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Rapper Luka Palm’s first solo EP is an ode to boys who modify their Ford Fiestas with gleaming rims, booming sound systems, gaudy LED lights and spoilers the size of Samuel Beckett Bridge. I’ve always found the petrol head subculture to be funny and cartoonish. Maybe Palm does too, even if he’s dabbled in it himself.

“I got the idea for Boyracer during lockdown,” he said of his new EP. “The project was inspired by driving around aimlessly with a group of my mates when we had nothing else to do. The title is kind of a playful exaggeration as it’s not really about souped-up Subarus, but more about rallying any cars we could get our hands on, old jeeps etc. Following my recent departure to London, this EP serves as a homage to Dublin and my friends back home.’’

Boyracer is the first release on Palm’s own label, Bug Life, an initiative that suggests he has stepped back from Soft Boy Records. The majority of his musical career has been spent flanking Soft Boy leading man Kojaque, on stage and in the recording studio.

You may know Palm from his appearance on the jazzy “Politicksis”, a highlight on Kojaque’s beloved album Deli Daydreams. (The video for “Politicksis” actually sees Kojaque and Luka rapping in a car with an interior decorated in string lights and flashing Virgin Mary statues.) And there was the pair’s impressive 2019 joint LP Green Diesel, a fresh take on bling-bling rap, slinking neo soul and contemporary R&B that feels indebted to funky chart champions Diddy and Pharrell.

Prior to Green Diesel, Palm released the lovely “Nightlink”, featuring Kojaque and Kean Kavanagh. The song envisioned the late night Dublin Bus service as a setting for quiet film noir contemplation. Four years later, Boyracer is complete stylistic switcheroo; a totally different take on nightfall. Buzzed and propulsive, the EP blends Fast & Furious fantasies with So Solid Crew’s rapid, Knight Rider-sampling single “Ride Wid Us”, forged to invoke the feeling of tearing down a motorway at 3am, street lights streaking from the speed, rainwater kicking up underneath the tires. The press notes even come with a “mood board”, featuring such petrol head essentials as a gaudy chain and can of Lynx.

So this is all in good fun, and at just four songs over 11 minutes – more a short joy ride than the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the joke doesn’t wear itself thin. But Boyracer isn’t just self-aware parody – it also slaps. Featuring production from Kavanagh and Dublin producer Wastefellow, among others, there are shady synths, hard drum machines and heavy programmed bass. Everything feels built to test even the most expensive car speakers. Whatever machine you’re behind the wheel of, wherever the destination you’re cruising to, you can throw on Boyracer and pretend you’re Vin Diesel (but please stay safe out there).

Every song skids through similar themes. On “Wait What”, Palm describes doing doughnuts ­– to the uninitiated, that means making a car spin in tight circles – in a Honda Civic over blippy synths and sinister piano keys. “Need 4 Speed”, presumably named after the street racing video game series Need For Speed, finds Palm spitting about his velocity addiction. “Fanta Red” roars into life with the sound of an engine, with the rapper recommending mixing the eponymous beverage with Hennessy. Palm’s bars are typically short, his voice a little hushed and murky: “Zero to hundred in the Mazda/ With the gang/ What you saying?”

Shot last summer, the video for “Fanta Red” features grainy footage of creepy lizards, shadow boxing with giant Incredible Hulk hands, and Palm spitting rhymes on top of a car and in a lift. No actual driving, though. Luka and his friends’ actual motor skills remain between them and Dublin’s motorists.

Though it’s mostly about cars, Palm peppers his rhymes with references to girls, like he’s always texting some love interest from the back seat. Boyracer ends with its best song, “Rock & Roll”. By now, Luka’s phone battery is low, the signal is poor, and he’s having woman troubles. “Running through the strip with the bros/ Ain’t no signal in this UFO/ Popped out just to get you home/ Now there’s two of us in the beamer/ When I’m with you I feel alone.”

Conditions of the heart at 120 kilometers per hour.

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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