Published December 11, 2015
The holidays are here. Your relatives are annoying. Gifts are expensive. We all need something to kick the edge. Why not try some fresh new Icelandic hip-hop?
Yes, the world of Icelandic hip hop is rich and varied. From classics such as “Bent nálgast” (Google Translate: “Bent Access”) to the iconic “Elskum þessar mellur” (Google Translate: Love that’s girls), there’s so much here to explore, especially now that 2015 has brought a wide array of fresh-faced contenders into the mix, slinging their own, unique take on the genre. So put your headphones on, turn your volume—wolume—up, and get ready to meet the New Wave Of Icelandic Hip Hop (NWOIHH)!
Kött Grá Pje
Kött Grá Pje is a difficult name to translate. “It basically means cat,” Atli, the man behind the title, tells me, “then ‘grá’ is just grey, but in the feminine form, and pje is ‘P’ phonetically written in Icelandic.” He stops when I ask where he got this name from. “To tell you the truth, I can’t even remember anymore. I think I was really drunk.”
Although Atli started rapping back in 1998, he waited until 2013 to begin actively participating in the scene. After drawing much notice and acclaim for his work with fellow rappers like Úlfur Úlfur and Lord Pu$$whip, Kött is currently working on assembling his first album—which he aims to finish by springtime—alongside collaborating with acts like Sin Fang.
“The hip-hop scene is in really good form these days,” Atli says. “There’s been an explosion.” He names artists like GKR and Vaginaboys as personal favourites.
“I’m sort of an old freak,” he tells me. “During Airwaves, somebody asked me about my lyrics, so I started going over them systematically. Apparently, eating and fucking politicians is really an ongoing theme with me,” he laughs. “That’s the gist of it.”
(Pronounced Ooh-le-ver Ohh-le-ver)
Helgi and Arnar
“So I was 13, rapping along to Tupac about killing cops, while living in Sauðárkrókur,” Helgi says with a laugh, emphasising Sauðárkrókur, the small village in northern Iceland where both he and Arnar—the two Úlfur Úlfur boys—grew up. Years later, they joined up to form a band that eventually evolved into Úlfur Úlfur.
Of the fresh new hip-hop acts representing the New Wave Of Icelandic Hip-Hop (NWOIH) in this issue, Úlfur Úlfur are the clear veterans, having actively made music together for the better part of a decade. However, they are decidedly new and shiny to the outside world, having released their hit début album ‘Tvær plánetur’ only a few months ago.
Lyrically, the group explores Icelandic reality. “I mean it’s not that tough here,” Helgi tells me, “but the Icelandic people are generally depressed, I think, because of the darkness. We don’t lie about that—or anything—in our songs. We’re really honest.” Musically, their beats are intricate with catchy choruses, culminating in a rap that absolutely transcends any linguistic boundaries.
When I ask how they view the current hip-hop scene, Helgi pauses before simply stating, “It’s beautiful.” He later continues, “It’s such a small scene, so everybody is close. Everybody meets at Prikið. But you know, it’s never been as big as it is now.”
Outside of Úlfur Úlfur, Helgi produces for Emmsjé Gauti and Reykjavíkurdætur—and he’s working on an instrumental album. The band hopes to release a new album next summer or fall.
“Morgunmatur” (“Breakfast”) is the title of GKR’s most recent single, which is proving to be a breakthrough hit for the young rapper. “The hook is about breakfast,” he tells me, “but the track is really about being yourself and doing what you love to do, instead of waking up for something that you don’t want your future to be.” The song feels positive and light-hearted, GKR rhyming over its singsong-y melody with his characteristically boyish twinge. The music video shows the bleach-blonde rapper traversing a colourful wonderland of yellow buses and swimming pools. “Yes, I do all my videos on my own,” he admits when asked about them. “Like ‘One,’ I shot that on Photobooth, and for ‘Ballin,’ most of the shots were me either shooting the video in selfie mode or holding the camera.”
Gaukur’s pseudonym, GKR, is surprisingly enough derived from Counter-Strike. “I started chatting with this guy, an Icelander, and I noticed that his username was a short version of his name. So I was like, ‘How is it for Gaukur?’—and then I was like, GKR!” He starts to laugh. “So really, it all just comes back to Counter-Strike.”
He’s excited about the future of the Icelandic rap scene, he tells me. When I ask him to name some favourites from the scene, he’s quick to respond: “Lord Pu$$whip,” he says without hesitation. “You’ve heard him, right?”
Prins Puffin, Elli Grill, HBridde, emmiBeats, Geimgengill, Lunarscape
“We have really dark humour here in Iceland,” Shades of Reykjavík’s Prins Puffin tells me. “So I thought it was more real to do something with dark humour than, you know, rapping about how I’m super hardcore or something,” he laughs. “We live on a small island. Being a gangster here is not gangster, you know?”
