"Don't put too much stress on that Irish thing," cautioned Danny (Danny Boy) O'Connor of the Irish-American rap group House of Pain. "It's hip to be the first Irish rap act. People pay attention to you."
That attention has translated into record sales. The group's debut album, "House of Pain," featuring its Top 10 single, "Jump Around," is in the pop Top 15.
House of Pain's Irish "thing" has been hyped heavily. For instance, lead rapper Erik (Everlast) Schrody, 22, is wearing a Boston Celtics jersey in the "Jump Around" video. The group's logo is a shamrock surrounded by the words "Fine Malt Lyrics." Tommy Boy Records even sent out the group's biographical information to the media on green paper. The album includes the cuts "Top O' the Morning to Ya"' and "Shamrocks and Shenanigans."
"It's a way to establish an identity--a gimmick," O'Connor, 23, explained. "We hate to dwell on it. To get your music out there you have to do some weird things sometimes."
Actually, it's not accurate to call House of Pain an Irish rap act. It's only two-thirds Irish. Leor (DJ Lethal) DiMant, 19, was born in Latvia.
This group is more Los Angeles than Irish. O'Connor and Schrody grew up here and were schoolmates at Taft High School at about the same time Ice Cube was there. They formed House of Pain two years ago, not long after Schrody left Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate.
"Do you think people are buying our records because we're Irish?" asked O'Connor. "That's stupid. They're buying it because, musically, there's nothing like us out there."
He's right about that. This is avant-garde, macho hip-hop, laced with solid punk textures, with some jazz and funk tossed in on top of offbeat rhythmic structures. Dissonant horn lines sometimes underscore the lyrics. "The music sounds real odd sometimes, like it's a mixture of a dozen different things," O'Connor noted. "It's because we all have these different tastes. We approach rap from all these different angles."
You may notice a Cypress Hill feel to some of the cuts. That's because the album was co-produced by Muggs of Cypress Hill, a rap group noted for its pro-marijuana stance. "Muggs and Erik (Schrody) got into that weed thing," O'Connor said. "Some of that is on the album. But we talk about drinking, too. That's another place were the Irish thing comes in."
Isn't that playing up a cultural stereotype?
"Some people may look at it that way, but we don't," he said. "Drinking is an Irish thing--according to the stereotype. But a lot of people drink to have fun. You don't have to be Irish to have fun drinking a whole lot. We're not putting down the Irish."
He also minimized the fact that House of Pain is one of the few white rap acts. "Race isn't a factor in rap," said O'Connor, who cited the white rap group the Beastie Boys as a primary influence. "I'm sure people have dissed us because we're white. I don't care about that. If people are looking to create a racial issue about rap, don't look to House of Pain."