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It takes supreme confidence to name yourself The Expert, a descriptor typically reserved for introducing scientists derided by right-wing politicians, and Mastermind contestants. But it’s the chosen nom de plume of Cian Galvin, veteran of the Dublin rap scene, probably best known at home for being the beatmaker in Messiah J & The Expert, an archetypical rapper-producer double act who operated in the 2000s.
That project appears to have folded, but The Expert has stayed active by putting out instrumental albums Dynamic Drift (2015) and Excursions (2019). And now there is the impressive The Overview Effect, released in May, which teams him with a new co-conspirator: Cincinnati via Atlanta rapper Jermiside.
Irish rap is typically an insular operation. With the notable exception of some highly successful Ireland-UK drill music team-ups, few artists look abroad for collaborators or locate an audience off of this island. There has, however, been some worthy intercontinental rap forged with American cousins in recent years.
A couple of tracks that immediately come to mind are Belfast producer Bear//Face and A-1’s version of the former’s cloud rap tune “Taste My Sad” back in 2015 and respected Wexford emcee Rob Kelly jumping on a remix of Sean Price and Small Professor’s “Refrigerator P” a few years ago.
The Overview Effect goes further. Across a full-length album, Jermiside and The Expert fit together like puzzle pieces, complementing each other’s styles as two separate entities that synthesise perfectly.
Galvin’s particular expertise – and he does deem himself an expert, the notes accompanying Dynamic Drift described him as “beat commander and music master” – is mining old music and transforming it into raw, funky, lightly psychedelic rap orchestration. He’s a disciple of the old ways, citing 1990s East Coast sample-favouring producers The RZA, Pete Rock and Large Professor as some of his inspirations.
Add in Edan’s Beauty and the Beat, a kaleidoscopic underground rap classic from 2005, which has been pointed to as a direct influence on the grubby, layered instrumentals of The Overview Effect. I also hear the dusty, Western flick-influenced pocket symphonies of DJ Dangermouse in there too.
The Expert’s sample choices across the album are left field. Beats don’t stay still – they evolve like organic life. Take the song “Floating”. The sample sounds like it was possibly sourced from the Middle East, but tweaked to evoke a creepy 1950s Martian sci-fi B-movie vibe, under which the producer adds some smooth boom-bap drums. Musically, this is a record loaded with ornate flourishes and musical trinkets.
Enter Jermiside, who over the beats delivers a stimulating sermon of politically conscious rap. It’s reasonable to say that few rappers have ever tried to say so much within the confines of one LP.
It begins with “I Love You, Still”, the first song after a short intro, Jermiside’s meditation on generations of Black American pain. “Martin Luther told me hatred was a bottomless emotion/ But tell that to the slaves at the bottom of the ocean”, he raps to open this saga.
Jermiside’s words on Black liberation are distinguished by the scope of his lens. “I Love You, Still” alone references the horrors of slavery, the vapid nature of television’s coverage of systematic racism, and the teachings of Nation of Islam founder Wallace Fard Muhammad, complimented by a bold, lavish chorus courtesy of Libyan-Irish singer Farah Elle. But there’s also Jermiside’s elegant prose. “White noise haunted by Black screams/ Black tears could fill up the Red Sea”, he raps cuttingly on “Black Tears”.
Jermiside is on less confident ground on “Electric Boogie”, making some pretty common complaints about social media – the privacy concerns, the fact that it’s a time-drain – while invoking the name of George Orwell, a writer who is constantly being referenced by pundits and commentators these days. But Jermiside uses retro-futuristic imagery like rocket ships and Skynet, the rogue artificial intelligence from the Terminator movies, to give a fun ripple to his modern concerns.
On “Ecology”, Jermiside sounds the alarm on climate change, cursing the “daze” humanity is living in. Then there is “Bullet Shock”, which finds Jermiside depicting the aftermath of a shooting. The Expert uses some tuneless electric guitar plucks that most producers would stay clear of, but their wonkiness ramps up the sense of unease appropriate to the subject matter. It’s a fine example of producer and rapper in perfect harmony.
It ends with a shot of romance. “A Little Love” sees The Expert deploy some showboating old-school horns as Jermiside tries to do what songwriters have been attempting from time immemorial: define love. There’s the summoning of Q-Tip’s voice from Nas’ “One Love”, inviting some of the legends who helped the pair forge their style to their soirée.
The album might be about our species’ worst impulses, but they find a flicker of light in the darkness. Into the future, a formalising of Jermiside & The Expert’s partnership would be no bad thing.