There is an irony to Shades of Reykjavík’s lyrics that is often lost on foreigners. With melodic beats and crazy music videos, you never know if the boys are kidding or serious. The group originally made skate films before they started creating hip-hop. “The name came from a trip,” Prins Puffin says, “during which [fellow Shades member] Elli Grill drew a picture of a potato smoking, with Shades of Reykjavík coming out of it.”
The collective recently released two new videos, “Drusla” and “Elli Grill og Leoncie”—the latter featuring famous Indian/Icelandic artist Leoncie. Both songs are off their upcoming album, which was finalized on the very day we spoke. Prins Puffin seems exhausted, but that’s only natural, considering the boys do everything themselves—from the album artwork, to mixing, to mastering. “We’re even releasing it on our own label,” Prins Puffin tells me proudly. “It’s all from scratch.”
(Pronounced Stir-la Atlas)
Sturla, Logi Pedro, Joey Christ, Young Nazareth
The 101 boys of Sturla Atlas began collaborating together quite a bit earlier than their June 2015 mixtape release might indicate. “Me, Jói, and Logi were all in a rap group together when we were like eight,” Sturla says with a smile. “Last April, Logi and I made some songs as sort of a present for our flatmates.” He shrugs. “We ended up liking them, so I guess the ball just started rolling after that.”
The first thing they decided was that they would sing in English. “We have a lot of love songs,” Sturla says, discussing the group’s lyrics. This summer, they alternated between spending long hours in the studio and spending long hours partying in downtown Reykjavík. “We got pretty weird at times,” Sturla tells me. “You write down some random shit, and it might not make any sense, but that doesn’t matter because, in the end, the whole thing will come together and speak for itself.” Sturla Atlas’s smooth and silky hip-hop does speak for itself. Their beats, overlaid with Sturla’s buttery voice, are lovely.
“I love this scene,” Sturla says near the end of our conversation. “I love how big it has become.” He smiles. “I just love the passion.”
“Elskan af því bara”
The Vaginaboys representative I spoke with insisted on wearing a white mask throughout our Skype meeting. His camera was pointed at an extreme angle, so I could barely even see his eyes. “I don’t want people I don’t know to know me, you know,” he says. “Me, personally, I’m not that into the fame aspect of the music business.” Because of this, all of Vaginaboys’ members remain anonymous. They never appear in public without their patented masks, furthermore obscuring their voices, whether they’re performing or being interviewed on live radio. “We are maybe five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten?” unspecified Vaginaboy says. He can’t even tell me how many people are in the band. “Somewhere around there?”
But Vaginaboys’ eclectic nature goes far beyond the band’s outward appearance and secretive nature. Their take on modern hip-hop is slow, soulful and R&B-tinged—innovative, artistic and entirely their own. “They are mainly love songs, but they have kind of double meanings,” Vaginaboy Ingocnito tells me. I ask for an example: “Some of them are kind of explicit,” he says. “They talk about fingering girls and stuff. ‘Fingering them to sleep.’ That’s one of the lyrics.”
Vaginaboys seem to reside in a world of their own. “I don’t really follow the local hip-hop scene,” he admits. The group is planning to release some songs with English lyrics in the coming months, he tells me in closing, also hoping to play some shows abroad. “That would be a dream.”
“I remember being a kid, and my nephew showing me [Iceland’s breakthrough hip hop outfit] XXX Rottweiller and I was like ‘Woah!’” Auðunn, the man behind Auður, tells me. “I was so surprised that you could say all that stuff they were saying. I was really flabbergasted.” Throughout our conversation, Auðunn continually stresses the lyrical and topical importance of hip-hop. “It’s sort of necessary,” he says, “since everyone speaks Icelandic, for us to have some form of poetry to play with the modern vocabulary.” He pauses. “So you can talk about, I don’t know, Instagram, Snapchat, selfies or whatever and place that into an Icelandic context.”
At the same time, though, Auðunn admits he’s a slave to production. Though his musical roots lie in garage rock bands and progressive metal, he later studied jazz before turning to electronic music. “I am so obsessed with chords and being able to manipulate every single sound,” he tells me. This intricate technical understanding of music is obvious when you hear his tracks: his beats beautifully interweave and play off each other.
Auðunn premiered Auður at Airwaves, shortly after starting the project—which admittedly leans towards the R&B side of hip-hop culture. Auðunn knows his hip-hop though, aptly demonstrating his abilities in his production of Emmsjé Gauti’s recent hit song “Strákarnir.” “It’s basically just about chilling with his friends,” Auðunn tells me. He pauses. “Uhm.” Then he laughs, with a big boyish grin, “Yeah, pretty much just that.”
