Motley Music Editor Cathal interviewed Craic Boi Mental to find what makes the West Cork rapper a cult smash
2019 was a banner year for Ireland’s self-proclaimed greatest pop star. Craic Boi Mental (he prefers to remain unnamed) has gone from releasing comedy songs like ‘Polos Is Life’ and ‘Polos Is Still Life’ on YouTube to selling out Workman’s, Dublin’s most infamous hipster gaff. All this in a year full of triumphs, tragedies and a seemingly-endless slew of albums and mixtapes. The man himself hopped on a Skype call with me to talk about the last year, his future plans and every angle of the music.
Craic Boi rose to prominence with viral hit ‘Polos Is Still Life’, gaining recognition from The Rubberbandits and Red FM’s Mike McGrath-Bryan. February’s Cork City Anthems was the first of seven projects, most of them self-produced. At first, it’s easy to brush him off as a novelty act, a fact he readily acknowledges. He’s not going for technical skill and often goes for comedy. Listening to him enough results in a kind of religious conversion, however, as his production skills and laid-back, conversational style come to the fore. The music is something he has to make: “I do it for my own sanity, you know what I’m saying? It’s just something I’ve been doing since I was like nineteen so if I wasn’t making constant music I could probably feel like there was a void.”
More and more often, the comedy comes with a frustrated, weary side. It’s an intentional mix, making the bitter pill easier to swallow: “sometimes people think if there’s comedic elements in your music that you’re not a serious artist, but I think if you’re trying to get a message out there—a political message or a conscious message—you’re more likely to reach people through comedy than being serious or obnoxious with your message.”
Craic Boi’s work outside of rapping also deserves recognition. In response to perceived flaws in the underground scene, he pulled together a loose-knit collective of eclectic artists and producers using his cult-favourite following on Irish music Twitter. That project, ‘Squick’, is a concentrated effort to promote Irish artists outside the standard mainstream: Rural-based, female, autistic and transgender artists feature in the project alongside left-field musicians like Post-Punk Podge. “Every music platform you can think of is pretty much Dublin based, bar maybe Mabfield [an Irish hip-hop podcast] or a few others […] I put a lot of women in the Squick thing because, in my opinion, overall in Ireland, it’s harder for women because the scene is all ran by men, it can be harder for women to break through and be taken serious… Then, for rural artists, there’s the struggle of not being in Dublin where everything is based, so that’s why Squick is for them.” His ideal for the group would be a shared festival billing but for the moment his Pickn Polos Out My Nose tour’s serving as a showcase for the group. It’s a project of passion for the rapper, and he’s at his most forward talking about it, simultaneously hopeful and stubborn as a bull. Even if you don’t take his solo work seriously, it’s hard not to root for the budding collective.
Looking ahead to 2020, Craic Boi’s aim is to enjoy the music more. After online spats with Versatile and popular music website Nialler9, the artist is aiming for a less volatile 2019. The water’s under the bridge, and he’s got a new focus. “One day over Christmas I was completely getting blanked by the end of year lists, someone ran into me when I was at a petrol station, they were like ‘Sorry now but can I just stop you and say I love your music, your music has really helped me,’ and that to me is more important than having your name or anything or any streams or any views.”
Mindful words from a Mental man.
[Catch Craic Boi in Winthrop Avenue on 22 February, tickets on sale now. Bring Your Own Polos.]
[Consultation on this article from Mars FM’s rap show The Backroom. Give ‘em a follow on Twitter @TheBackroom and listen when they’re back.]