Before Hæsta Hendin, before XXX Rottweilarhundar, even before Quarashi, there was an Icelandic kid living in Sweden who heard hip-hop for the first time and inadvertently became the predecessor of them all.
Having become a producer by the age of 12, Maximum returned to Iceland and joined forces with Brooklyn-born Antlew to form his own hip-hop outfit in 1997. Although largely unknown to the rest of the country until 1999, their music would become the inspiration for nearly every hip-hop act that followed them.
Antlew and Maximum write songs in English, saying that “Icelandic doesn’t flow too good, but when it’s good, it’s good. Forgotten Lores is a good example.” The songs themselves, they say, are trying to reach into something outside of the typical subject matter of most Icelandic hip-hop material.
“Most of the time you hear something like, ‘Your mama’s fat’ or some other stupid insults,” says Maximum. “We’re trying to do something a bit more meaningful.” Antlew agrees and adds, “We want to produce something that would touch someone’s soul. Not that we don’t do funny songs; we do. We’re not trying to be like teachers or something. We just want to make good music.”
While working on numerous side projects with other musicians in Iceland, Sweden and England both inside and outside of hip-hop, Maximum and Antlew are still focussed on trying to change the Icelandic hip-hop scene for the better.
“The radio DJs play stuff like ‘All I wanna do is hit the pussy’ because their listeners are 15 or younger,” says Antlew, who for a time ran his own hip-hop program on Icelandic radio but was dismissed because the show was entirely in English. “But I think these same kids would like our material. For example, we have a song called ‘Ég Skil,’ which is about how a ghetto is a ghetto no matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Brooklyn or Reykjavík; there are always going to be these beat-down neighbourhoods.”
Apart from the approach to hip-hop that the duo is taking (and the thankful inclusion of a lyric sheet), they also want to be sure that the hip hop scene in Iceland doesn’t mimic the US.
“Clubs in the US used to play music passed between artists and listeners,” says Antlew, “but today they just play radio stuff. Clubs in Iceland are starting to head in that direction. If Icelandic clubs start ignoring good musicians who don’t get radio play, what then?”