The Representation of Ireland in Literature and Media of Hip-hop Artist Jun Tzu. An Analysis of the Song "The Bridge"

Term Paper, 2016

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Irish Rapper Jun Tzu

3. The Representation of Northern Ireland in “The Bridge”

4.1. Literature and Media in the Song
4.2. Representation in the Lyrics (Literature)
4.2.1. “The Crossing” ‒ Report
4.2.2. Conclusion and Vision
4.3. Representation in Spoken Word (Media)
4.3.1. Accent
4.3.2. Voice Samples

5. Conclusion/Summary of Results

6. Sources

7. Attachments
Attachment 1: Lyrics to “The Bridge

1. Introduction

I don’t support Celtic, I don’t support Rangers.

I just support myself and I don’t wanna be famous.

I don’t wanna be William and I don’t wanna be Seamus

and I’m not gonna make a million, ‘cause my music’s not brainless.

Jun Tzu (BBC, 2012, 17:58-18:10)

Irish Rap. This term alone might take the reader a while to fully grasp ‒ and hopefully not much longer to acknowledge. Indeed, the worldwide phenomenon of rap, the musical and vocal element of the hip-hop culture, also has inspired artists on the green isle. As Mitchell states: “Hip-hop and rap cannot be viewed simply as an expression of African American culture; it has become a vehicle for global youth affiliations and a tool for reworking local identity all over the world.” (Mitchell, 2001, pp. 1f) Out of a number of Irish artists, a rapper called Jun Tzu has gained popularity over the last years reflecting Northern Irish history in his lyrics.

Literature on modern British and especially Irish rap is scarce. Hip Hop culture in Ireland might have existed for one or two decades, but before viral distribution via the internet, it was probably too unknown to be dealt with in a book. There are indeed publications that cover rap outside of the US, such as Rap: More Than Words (Kimminich, 2004) or Global Noise (Mitchell, 2001) and they are covering countries all around the world (including the UK) but are probably too old to know the still young phenomenon of Irish rap music. Rap in Ireland is said to have become a growing cultural movement during the recession in and around 2010. (Peter Coulter, 2012, l. 3) Kimminich’s book for example was published in 2004 and is not covering Irish rap music, neither does Mitchell’s.

Today, Irish rap music is known by a broader audience than ever before. The reason is the online video platform Youtube. Over the last years, it became appealing to a mainstream audience and changed marketing and presentation habits drastically. With over 100 hours of uploaded video material per minute and more than two billion video views per day, the video portal nowadays gives artists a platform to be heard and seen on, that has never before existed. Understandably, this has changed and – through faster distribution – accelerated cultural development when it comes to rap. Artists can react to other artists’ works faster than 15 years ago and musicians do not need to publish their music by releasing a CD via a company. The probably most important effect of all: as soon as one owns a computer or even smartphone with internet access, he has a potentially limitless audience for his releases. This gives a special chance especially to Irish rappers whose music would otherwise not be distributed by big music companies in Europe, because too few people would buy the music and the marketing would just not be profitable. A major profiteer of this development is the Irish rapper Jun Tzu, who became known to a broader audience via a BBC documentary he was featured in, that had been distributed via the video platform. (BBC, 2012)

Rap music generates its meaning not only via its lyrics, but also through its performance and combination with or transformation into media. Today, most of Jun Tzu’s music (and information about him) is being distributed online via audio- or audiovisual media. For this reason, much reference in this paper will be made to video- or audio tracks of the artist. Internet links to those can be found in the sources section in chapter 7. This term paper is concerned with the question of how literature and media are being used by the artist to create a certain impression of Northern Ireland and in which way Ireland is represented through his art.

