There were a few surprised faces amongst the Irish hip-hop scene when Bobby Basil, real name Isaac Nelson, dropped his latest record; a record that he shares his birth name with. The Shankill bred artist had previously flirted with an angrier sound. Replacing what the he calls “misogynistic, anti-women, anti-ex music” is a blend of sad trap, contemporary pop and auto-tuned romanticism that symbolises a paradigm shift in his attitude towards women, and inspired by a tale of an old flame burning bright once more.
Listening to Eminem’s explicit ‘Stan’ and obsessing over Craig David’s ‘Born To Do It’ at the age of four, Bobby would later be introduced to 50 Cent and G-Unit by a friend called Patrick (who happens to be the older brother of Soft Boy Records associate Luka Palm) before unearthing the first real Irish rapper the artist respected – Nu-Centz. Bobby actually had to stop listening to hip-hop altogether at one point.
“I used to suffer from headaches,” he tells me, “I got headaches every day for seven years - literally every day. I had to go to some healer person, like some therapist. They told me I had to change my habits – no chocolate, no TV before bed and no negative music. I actually had to stop listening to hip-hop for like three years. My step-dad got me back into it by playing me old Wu-Tang records. This was about 2006.”
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Irish hip-hop, back then, wasn’t as internationally respected as it is now. One artist who aided in its ascent is Rejjie Snow, and Bobby has fond memories of a gig he attended in 2012 where the ‘Dear Annie’ creator was present.
“He [Rejjie] was a big inspiration in many ways. He actually pulled me on stage at a MF Doom gig at The Button Factory with Patrick and we were both rapping alongside him. It was gas.”
In addition to his solo work under the Bobby Basil guise, there was a duo called Dah Jevu. Only a handful of tracks were made, yet the doublets output remains one of the most uniquely distinctive and engrossing within the scene today due to its experimentation of dark lyricism and obscure production.
“That was special,” he says, “we only had a couple songs, but it was special. There wasn’t a mad break up or anything. It just fizzled out, for the time being anyways. We just had different things to concentrate on. You’ll hear back from us next year though, for sure.”
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Onto the latest record. ‘Isaac Nelson’ illustrates a vulnerable, honest and intimate portrait of Bobby. It is, in my view, one of the most exciting hip-hop affiliated records to come out of Ireland in recent memory. Kojaque’s ‘Deli Daydreams’ received plaudits from critics far and wide when it came out last year, and rightly so. ‘Isaac Nelson’ is the same beast, just with a different face.
“I always had this emotional side to me, but I found it hard to tap into it,” he says. “The album is inspired by a true story – Angela and I. We were with each other for a year, broke up for a year and ended up back together. I guess there were few things going on in my life at that stage. You know when you have one of those honest conversations with a family member? And your whole paradigm shifts?”
“That’s when I made the video for ‘I Don’t Get Enough’. I’d recorded the track before, but with the video I had myself symbolically running away from this toxic outlook I had had on everything. It made me feel nice. There were a lot of sad songs on the new record, but a lot of hopeful ones too. It’s a good balance. Romanticism is very heart achy, but I think it’s something I had to go with at the time. I think some people weren’t expecting it, or weren’t ready for it, but I think it came out well.”
Showcasing a versatility, vulnerability and open mind, Bobby has emerged as one of the emerald isles brightest talents. There are a few singles in the pipeline, but for now you can catch him sharing the stage with AJ Tracey, IAMDDB and many more at Summer Well Festival in Romania in August.
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Words: Andrew Moore
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