Members: Þórður Ingi
“Wavelordz on Thee River Ov Time”
“Hip-hop and making beats, for me, is like making a tapestry or collage,” Þórður Ingi, also known as Lord Pusswhip, tells me. “You can take from everywhere around you and remix it.” Absolutely, Þórður’s beats do have a collage-like mélange quality to them. You’ll get comfortable with the song and then out of nowhere he’ll throw in something that completely throws you off. Then you’re back to square one. When you listen to Lord Pusswhip, you never know what you’re going to get.
Þórður started his musical career playing in punk bands when he was younger, before becoming obsessed with eclectic and abstract hip-hop that he found online. He started making beats, rapping, and eventually working under the Lord Pusswhip title in 2010. “A friend of mine started calling me that… endearingly,” Þórður says, stressing “endearingly” with a smile. “At first it was DJ Pusswhip and then a year later it became Lord Pusswhip.”
Only a few weeks ago, Þórður released his debut album, ‘Lord Pusswhip Is Wack’, via Cosmic Seagull. He also recently moved from Reykjavík to Berlin. “This album was two or three years in the making—it took a long time to finish it.” He grins. “Now, I’ll be able to focus on other things.”
(Pronounced Hair-uh Who-too-s-more)
Herra Hnetusmjör is often named as Icelandic hip-hop’s most technically skilled young rapper, and it’s easy to understand why. At the tender age of 19, he has already mastered an impressive variety of flows and styles, often employing several different ones within the confines of a single track, or even verse. His chosen name translates to “Mr. Peanut Butter,” but the rapper is quick to clarify that he decided on the moniker before ‘Bojack Horseman’ (which features a character named Mr. Peanutbutter) came about.
“It’s kind of weird to say, but I never really listened to Icelandic rap growing up,” he tells me. “It didn’t seem that cool to me, Icelandic rap. I actually started rapping as a joke, be-cause I really didn’t like it.” Then he smiles. You can tell his comments are all in good fun. “But when I started getting good at it, I was like, ‘Fuck it! I’m an Icelandic rapper!’”
Now, he professes to love the scene. “It’s amazing,” he tells me, naming Gísli Pálmi and Úlfur Úlfur as his personal favourites.
“Well, I’m 19, so most of my songs are just about being a stupid teenager who drinks a lot,” he explains. His lyrics are funny; he plays on words while rapping about things like In-stagram and selfies. “You know, if in five years I have a baby, then I’ll rap about that—but right now, I’m stupid, I’m young, and I’m partying.”
What’s next for Herra Hnetusmjör? “Taking over,” he responds with a cheeky smile. “That’s the plan.”
Anna Tara Andrésdóttir,
Guðbjörg Ríkey Thoroddsen Hauksdóttir,
Jóhanna Rakel Jónasdóttir,
Katrín Helga An-drésdóttir,
Salka Sól Eyfeld,
Sigurlaug Sara Gunnarsdóttir,
Vigdís Ósk Howser Harðardóttir,
Þórdís Björk Þorfinnsdóttir,
Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir
“My first rap, I made when I was seven years old. It was a Christmas rap,” Tinna, a member of the rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur (“Daughters of Reykjavík”) tells me. She’s since turned to more political topics. “One of my first songs with the group was about sexual violence,” Tinna reveals. “We performed it at the SlutWalk.” Fellow rapper Vigdís shares Tinna’s affinity for tackling serious topics, explaining that her songs, “range from being about love to sexual assault, politics and puffins.”
With seventeen members and a killer stage presence that always draws a crowd, Reykjavíkurdætur are hard to miss, an increasingly vital presence in Reykjavík’s music scene. The girls came together a few years ago, forging their bond at women’s rap nights. At the first one, Tinna tells me, she performed a rap about blackheads. “Don’t ask me why! Still, the audience went crazy—not necessarily because it was good, but because it was brave!”
Vigdís says that while she was growing up, the Icelandic rap scene was completely controlled by men. “They think they are in control, well the men do, but it has changed. More women are coming in with fierce lyrics and attitudes,” she tells me. “We’re gonna rule the world!”
Still, Tinna says the group happily belongs to the Icelandic hip-hop scene: “For me, it’s like an erupting volcano, creating a new landscape.” Bergþóra, another member, concurs. “It’s tutti frutti,” she tells me. “It’s always getting better!”
“The energy and power within the group is totally unique and inspirational,” Tinna says. And she’s absolutely right—Reykjavíkurdætur’s energy and power are indeed contagious, palpable even. Attending their shows, you cannot help but feel included and inspired.
“I used to say I had three brothers,” Tinna tells me. “Suddenly, I also have sixteen sisters.”
Mischief, Mayhem & Hip-Hop With Iceland’s New Yule Lads
The Yule Lads are the thirteen Icelandic Santa Clauses who descend one-by-one on the thirteen days before Christmas to play tricks on Icelandic children. Their mother, Grýla, a mountain Ogress, eats badly-behaved children; her partner-in-crime is Leppalúði, another ogre and Grýla’s third husband (Iceland has a high divorce rate).