and essentially create a Beatles record under the guise of Limerick hip hop.”
“There’s definitely an aesthetic that we’re trying to build. Shout out to Mich Behan. He’s from Kildare, I’ve been working very closely with him. He directed the You & Me video. The two of us went through the creative process together. I love cinema, I love films. I’ve got it tattooed on my chest; Good Kid, Maad City by Kendrick Lamar. That album plays like a film. We wanted to do that with this album. We have cameos from all the boys scattered throughout, so they’re on the album but not as a direct feature. It’s a weird way to do it, but we really tried to make it an experience.”
There are obvious comparisons to be made for both artist and collective. The Earl and Odd Future influences are clear, but it would be a discredit to the artist to write him as an Irish version of an overseas inspiration. Mutually felt lonerisms, vivid bars and an aesthetic soaked in anxiety, heartbreak and individualism; Citrus Fresh is breathing fresh air into Irish hip hop through literal blood, sweat and tears.
So, what does he do now that the cathartic writing process is over and release day beckons?
“I’ll be jumping straight back into writing again”, he says. “There’s so many of us here doing so many great things that I think we’d be doing ourselves a massive disservice if I didn’t.”
Photos by Mich Behan. Operating System by Citrus Fresh comes out on PX Music on 10.12.20.