2. Irish Rapper Jun Tzu

Jun Tzu (whose civil name is presumably Jonathan Hamilton) is a hip hop artist who grew up in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, one of the outskirts of Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland. Born there in “the 80s” and having lived there for the first “seven or eight years” of his life (BBC, 2012, 16:05-16:10), the artist is supposedly born in 1986/87 as he “started high school in the moss side area of Manchester in 1998”. (Lee Henry, 2014, ll. 18f) According to his own statement he was introduced to hip hop music by his big brother. Being Irish made his life difficult in England: He was being bullied by local kids and was therefore attracted to black people with which he shared the role a misfit. (Lee Henry, 2014, ll. 19-21) He says: “I felt accepted in the black community and so I naturally embraced their music.” (Lee Henry, 2014, ll. 21f) Shortly after he turned 16, he moved back to Belfast. Still, many seem to doubt his credibility when talking about being Irish “Some moaned and said I wasn't really from Belfast because I had moved away.” (Lee Henry, 2014, 51f.) In a TV interview that was done as part of a documentary on BBC the artist states: “When I lived in Ireland everyone said: ‘You’re British. You’re British.’ And when I moved to Britain everyone said: ‘You’re Irish. You’re Irish.’” (BBC, 2012, 17:44-17:52)

Jun Tzu started writing poetry at the age of 12 and recorded his first song at the age of 13. Since he is 16 years old, he is performing on stage. His appearance in the BBC production “Rap Britannia” gave his career a major boost and made him familiar to a bigger audience. By now, Jun Tzu has released seven albums between 2006 and 2015, the latest being called “Unknown Ground”. Today, besides being a hip hop artist, he is also presenting his lyrics without background music as a so called spoken word poet and is giving workshops to teach young people about “the power and importance of poetry and self expression.” (Lee Henry, 2014, l. 64)

3. The Representation of Northern Ireland in “The Bridge”

Representation of one’s political, cultural and socioeconomic surroundings has always been a major part of rap music. “Er bezieht sich auf Vergangenes, holt es unter spezifischen […] Akzentsetzungen in die Gegenwart hinein, greift machtpolitische Diskurse auf und an, entwirft und stützt Identitäten […]” (Kimminich, 2004, p. VII)

The artist himself states: „It’s about telling stories. […] It’s about expressing yourself and your community and showing where you come from.” (BBC, 2012, 17:05-17:11) “Where you come from”, in the case of Jun Tzu, is Belfast, a place shattered by segregation and civil war. Northern Ireland with its violent history of the Irish Troubles gives an artist a lot to work on. “I talk about the Troubles because of my roots.” (Lee Henry, 2014, l. 73) Typical for rappers, as Bayer would say. “Die Praktiken des Hip-Hop dienen weltweit Randgruppen […] beim Protest gegen gesellschaftliche Missstände.” (Klaus Bayer, 2004, p. 450)

In his song “The Bridge”, the artist is contemplating a bridge in Tates Avenue that is crossing the peace wall separating Falls Road and Shankill Road. (BBC, 2012, 21:35-21:45) Peace walls are border barriers built to keep the warring communities in Belfast at bay ‒ In the case of the one described by Jun Tzu an approximately seven meters high steel complex that runs along Cupar Way. The remarks the artist makes about it hint towards a similarity with the Berlin Wall from the times of the cold war: “People would live here their whole lives and they’d never know what’s on the other side of that wall.” (BBC, 2012, 21:30-21:34)

It has been made clear that Jun Tzu is using his music for representational purposes. It is also said that he represents by rapping his song about the peace wall. But what exactly is he representing? In a broad sense, he is representing rappers, rap music, the people around him and the full spectrum of his cultural background, because listeners could probably consider him representative for all that. In a narrow sense, he is representing his own point-of-view of the topic he is rapping about. The most workable definition might lie somewhere in between the two. In this term paper, Jun Tzu is viewed as representing Northern Ireland, especially people involved in the conflicts since 1956, as this was the year his father moved to the place where Jun Tzu was born several years later. (Jun Tzu, 2014, 00:34-00:45) According to his own statement, his father had been a convicted terrorist in the paramilitaries during the 1970s, which grants him some credibility when it comes to reporting about personal contact with The Troubles. (BBC, 2012, 17:11-17:18)

His song “The Bridge” was published number 4 along with 19 other songs on Jun Tzu’s album “Belfast Baby” on October 10 in 2010. The song consists of three blocks of connected speech that each last for 16 bars and are divided by 4 bars of pause from the artists rap. Instead, vocal samples are filled in. At the end and the beginning of the track that lasts three minutes and 45 seconds, different vocal samples are played in.

