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15th Jun 2024

Belfast rap group KNEECAP earn rave reviews with glorious debut album

Ronan Calvert

KNEECAP have made quite the statement.

It’s rare for any album to win five-star reviews across the board, let alone a debut album.

That, however, is exactly what Belfast hip-hop group KNEECAP have achieved with the swash-buckling concept record ‘Fine Art’

With perfect scores from the likes of the Irish Times, Hot Press and Golden Plec, the Irish-language act have created an important piece of Irish culture; challenging conservatism, celebrating pleasure and dragging the national tongue into the contemporary arena.

So much so that the expression ‘instant classic’ springs to mind.

Based on fantasy Belfast boozer ‘The Rutz’, the three rappers guide listeners through a chaotic night-out of hedonism and mischief.

The opening track ‘3CAG’ featuring Lankum vocalist Radie Peat sets an atmospheric dance scene with a Gaelic twist and it sits in beautiful contrast to the innovative mayhem that follows.

This 18-track record is littered with interludes and samples, including a middle-section on title track ‘Fine Art’ where a news reporter reads “I’m hearing of a burning police car and chants of ‘Gets the Brits out'”. Less than two songs done and the scene is set.

KNEECAP position themselves as antagonisers of conservative unionists like Arelne Foster and celebrate this fact in the most blatant terms on another interlude titled ‘Making headlines’ where a news reader explains: “The West Belfast rap group has defended its advert for the tour which features DUP leader Arlene Foster strapped to a rocket on top of a bonfire”

In case you haven’t been keeping up to speed, the group took legal action against the UK government back in February after Tory politicians blocked a £15,000 arts grant because of the aforementioned poster.

Even the album title refers to that cartoon depiction of Foster, but for all the politics and culture so expertly interwoven through this album, it is truly the boys’ musical talents which have made it such an instant hit in the eyes of reviewers.

While the music was performed by a range of talented industry experts – including Andy Nicholson of Arctic Monkeys fame – the precise musicality of KNEECAP’s bilingual bars continuously take the spotlight.

With complimentary cadence and pacey but percussive deliveries, every song dashes along, never sacrificing lyrical quality for want of intensity or momentum.

Every track is as exciting as the next – some like ‘I’m Flush’ utterly chaotic celebrations of recklessness and others like ‘Sick In The Head’ acknowledging indulgence as a mask for mental issues: “I’m too far gone when it comes to mental health / I’d rather be sick in the head with a little bit of wealth.”

Whether nodding to the Beastie Boys, The Prodigy or Dizzie Rascal, their pioneering ability to switch from English to Gaeilge throughout verses is (obviously) a unique point of difference; one absolutely central to Fine Art’s punk feel.

The kind of thing they were surely told wouldn’t work at various stages of their formation.

And now the very thing that is making them cultural icons.