Paul Alwright has been an artist in transformation for some time now. The Dublin born hip-hop performer first gained recognition writing and releasing material under the name of Lethal Dialect. Then, at a time when Irish hip-hop remained largely obscure, the three Lethal Dialect albums received high praise, domestically and internationally.
Yet, the man on ‘Hungry’ seems hardly akin to the one on the LD albums. The first album released under his own name, ‘Hungry’ is a testament to Alwright’s growth, both personally and artistically.
Those expecting the sort of bravado fuelled lyricism of the LD project will be disappointed. Alwright avoids the pitfalls of the masculine ego and opts for something more honest instead. The very autobiographical ‘Hungry’ awards us a long hard look into the psyche and history of one of Dublin’s finest wordsmiths.
On the opening track Genius, we’re given a picture of a young Alwright, “Obsessed with his own mortality” and driven by a need “to find one truly original idea to leave behind”. The ideas that underline much of the lyrical content to come on ‘Hungry’.
‘Hungry’ is, in essence, Alwright’s great mural of the world. Every technique and poetic voice used throughout the album all sound out like brush strokes against the canvas. Tracks such as The Auld Chinaman, written about an old pub and it’s regulars in Dublin, draw from anecdotal evidence to show the genetic lineage and mental head-space the artist comes from. Depictions of “Jonesy at the bar” giving any would be aggressors a “Glasgow smile” or the overt corruption of Garda detective David Brown give ample context to Alwright’s formative years.
It’s these anecdotal tracks that emphasis Alwright’s ability as a wordsmith best. hindsight is a gift and when using the past as his source material, Alwirght sees clearest.
It’s these tracks that seems to link the artist to his nationality most too.
There’s something inherently Irish in the pacing and narrative beats of his storytelling, at times Alwright seems to be playing the role of an ancient Seanchaí, educating those who lend him their ear. On a song like The Auld Chinaman, it’s hard to not to be reminded of the likes of Ronnie Drew or Luke Kelly.
‘Hungry’ won’t just settle on tales of the past, most paintings have many colours. From time to time Alwright speaks directly to the audience in the present tense. These can be tough moments to navigate. Hearing you’re own insecurities laid out for you can be a very uncomfortable experience, but that is often the feeling allowed to great art. Perhaps that is why Alwirght straight up apologises to us, “the average joe”, at the start of One Life.
It’s in this song that Alwright appeals to the higher potential of everyday people, “Aim for the clouds and at the very least you’ll touch the sky”. It feels like an apt time for a song like this to be made by and Irish citizen. At a time when political consciousness is blossoming throughout the nation, Alwright seems to have his finger directly on it’s pulse. Alwright’s attacks on the Irish dependency on alcohol, adherence to a preconditioned life path and “the standards that you [the audience] stand for” all scream of an artist frustrated with the people around him.
There is no doubt though, that this frustration is born out of love and not from self righteousness. If Alwright is asking more from us, it’s because he believes we owe it ourselves. The closing motif on One Life is inspired.”Those moments when you tried, when doubt subsided and fear pushed aside, that was when you looked alive”.
Some will find the very overt and, from time to time, heavy handed messages behind ‘Hungry’ unappealing. It’s not a nuanced album, but it doesn’t aspire to be so. Alwright doesn’t attempt to hide underneath metaphor, nor does he ever shy away from the point. If ‘Hungry’ can be considered a statement, Alwright is trying to make it as clear as possible.
Take Seeds Of Doubt, the most personal song on the album. In some ways a statement of intent and in another sense Alwright’s marker of self progression. It’s worth thinking about just who the ‘they’ in the first half of the song refers to, maybe it is a straight up account of the people who’ve doubted Alwright over the years, maybe it refers to the negative voices in his own head.
‘Hungry’ is, after all, a very brave album from the former Lethal Dialect man. It’s a comprehensive message. If the music is anything to go by, Paul Alwright has come a long way since those early releases. The music is much the better for it too.