Odds on favourite
Odhran O’Brien’s debut album sounds like a musical landmark.
It’s unabashed assertion of the growing importance of Irish hip hop is refreshing, whilst announcing himself as a talent to be reckoned with.
Under the clever name Odd Numbers, Odhran is set to release ‘The Golden Éire Tapes Vol. 1’ next month.
The 11 tracks feature a succession of guest rappers performing over Odhran’s dazzling musical arrangements.
The release of three singles over recent months has helped the project gather momentum, as the names holding the mic.
“The hype has been building a good bit, more than I had anticipated, which is great.”
Although he’s immersed himself in the Dublin hip hop scene since moving to the capital six years ago, he surprisingly admits “he really didn’t like the accent” initially.
“I think it is an acquired taste in that sense, and I think that’s why people don’t really take it seriously because they don’t think Irish people can do a
proper rap tune,” says Odhran. “Now at this point, the majority of what I listen to on Spotify is Irish hip hop and there’s so much coming out. Every Friday there’s some unreal tunes coming out.”
Odhran, who first recorded hip hop while undertaking a music production course in Dundalk, says the scene wasn’t always this strong.
“Originally when you thought of Irish hip-hop – and even for myself, my own introduction into Irish hip hop was The Rubberbandits and TPM – ‘All the boys on the FÁS course’. It was very insincere, it was kind of comedic hip hop.”
Over the last decade however the genre has come of age with the likes of Kojaque, Nealo and Denise Chaila getting airplay and exposure galore.
“It’s starting to get really big now, and that’s why this decade marks the start of it becoming a serious asset in the Irish music community.”
Hence the golden era wordplay of his album title. Odhran says reaction to his and other Irish tracks on international blogs is generally a mix of surprise that we have such “a major hip hop scene” and that “they’re really enjoying the tune”.
“Not because of the accent or anything like that. Just because the subject matter was unreal. There was no flexing you get with a lot of hip hop:
it’s very much drugs and girls and guns and stuff like that – there was nothing like that. No one’s talking about having money, everybody’s talking about being broke!”
“It’s definitely a sign of Ireland’s level – it’s about good writing and lyricism. I think that’s what’s pushing it forward more than anything else.”
Original golden era
That’s to down-play the quality of the music, which in Odhran’s case is exquisite. In celebrating this Celtic coming of age, he has cleverly paid homage to the genre’s original golden era.
“I tried to pull from as many decades of hip hop, so you have a bit more of the old rap stuff, the ‘90s inspired jazz hop, and then went onto lo-fi – a lot of what I would have listened to a couple of years ago where it’s very kind of vinyl crackle, and then moving on towards more progressive contemporary hip hop which is kind of glitchy drums – I tried to cover all the bases with the sonics.”
Odhran compiled up to 45 demos or “a rough vibe” and then sent a few options to artist he felt would respond well with each.
“I would say the instrumental would have set the tone for the performance that was on it and the theme of the tracks themselves. For this one, it’s definitely producer led rather than artist led.”
The album ends on a high with the track ‘Blue’, which in sampling the Four Freshmen, is a nod to Mac Miller’s tune ‘Blue World’ produced by Guy Lawrence of Disclosure.
“I heard that tune and thought, that’s perfect – that’s exactly what I want. So I made that beat, just chopped up the sample and sent that to Wallfella who I thought would do it really well on it, and he sent me back that verse in an hour something crazy.”
By careering through the history of hip hop, and by teaming up with a different rapper on each track, Odhran was conscious that would have a bearing on the final album which he describes as “a mixtape”.
“It’s a lot of disjointed tracks, there’s no cohesion between each one, you go from very old school beats to kind of trappy beats, which is fine.
“If someone listens to a track and finds an artist that they like on the project then that was good enough for me – if they discovered a new rapper that they hadn’t heard before, then that was my goal.”
Does he see himself establishing his own distinct sound with future releases?
“To be honest I’m happy with being seen as promoting authenticity and sincerity, more so than having a distinct sound.
“I wouldn’t like to pigeon hole myself in any particular genre. Just starting out as a producer I think it’s best for me to go in every direction and then settle down on something further down the line. At the minute I’m happy making a bit of everything - having my fingers in every pie.”