Coolock’s RikShaw Makes Catchy Rap Songs for the Summer

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, race relations and Dublin.


It’s past time that I wax lyrical about RikShaw, a rapper who has ostensibly set himself the task of creating Coolock’s catchiest songs by closely hugging ratchet music, a club-friendly sub-genre of West Coast rap pioneered by DJ Mustard about a decade ago.

An early showcase of RikShaw’s interpretation came in 2019. The six-track Junk Food EP featured fluid raps and killer one-liners over clean basslines and melodic keyboard riffs. The title suggests empty calories, but making music this infectious, this seemingly effortless, is a skill few are blessed with.

I’ve since kept my ears open for RikShaw’s loosies. There’s the irresistible “Like That”, which finds him flexing his money stack, paying tribute to North Dublin, and asserting a little rapping white-boy persona: “I’ve got watches don’t fit me because my wrists too skinny.” In 2020 there was “Bounce”: the sound of a ticking clock doesn’t just reflect the symmetrical feel of ratchet music, it sets the tone for a song about keeping things moving and sliding from one experience to the next. It’s music with a sleakness, made to engage the brain’s pleasure centres, every bar sounding like it could be repurposed as a chorus.

This year has seen a stepping up in both RikShaw’s output and evolution. His EP Damage Control was released in May and he has quickly followed it up with a three-song project, Limited Edition, due for release on 15 July. The first thing to say about these twin releases is that they’re nothing alike. With its warped vocals and sludgy electric guitars, Damage Control represents RikShaw’s sharpest turn yet as he experiments in a more emo rap style. Project opener “Sick & Tired” is said to take inspiration from both 18-year-old Australian artist Kid LAROI and Californian 24kGoldn, though to my ear the pioneering music of late rapper Lil Peep feels like the most obvious analogue.

“Too Late” leans on emo rap’s themes of numbing pain with drugs as RikShaw tries to navigate heartbreak after popping pills in a club. He still shows his penchant for melody: “Bad Dreams” mixes auto-tune vocals over a more melodic guitar line, though the sludgy, synthetic guitar play on the title track veers towards Rebirth,_ _Lil Wayne’s notoriously panned rock crossover record. Really, I admire _Damage Control _and RikShaw’s dedication to testing the boundaries of his sound, but in this stylistic switcheroo, there’s the feeling that what was lost eclipsed what was gained.

Now, though, there is the impressive Limited Edition. In some ways this is an EP that ignores Damage Control, feeling like a more natural evolution of RikShaw’s earlier ratchet-inspired sound. “I’ve had a lot of fun with various sub genres of rap but this one right here has brought it to a new level,” he wrote in notes accompanying the release. “I really found a new love of music with this EP, I feel this style is the one I very well may move forward with and solidify as my own. Combining rap with melodies has always been a strong platform for me and this type of vibe really helps me synergise the two. I really wanted to make something more upbeat and energetic for the summer.”

Surprisingly, he also revealed that he had “lost a bit of love for making music recently” and so Limited Edition represents his attempt to drop all best-laid plans and just get back into a groove he was comfortable with. “I wasn’t going for anything specific with the tracks I was just trying to have fun with it and let it flow. It really felt natural for the first time in a long time.” This approach brings back the feeling of levity, but the production is lusher than ever as he upgrades his formula.

The title track includes jazz horn samples, warbling guitar riffs, and the propulsive throb of deep house drums, reflecting RikShaw musically omnivorous nature. But don’t get it twisted: this is a rap song. Those snappy, melodious, North Dublin-accented flows are still RikShaw calling card.

“Déjà vu” has a more Cali summer nights vibe, albeit with RikShaw and his girl jumping into a taxi on O’Connell Street. “Piece By Piece” works in a vocal sample reminiscent of a Moby production, but with a stomping, danceable drum loop. The only issue with Limited Edition is that it leaves you wanting so much more. It’s the sort of music you could listen to every week of a permanent summer.

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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, race relations and Dublin.

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