It’s tough to call sometimes what will happen when one of the country’s top producers teams up with one of the most creative and thought provoking hip-hop artists one the scene. Results can vary wildly, from Nas’s ill-considered Kanye collaboration ‘Nasir’ to Noah ‘40’ Shebib and Drake’s era-defining ‘So Far Gone’. Thankfully for Irish pair Kobina and MuRli, their brand new project Ra Gerra and its debut album ‘New Vessels’ fall gracefully into the latter category.
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Ra Gerra began as a concept in September of 2019, when Kobina was looking for new ways to get creative. After hearing Limerick rapper MuRli’s new single ‘illegible’, he decided to reach out to the artist and see if there was any interest in working together. He quickly packaged a few of his more hip-hop inspired beats and sent a WeTransfer link through MuRli’s Twitter DMs. Out of fear of rejection, he quickly deleted the app; and by the time he remembered to re-download it MuRli had replied to say he’d already written two or three songs from Spain, where he was on holidays at the time. Within a matter of weeks, MuRli had written to the whole pack; and had approached many beats in ways Kobina hadn’t expected.
“I had a presumption of what he would do and I was totally wrong,” Kobina recalls of the early beat pack demos over a Zoom call from his Amsterdam home, “it was nice, and it also meant that since he liked those ones, I said I’d fuck with him and send him some weirder ones next time and do something you don’t expect”.
“A lot of those beats I didn’t really know what I was going to do with them,” MuRli adds of the early collaboration. “It’s funny when someone gets in touch saying that they think some tracks with suit me because they sound similar to what I’ve done; because most of the time I end up sending back something they never would have expected me to do. With Sean [Kobina], I never would have produced like that and no hip-hop producer ever would have made these for me”.
What transpired was months of Kobina throwing ever-more experimental beats across the ocean to MuRli, before demos traversed the opposite direction, gratefully received at the other end. “The most fun thing about them was that he just sent them back very casually,” Kobina laughs, “then when I heard them I thought they were so amazing that I opened them up and started working on them almost immediately”.
By that time, the pair had amassed a stack of potential tracks, but had not yet decided what to do with them. Was it the early sketches of a MuRli project or a finished Kobina album? The pair came to the decision that they had formed something completely new and unique quite late in proceedings, which in turn took the pressure off the creative process.
“We weren’t looking to tie everything into an album from the start,” Kobina explains, “it was really natural, and it was when we had about 9 songs done that we really only started talking about releasing them together”.
“We knew it wasn’t a MuRli project, we knew it wasn’t a Kobina project and that it was its own thing,” MuRli adds, “so we decided to form something completely new. It felt like its own thing so it deserved to be its own thing”.
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And what a thing it has become; ‘New Vessels’ is one of the most exciting Irish projects of recent memory, as the pair bounce off beats and textures that others dare not have touched. Kobina’s beautifully layered electronic production merges gorgeously with MuRli’s more toned-down vocals; with tracks such as 'Feels' and 'There' proving the highlights across the eleven tracks. The project touches on themes of identity, uncertainty, and what it means to push yourself to the depths of creativity.
“It’s almost like a freestyle album,” MuRli adds of the full length. “I was just laying down whatever came naturally to me wherever I'd find myself writing. There was no specific direction I wanted to go into with this project. We was exploring new ways of writing and performing and this is the result”.
‘New Vessels’ is the latest in a long history of collaboration within the Irish music scene that goes as far back as the early seisiún in houses and pubs across the country. More recently, a new era of collaboration has taken hold across the country, as collectives such as Soft Boy Records, Hausu, Burner Records and hundreds more share resources in an effort to combat the ever-decreasing availability of rehearsal spaces, rental equipment and government support for the arts. Rather than fighting amongst themselves for the scraps, artists are coming together and trading verses for knowledge, vocals for insight and an ear to turn to in lieu of borrowing a drum pad. It’s one artist supporting another, in any way they can.
“We began to see that develop around Hard Working Class Heroes [now Irish Music Week]” Kobina explains of the need for teamwork within the industry, “then you have things like BIMM; where all their students are all working together, it’s definitely pushes people to push for opportunity, and in a way the pandemic has only strengthened that”.
“Absolutely,” MuRli adds. “It’s given people time. A lot of people have other jobs so having a time where everyone is at home; where everyone’s full-time outlet was music and people who sometimes wouldn’t have time to jump on a track or help out suddenly have nothing but time”.
“I think it’s really important in hip-hop in particular, and this is coming from someone who works almost exclusively in collaborations, even in my solo stuff” MuRli notes; “I’ve definitely done a lot of this writing together with different people; because at first I’d nearly do it on drills but now I see that’s nearly all I want to do. Hear what different people bring to the table. For hip-hop leaning people in Ireland, this will be crucial to creating our own sound. The more we collaborate the more we define our own sound together”.
“Every big Irish record we’ve seen so far has been built off collaborations,” Kobina continues, “be it John Francis Flynn or Kojaque, it helps introduce you to new listeners in Ireland. Ireland’s strength is that diversity. The ability to have Lankum on the same stage as A92 keeps things exciting, it keeps things fresh”.
And what could it mean for the ongoing quest for the search for Ireland’s hip-hop sound? “The more we collaborate the more we define our own sound together,” MuRli replies, “It’s very much finding its sound on an international level. We’re on the cusp of a golden era and the next few years are going to be very very exciting”.
As the Irish saying goes, “Ní neart go cur le chéile”. We are better together.
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'New Vessels' is out now.
Words: Cailean Coffey
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