All eyes, it seems, are upon London-based rap group Marxman. Figuratively and literally.
The soulful quartet, made up of two Irishmen and two Englishmen of Jamaican origin, have earned the praise of peers, fans and critics for its bold fusion of hip-hop with Irish folk instruments and melodies.
Marxman’s debut A&M album, “33 Revolutions Per Minute,” is a four-star effort in many corners, not only for its multigenre, De La Soul-like vibe but its biting social commentary.
With a socialist view of the world, the foursome touch on such controversial issues as British involvement in Northern Ireland (“Sad Affair”), colonialism (“Ship Ahoy,” featuring vocals from Sinead O’Connor), violence against women (“All About Eve”) and heroin addiction (“Do You Crave Mystique”). The first single, “Sad Affair,” which questions England’s Northern Ireland policy, was banned last year by the BBC.
Considering all that, it wouldn’t surprise lead rapper Hollis if authorities were tailing their every move.
“The phone could be bugged,” the Dublin native said recently from the group’s London studio. “I don’t let it affect me. I live a normal life. I haven’t changed my lifestyle fundamentally since we started this music business, but I’m conscious of certain things when it comes to … you know.
“I think they’d be mad to (bug us), we’re a musical group. I don’t have an AK-47 in the room or anything like that. What they are frightened of are ideas spreading among young people which challenge their authority and lead people to think for themselves. … On that level, they probably are quite right to be afraid of a group like Marxman.”
When stacked up against other hot topics in the world, like the war in Bosnia and North Korea’s nuclear buildup, the situation in Northern Ireland is no more or less important, Hollis said.
“But what I do think is that the British government is very good at suppressing information about Northern Ireland,” he said, “and it puts pressure on other governments, like America, to play down what’s going on because it’s bad for British’s image internationally, the fact that she’s an aggressor in another country.”
In August, Marxman played a show in Belfast, a volatile city many artists avoid. It was a humbling experience, Hollis said, because the group only writes songs about the country while citizens there live with violence daily.
“We didn’t stay in any hotels; we stayed with local families in their houses,” he said. “While we were there, someone everyone knew in the area was shot dead by Protestant paramilitaries.
“This happened only a few miles away from where we were. To them (the residents), it was like, ‘Oh, to shame,’ because it’s happening every day.”
The group is adamant about socialism, a system “based on the needs of the people rather than for business and profit,” Hollis said. But they aren’t trying to shove a philosophy down anyone’s throat.
“Many of (the album’s) themes are universal,” he said. “Songs like ‘Father Like Son,’ ‘Drifting’ and ‘All About Eve’ are written in very humanistic language. That’s how we are as people; we don’t rant about things. We’re not middle-class college kids. We’re ordinary Joe’s from working-class communities.
“We’re not presenting ourselves as better than anybody else or that we have all the answers. We’re just very serious about what we believe in and our convictions.”
“33 Revolutions” already is old news in England. It was released last year, and since then, Marxman have opened for U2 on its Zoo TV tour in Europe and recently for Depeche Mode. Just as the album hits American stores, the group is finishing its follow-up release and planning U.S. live dates in July.
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