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'Whether you find the Dublin hip hop duo funny or not, there's no excuse for Versatile's racist lyrics'

If you think Versatile’s work is satirical, you probably don’t understand satire.

IF YOU HAVEN’T heard of Dublin hip hop duo Versatile yet, they’re a pair of lads who have been packing out tents at Irish festivals all summer. 

One of their most recent singles, ‘Ketamine’, is nearing 2 million views on YouTube, but if you haven’t listened to that yet, it’s likely that you’ll recognise their voices from those Lifestyle Sports ads about hairy ankles. 

Source: Life Style Sports/YouTube

Versatile’s performance at Electric Picnic was lauded by many. The Irish Times called the pair of them ‘explosive’ and said that they outshone Kendrick Lamar’s mainstage set when they took over the Electric Arena. 

There’s no denying that the audience at Life Festival absolutely lost it when Versatile performed ‘Ketamine‘ back in June. There’s plenty of footage from the gig to illustrate that fact.

Source: OUTBURST PAL/YouTube

It’s very obvious from the lyrical content of their tunes ‘Ketamine‘ and ‘We Sell Brown‘ that rappers Caspar Walsh and Eskimo Supreme are taking the piss. 

Their fans either like them because they think lyrics like “We dished out the most brown in the country / We’re the reason your ma’s a fat junkie” are hilarious and shocking, or because they see some kind of satirical value in the lyrics. 

Sure, the former justification for enjoying Versatile’s music is fine, if you have the sense of humour of a fourteen year old who is desperate to be edgy. However, if you try brush off what they do as satire, then you probably don’t have a very good understanding of what satire is supposed to do.

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When I say Garda you say rats 😎 ha yas legends

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I’m not going to sit here and write an explainer on how satire works, but as the the old saying goes it “should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.” The point of satire is to challenge the more powerful members of society.

Sure, they’re taking the piss out of drug dealers who seemingly have no consciences, but in doing so they’re normalising the use of words like “junkie” that completely dehumanise individuals suffering with drug addiction.

These are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the country, but hey, it’s funny to use words that condition us to believe drug addicts lives are worthless but only when you’re at a festival, out of your face, singing along to Versatile’s set. 

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Sorry babies x

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Whether you agree with that point or not, there’s no denying that the racism and homophobia in their other songs is completely gratuitous. 

In their 2017 single, Scorching Again, the word f*ggot is needlessly dropped at the end of the song. The exact same point could have been made without using and normalising a homophobic slur which many fans will happily repeat without a second thought.

If you were shocked by the racist joke printed in the Tralee Advertiser over the weekend (which subsequently went viral), then there’s no way you can defend the lyrics of Versatile’s ‘Dublin City G’s‘. As you can see in this screenshot from Rap Genius, the second verse of the song is not only crude, but also inexcusably racist. 

PastedImage-11935 Source: Rap Genius

In just a few lines, they manage to objectify black women in a pretty disgusting manner, spout off some lazy racial stereotypes and fetishise black men, too. But hey! It’s okay to do that once you explain to everyone that it’s just satire and they are only offended because they don’t understand it. Go outside and use a racist or homophobic slur, then defend yourself by saying it’s just satire and see where that gets you.

There’s a line from the latest season of Bojack Horseman which probably applies to the personas that Versatile are portraying in their music. 

You’re not supposed to like John Philbert or agree with the things he does. It’s a TV show. It doesn’t glamorise anything. But maybe it normalises it. 

Yeah, you’re probably not going to watch a Versatile music video and come away thinking “Oh, they were two sound lads.” In fact, you might actively think the opposite. You’ll either be annoyed by the carry-on out of them, or find it a little humorous. But if you’re singing along and repeating those lyrics, you’re normalising some of these very ugly sentiments that are supposed to be “jokes”. 

It’s only a matter of time before we receive a response to this criticism, claiming that this is “typical Irish begrudgery” and that we hate to see our own succeed. In the case of Irish hip hop, that’s simply not the case. There are plenty of brilliant Irish rappers and producers who have released some excellent work over the last couple of years. 

Rejjie Snow, Rusangano Family and Super Silly have managed to churn out some serious tunes without being even vaguely problematic.

Source: jafarismusic/YouTube

Jafaris went all out for his last music video for the song ‘Found My Feet‘ and hasn’t received anywhere near enough recognition for doing so (the video has just under 20k views – he literally jumped out of an airplane to make this video). Besides the effort put into the video, it’s just a really good song. 

Dublin rapper Kojaque released his flawless debut album Deli Daydreams at the start of the year, and somehow, he managed to go eight entire songs without resorting to racism, sexism and homophobia for a few cheap laughs. 

Source: KOJAQUE/YouTube

I could go on and on. Begrudgery isn’t the issue here. There are plenty of young Irish artists, groups and bands who I’ll happily admit deserve the success and recognition they receive. Versatile just aren’t one of them. 

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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