Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is 'Aaagh!' by The Republic Of Loose.
With forward thinking Irish hip-hop finally finding its critical and commercial footing, it's easy to forget that until very recently the genre was almost entirely absent from mainstream radio.
Irish rappers of a certain vintage will recall an era where divulging their choice of craft was almost exclusively met with ridicule and derision - BBC Three even got in on the act with their ruthlessly edited documentary ‘Irish Rappers Revealed’ showing a distinct lack of sympathy for the plight of recession era Irish MCs.
Republic of Loose’s idiosyncratic blend of funk, soul and hip-hop received a similar reception across the pond with NME writing '10 white Dubliners rapping is always going to sound a bit granddad-at-the-wedding'.
Despite the cold shoulder from the UK press, the group’s sophomore effort ‘Aaagh!’ proved to be a domestic hit, reaching number 2 in the Irish charts and spawning a genuine radio smash in lead single Comeback Girl.
‘Aaagh!’ catapulted The Loose and its enigmatic front man Mik Pyro into Irish household name status and landed them national acclaim amongst critics and peers – fellow Irish rap forebearer Damien Dempsey described them in the Irish Independent as “the best band in Ireland”.
Prior to our island’s 2010s hip-hop explosion, Pyro was arguably the closest thing Celtic Tiger Ireland had to a bona fide hip-hop star. He peppered his daring vocal acrobatics with staccato flows and lyrics darting between braggadocio and his uniquely Pyro brand of self-depreciation - sounding as if Cam’ron had suddenly been afflicted with a sense of post-colonial Irish insecurity.
Pyro’s persona is perhaps the perfect distillation of the era from which he emerged – unabashed flexes of excess fighting for space alongside a deeply ingrained inferiority complex. At any rate, the looped guitar riff that forms the intro to Comeback Girl occupies the same space of pure mid-2000s nostalgia as RTE’s Fade Street, the SSIA or the very act of flattening one’s sandwich into a panini.
‘Aaagh!’ builds off the band’s blues rock rooted debut ‘This Is the Tomb of the Juice’ and veers in unexpected but often rewarding directions. Break sees Pyro hop on a riveting reggaeton instrumental to wax poetic about sexual promiscuity - a lyrical theme which briefly undermined the track’s status as a surprise hit in South Africa by way of a radio ban.
The album’s ethos of relentless eclecticism is perhaps best exemplified by Na Na Na Na Na Na. The track is evidently indebted to the arms race of sonic experimentation taking place between Timbaland and the Neptunes around the time ‘Aaagh!’ was recorded - but the ubiquitous clap pattern throughout calls to mind the Diwali Riddim that had dominated Jamaican dancehalls several years prior.
The Idiots displays a softer side to the band as Mik croons about a relationship with an old flame who happens to contribute backing vocals on the track. Musically, the track is a wry subversion of R&B tropes from the Fender Rhodes minor sevenths to guitarist CC Brez’s percussive pentatonic noodling.
Bassist Benjamin Loose holds the low end down immaculately throughout the record, perhaps most notably on You Know It, a track immortalised by an infamous Late Late Show performance during which Mik Pyro drops a heavily reverbed microphone. Pyro leveraged his preternatural charisma to salvage things through an apology to “the grandmothers of Ireland” via ad-libbed vocal runs.
In subsequent releases, The Loose would further expand upon the hip-hop blueprint they laid down with ‘Aaagh!’ - ‘Vol IV: Johnny Pyro and the Dance of Evil’ features verses from Irish-Nigerian rap group The Millionaire Boyz as well as New York stalwart and legendary LOX member Styles P. Arguably however, ‘Aaagh!’ represents the best distillation of the Loose’s barrage of disparate musical ideas as well as their most tasteful dalliance with hip-hop.
In his opening monologue, Pyro suggests the album’s title refers to the cathartic release of pent-up frustration accrued from interactions with his many doubters. With ‘Aaagh!’ he certainly silenced any doubt that Terenure's finest could make a deeply compelling MC. The Irish hip-hop explosion owes a lot to ‘Aaagh!’.