In the following chapter, after a short explanation of what to consider as literature and what as media in “The Bridge”, I will discuss how the song creates impressions of Northern Ireland and which impressions it does create.

4.1. Literature and Media in the Song

So with respect to the main question of this term paper, it has to be made clear, which of the elements of Jun Tzu’s Art are literature and which are media. According to Burkart, media are all jene Medien, über die durch Techniken der Verbreitung und Verfielfältigung mittels Schrift, Bild und/oder Ton optisch bzw. akustisch Aussagen an eine unbestimmte Vielzahl von Menschen vermittelt werden […]. Zu den Massenmedien zählen somit […] Hörfunk, Schallplatte/CD/DVD, Film, Fernsehen, sowie Homepages im Internet […] (Burkart, 2002, pp. 171f)

The music including all their audible information can be considered media, according to Burkart’s definition - and so does literature. Still, not everything that is written and distributed widely will be accepted as literature by philologists (just think of brochures or beauty magazines). But they might agree that an exact definition of literature has always been difficult to make. And if taken into account that prose and poetry are both seen as literature and rap (in his written form) is but a mixture of them both, it can certainly be seen as literature. The artist’s words in their written form – in which they are not being published – will therefore be examined in the “literature” part of the analysis. This isolation of literature as opposed to the spoken word is artificial, yet it is still applicable and will be used in this term paper.

4.2. Representation in the Lyrics (Literature)

In general, rap lyrics offer great freedom of expression and can therefore well be compared to writing poetry. Regarding the form, they are mostly written in bars that rhyme and form stanzas. Due to its musical aspect, rap lyrics also often contain what can be considered a refrain: a part of the text, usually shorter than a stanza, that is repeated various times throughout the song. Bayer distinguishes different characteristics of rap lyrics: a variety of speech acts, dialogue form, dependency on music, intertextuality, the use of stylistic devices and involvedness in a network of media. (Klaus Bayer, 2004, pp. 451-455) What makes rap differ from poetry is that it is highly connected to communicative situation, thus not made to be universal or to be passed on to following generations. As opposed to poetry, it is not made to be read on one’s own, but designed to be performed within groups or even masses of people that do not necessarily need to understand the lyrics. And, at last, art has to follow a certain hip-hop code to count as hip-hop art. (Klaus Bayer, 2004, pp. 457-459) Still, rap lyrics create meaning the same way all written language does. They contain information which in this case forms a fictive communicative situation: Jun Tzu (through the voice of the persona) speaks to the listener. What he tells him, will be dealt with in the next chapter.

4.2.1. “The Crossing” ‒ Report

Jun Tzu describes the way he represents his life in Northern Ireland as the following:

Like so many others from Northern Ireland, I grew up in a family very much affected by the conflict, and I explain that thoroughly in my album without taking sides or showing bias. My album is very much about people rather than politics, and experiences rather than beliefs. (Lee Henry, 2014, ll. 73-76)

In many lines of his song, the rapper acts similar to a reporter. He is telling the listeners of what he has seen on the other side of the wall. With his report, Jun Tzu gives information of his experience in Northern Ireland directly to the listener. He thereby creates an image of Northern Ireland containing all that he describes in his first two stanzas:

- People warning each other from crossing the wall: “Listen son, I’m not trying to be bossy. I’m just trying to say: Stay away.” (Jun Tzu, 2010, ll. 13f)
- Reasons people give for not crossing it: “‘Cause the kids that live across the bridge are wrong godly.” (Jun Tzu, 2010, l. 15)
- his personal fear of crossing it, colourfully described as fear of violence: “I might get beat up, left there bleeding and battered, wrapped, waking up, shouting: ‘What happened?’, knackered.” (Jun Tzu, 2010, ll. 22f)

- and finally his description of the other side:

[…] these streets look the same as mine and had the same kind of houses with the same design. The only difference was the message in the murals and the names of the gangs, the colours of the pavements and the names in the signs […] (Jun Tzu, 2010, ll. 27-30)

As the persona has now crossed it, the dividing effect of the peace wall is no more in the third stanza; Jun Tzu has seen both sides and is equally representing both factions “on either side of the border” (Jun Tzu, 2010, l. 41). He is “seeking for balance supporting neither supporter.” (Jun Tzu, 2010, l. 36) That impression is also generated through the fact that in his song it remains untold, from which side to which the persona is crossing the wall. It is applicable to both protestant and catholic inhabitants of Belfast.

