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The Irish Times Magazine’s annual 50 People to Watch list always sets aside space for rising musical artists. It’s an unusual thing, though, for one to be featured on the issue’s cover. And yet there on the front of the New Year’s Day edition was Sello, a rapper from Clondalkin, holding up a sign that spells out the mantra, “More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish”. Sello is a solid choice to be the face of what the newspaper describes as a list of “the best young talent in Ireland” in 2022. I’m here to tell you why.
I recently wrote a feature for the website WePresent about an increasing sense of regionalism in Irish rap. With different areas of the country developing their own imprints, more rappers are boasting about their own region’s supremacy, extolling the virtues of their locale, and showing hometown pride.
Sello gets specific about what he loves about his city. Released last year, his single “Dublin” is produced by MaxBeats, who manipulates “The Foggy Dew” by The Chieftains into a ghostly loop, underpinned with a hard-hitting bassline. Sello, part of the D22 crew, only has a few songs to his name, but most of them use classic Irish trad and folk samples. In doing so, he draws strength from greats of the past.
If you’re from Dublin, Sello’s words automatically make your accent thicken and the garment on your back turn light blue. On “Dublin”, he shouts out Clondalkin (or “C-Side”, “where my grafters be”), flooding the screen with specificities: kids on scramblers, 16-year-olds with 16-inch blades, and flashes of violence that occur behind the Mace. Sello’s depiction of Dublin 22 is undeniably over-the-top, but the point is impossible to miss: he loves his village, warts and all.
“You couldn’t last five minutes in Bawnogue,” Sello declares, his voice deep and murky. “You’ll g?t pulled on the 13 bus, truss, you’ll be singing like Molly Malone.” This may be the second-best reference to the mythical fishwife in a song ever.
The artwork accompanying “Dublin” features the colours of the Irish flag, and with far-right forces baring the tricolor in their online profiles and at cursed rallies, I’m reminded that seeing it in Irish rap is one of the few places I don’t feel the need to check it’s not being used for nefarious purposes these days. This is local pride done correctly because Sello’s heart is pure. He deserves his spot on that Irish Times Magazine cover because he’s a new Irish star who makes loving where you’re from feel warm and admirable.
Sello skews further towards the club-friendly end of the Irish drill canon than, say, A92 or Reggie. “Oggy” pitches up between industrial music and Chicago drill, the music wailing like a siren. Here, Sello appropriates the familiar chant and turns it into a hook. The clip, directed by influential scene mogul Sequence, features Sello sipping stout, rapping at the monument in Phoenix Park, and hanging around music-video girls kitted out in Irish soccer apparel.
According to Sello, the theme of the song is Black Irishness. “I came to studio one day with that message in mind as it was a big topic in Ireland at the time about how native Irish are not aware of the layers to Black Irishness,” he has said in District magazine. The presence of guest star Offica doubles down on that concept as the A92 star weaves both Yoruba and Gaeilge phrases into his verse.
Speaking of Ireland’s first official language, the song “As Gaeilge” sees Sello pepper his rhymes with Irish words. It’s a common Sello trait, but here the subtitles on the video highlight each Irish word in green text. Who needs Rosetta Stone when you’ve got Sello rapping on O’Connell Bridge?
His latest song is “Take Me To Church”, dropped the day after the Irish Times Magazine cover. Heavily incorporating Hozier’s song of the same name (shout out to Andrew for signing off on the sample), it’s a change of pace for Sello as his lyrics veer more spiritual than his usual bragger. Showing his talent in an alternate light offers further evidence that he’ll grow beyond any bright-young-thing list. If Sello is to go international, he’ll be the envoy Dublin deserves.