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Unless his ability to read the future has reached oracle level, Pat Lagoon couldn’t have known his concept for The Box Room would be so on point. The artwork accompanying the rapper’s first solo EP features the kind of small bedroom that a lot of young people have been confined to as they’re forced to distance themselves from work, education and their peers. Outside the window is a futuristic cityscape bathed in purple light signalling that beyond the four walls is either the end of the world or the greatest party this planet has ever seen. Your interpretation depends on how optimistic you are about coming out of lockdown, I guess.

“An insight into my life and thoughts that take place in the box room,” is how Lagoon describes these six songs, suggesting DIY bedroom music minimalism and hushed introspection. You can forget that. Because though ideas might come to Lagoon in quiet moments, The Box Room is broad and ambitious. There are songs here for Saturday night sessions and Sunday morning comedowns. Some tunes work just fine for both.

From Waterford, Lagoon has spent the last couple of years building his singular aesthetic. It’s perhaps his voice that’s of most consequence here. Sure, he’ll use digital effects when appropriate, rendering his flow unearthly and futuristic, but his natural delivery sounds forged in a subterranean furnace. Lagoon’s flows are deep and cavernous, yet smooth and buttery. And though his rap voice rarely sounds region-specific, Pat Lagoon is a guy who’ll assert his hometown loyalty by name-dropping footballer John O’Shea.

When he raps, “Slowed down like a lagged-out game mode,” on opening track “Problem”, Lagoon modulates his voice to a crawling croon before later speeding up into a double-time rap. The reference to gaming gestures towards the hazy 16-bit blips twinkling under the mammoth bassline. It feels like a callback to last year’s “Game Boy”, one of Lagoon’s best tunes, in which he describes his heart being played with over the kind of sounds that once emanated from the iconic handheld games console.

“Digital Love” resurrects the concept from Roger Troutman’s classic “Computer Love.” In a world where couples living apart are getting off together on Zoom, it’s nothing if not timely.

The most pleasant surprise is “Out the Globe”. Producer LHK evokes the spirit of Neptunes-era 2000s pop-rap – you can picture Pharrell and Chad lining up the sultry guitar riff for Toni Braxton. Lagoon makes Lil Wayne proud by dropping daft witticisms like, “Rap is my dog and I’m walking it”. British rapper BENZY adds to the party, kicking in a verse to “pay homage to my Celtic roots”. It’s the kind of party tune that makes you want to break out of your bedroom ­– at least until the sun rises, when you stagger back to its comforting embrace.

Photo courtesy of Luthorist.

Such is the velocity of the Irish rap release scheduled right now, there is a second recently dropped EP that also demands examination. It’s from the cerebrum of Luthorist, the Brazil-born purveyor of smooth raps, one-sixth of the collective NUXSENSE, a phantasmagorical star in the conversation for best rapper in the country right now.

Luthorist dropped my favourite Irish rap album of 2019 in Hueco Mundo, a beautiful collection of sci-fi beats and languid flows. Undeniably vital to its success was Sivv, NUXSENSE’s in-house beatmaker, who was behind the boards on every song, helping to build an idiosyncratic vision of Dublin city for Luthorist to confidently stunt through.

Not content to spend the rest of the year pushing the project, Luthorist returned to the studio alongside his NUXSENSE brethren and recorded a couple of singles that tinkered with more retro sounds. “PRT-LUV” and “Pearl” are cool-hand throwbacks to New York immortals like Digable Planets, DJ Premier and Lord Finesse. Now, Amethyst Thoughts sees Luthorist forge a new alliance with producer Cyril Mendel, aka SpaceMan, for a more extensive tour of pre- Sex and the City NYC.

Mendel’s decaying boom-bap beats revel in golden age East Coast hip-hop. There’s even a song called “ODB”, presumably named after the Wu-Tang Clan legend. But Luthorist is no wildman rapper in the mould of the Ol’ Dirty Bastard. On the contrary, he’s slick, laid-back, precise. Amethyst Thoughts trades in the classic knucklehead street rhymes with tossed off references to stuff like Power Rangers. I feel confident in saying that you could drop Luthorist off at any corner in Brooklyn and he’d comfortably hold his own among the neighbourhood elite. This is exactly the kind of music you’d expect a rising star who cites MF DOOM as his favourite rapper of all time to be making.

In the past Luthorist’s flow has been low-key and muted, but he’s an emcee of growing confidence and dexterity. Take the single “If You Know, You Know” – every rhyme is sticky and the hook is a real earworm. The equally approachable “Lemonade” takes a weed-session-in-the-clouds beat and finds Luthorist toking up, contemplating the fleeting nature of life, “spitting fire like Spyro”.

The best song might be “Golden Shackles”. With an instrumental that’s jazzy and surly, Luthorist’s headphones-under-a-hoodie style gives you something totally different to Lagoon’s more speaker-suitable bops. What links both releases is that they are statements from two young virtuosos determined to show and prove; turn up and throw down. Give the pair their due credit for distinguishing themselves in Irish rap’s crowded field.

Pat Lagoon’s The Box Room and Luthorist’s Amethyst Thoughts are out now.

Dean Van Nguyen

Dean Van Nguyen is a cultural critic and music journalist for The Irish Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, Bandcamp Daily and Wax Poetics, among others. As well as pop culture, he writes about identity, youth,...

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