His intention becomes clear, when he states: “People need to understand the truth about the troubles.” (BBC, 2012, 17:27-17:30) And he is presenting himself as the bringer of that truth that would otherwise not be accessible. He presumably tries to bring the divided communities together by explaining that on the other side there are “the same kind of houses with the same design” (Jun Tzu, 2010, l. 28), because he knows: “The bridge and all the walls supporting were not build with only bricks and mortar, ‘cause they were build with evil lies.” (Jun Tzu, 2010, ll. 42f)

Thus, Northern Ireland is presented as a country or culture in which communication between people is hindered through prejudice, fear and discrimination, but where in fact the two opposing factions are more similar than different from each other.

4.2.2. Conclusion and Vision

“[…] and it was then I realised: Maybe all the things I’ve been told about crossing this bridge was just lies.” (Jun Tzu, 2010, ll. 31f) At this point, the persona’s mere description of his experience leads to an interpretation of this experience: The stories about the bridge have been lies. The political dimension of this conclusion becomes clear several lines later:

It’s seeming like the government’s had a plan that they want to war you. They brand you terrorist if you speak the truth but yet if you’re perverted they’ll adore you. It’s topsy-turvy in this new world order. (Jun Tzu, 2010, ll. 37-40)

These lines clearly reflect a “Protest gegen gesellschaftliche Missstände” (Klaus Bayer, 2004, p. 450) or “Protestkultur einer […] Jugend in unserer postkolonialen, globalen […] Weltpolitik” (Kimminich, 2004, p. VII) and are a conclusion that Jun Tzu wants the listener to follow.

The text seems to inherit a vision for a better future – which would fit the political dimension of rap music. After almost all three stanzas describing the dividing line between both communities, the artist introduces the last four lines with the words “But now” (Jun Tzu, 2010, l. 45) which clearly express opposition to everything that had been said before these words. In the last lines he sets hope in to the young generation. The apo koinou construction “Tell the kids to bring a whole new meaning to the bridge is over.” (Jun Tzu, 2010, l. 47) underlines his idea that, as soon as the youth brings a new meaning (the possibility to unite both sides) to the bridge, the concept of the bridge itself is obsolete, as there will be no need for a wall any longer. Indeed, “The bridge is over.” is repeated three times at the end of the song and makes the statement more insistent. (Jun Tzu, 2010, l. 48)

Thus, Jun Tzu represents Northern Ireland as a country of hope and vision for the future and the young generation to overcome the conflicts.

4.3. Representation in Spoken Word (Media)

Language in its written form differs from spoken language. If spoken sentences are compared to written sentences, it becomes clear that much of the information contained in oral communication must be abandoned for it to fit it into a written language system such as ours. There is no indication for pronunciation, dialect, loudness, tempo, pauses, prosody or the emphasis of certain words. On the other hand, if one is to reconstruct speech from writing, he has to interpret the few information available and make up the same things that got lost in the process of writing it down. Whether or not they had been written down before they were ever spoken out loud, it is not enough to just analyze the static, written version of a word. The vivid, outspoken version must be scrutinized, too. In the following, I will deal with the two most prominent factors in Jun Tzu’s song: The rapper’s accent and the sound effects he used for “The Bridge”.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Representation of Ireland in Literature and Media of Hip-hop Artist Jun Tzu. An Analysis of the Song "The Bridge"
Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
Seminar: Representation of Ireland in literature and media from 1900-2015
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Ireland, Jun Tzu, Rapper, Rap, HipHop, Irish, Analysis, Interpretation
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Erik Lutz (Author), 2016, The Representation of Ireland in Literature and Media of Hip-hop Artist Jun Tzu. An Analysis of the Song "The Bridge", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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