Put together by local filmmaker Chris Eva, 'Bombin'...' is described as an attempt to document Northern Ireland's "...growing underground hip-hop scene, where sectarian baggage is left behind and where the catchphrase is, "It's not where you're from - it's where you're at."
Like many, I had believed for years that there was no scene for hip hop in this country: that the ones who go to see the big rappers who play the SSE Arena have no interest in learning anything significant about the culture they claim to love so much. And, as a result, that apathy extended to local hip hop.
That last statement may be true. But 'Bombin'...' proves that there is a scene for hip hop in this country. And its rich history.
Focusing on the four main aspects of hip hop culture (MC'ing, DJ'ing, B-Boy'ing and graffiti), we get interviews from the legendary Belfast City Breakers talking about how they broke down barriers during the Troubles through being b-boys (there's one tale about a member getting pelted with stones from his own community as he went to a friend's house to hear the just released 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back' by Public Enemy, the T.D.S Graffiti Crew (responsible for the "Teenage dreams so hard to beat" mural which was painted over by the Department of Social Development) and MC's like Wile Man discussing how hip hop stopped him from falling into a life of crime by giving him an avenue in which he could express him creatively.
Moments like this really do hit home just how youth cultures and movements like this can help people make something of their lives.
Slaine Browne from Team Fresh stands out as the most articulate and humorous interviewee (his deconstruction of NI rappers who boast about driving down boulevards with nubile "bitches" is simple but hilarious). He makes a link between punk and hip hop (often cited by journalists and music fans, less so by hip hop heads) and his anger over the turn of events (as documented in the last 15 minutes of the film) surrounding the City Council's decision to only fly the Union Jack on designated days is palpable.
Footage from a gig in Voodoo shows his (and the crowd's) frustration when the lyric "time we took down the flags" is shouted at the band and the crowd. Which brings the viewer back to the original goal of the Belfast City Breakers: no flags, no colours. The only allegiances are to yourself and your crew. Some things never change in this city.
The inclusion of Jun Tzu is an interesting and controversial addition. Described as "Onyx meets Shane McGowan" he has stated that his goal is to "...unite the youth of Northern Ireland and show that there is no real difference between them...I am simply using my past and the things I went through as a child to accomplish this." In the film, he discusses his father joining the UVF, being imprisoned and becoming a born again Christian which lends him an air of authority. However, when it comes to the flag issues, he suddenly becomes very diplomatic (in contrast to Slaine Browne). Perhaps this is down to judicious editing on the part of the filmmakers, or maybe Jun Tzu was struggling to fully articulate himself on the day in question, but it feels very much like he's 'sitting on the fence', so to speak.
There are flaws with this film: there is no mention of female involvement in NI hip hop (the likes of Milliez Rehab for example), its socio-political treatment of the culture as a parallel to the Troubles becomes tiresome after a while, there is little focus on DJ'ing/turntablism and because the director is a fan first and foremost, the narrative is uncritical and overlooks any downsides of the lifestyle.
Overall, this is an insightful and inspiring documentary about a culture that speaks to millions. The closing sequence of Belfast City Breaker legends the Madden twins rapping an old number of theirs highlights the main messages of NI hip hop, the same ones that Amebix and Crass said, respectively: "No Gods. No Masters" and "There is No Authority but Yourself."
➽ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212