“I was walking in downtown Reykjavík when suddenly everything changed into this endless desert,” rapper Elli Grill of hip-hop collective Shades of Reykjavík recounts. “Out of the desert sand came a crystal. I drew it—the crystal—but instead it was a potato head like smoke in a pipe and the smoke made the letters Shades of Reykjavík. And I was like Shades of Reykjavík, we’re gonna do something and it’ll be called Shades of Reykjavík.”
A king is born
Grill sits back and smirks, clearly satisfied with his story. “We had been skating together,” his fellow Shades of Reykjavík member Prins Puffin quickly clarifies. “We were like a group of skaters and we started making skate movies and skate films.” Eventually the boys— Elli Grill, Prins Puffin, and SOR member Moonshine—started making sketches and music videos. Living in a flat on Laugavegur, they teamed up with Shamanshawarma, who now makes beats for the group, and Elli Grill’s vision of Shades of Reykjavík was born.
Just three years later, the notorious group is taking off. After a packed performance at Secret Solstice involving live tattooing and a crucifixion, the group recently joined DJ Snoopadelic at his Laugardalshöll DJ Set. Having just moved into a new studio, they are now working on their first release. But even without an album, the guys have a prolific catalogue. They’ve made more than 21 music videos—none of which could be called boring.
Shades’s most-viewed video (70,000+!), “Macaulay Culkin,” shows the boys wearing spooky face paint with Illuminati symbols. They eat ice cream and roll joints in a smoky house covered in fluorescent paint. This is hardly their weirdest, though. In other Shades videos, rappers eat sushi on a speedboat, and perform Satantic rituals in Hallgrímskirkja.
Irony and ~confusion~
But while some of these sound like typical rap clichés, there’s an irony to Shades of Reykjavík’s lyrics often lost on non-Icelandic speakers. “We’re always saying things but you can’t really tell if mean them or if we are joking,” Prins Puffin says. Their raps are meant to be done in character. “In music,” Puffin says, “you’re able to be someone else. You’re able to lie.” In Shades of Reykjavík, the boys put on an image that is larger than life.
“I’m inspired by some green elves I talked to. My flow comes from that,” Elli Grill says with raised eyebrows. The boys immediately burst out in laughter. “Really, the fuck am I rapping about?” Prins Puffin interjects with a cheeky grin. “You can’t talk about the lyrics that Elli Grill makes because they are just too deep.” Puffin says he raps with a super-egocentric character. “He’s a dark prince. He has purple blood,” Prins Puffin notes, “and looks at himself like a God.”
Shamanshwarma describes his persona as being half spiritual and half hardcore; someone who will spout philosophy and then go fuck your girlfriend. “Like Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader, you know,” he says. But remember, their whole thing is just playin’ gangsta. It’s not real.
“A lot of the people in the hip hop scene have been stuck in this model of like ‘keeping it real,’” Shamanshawarma says, illustrating their basic ideology. The boys all laugh while mimicking “keeping it real.” “Stuck in Rottweiller mode,” he adds, and they laugh even harder at this. “You know, saying how hard they are, beating people down in the lyrics,” Shamanshawarma explains, “but our lyrics are a lot more humorous.”
However, there is hope for the scene, according to the boys. Shades name themselves, as well as Gísli Pálmi and Úlfur Úlfur, as the first artists in Iceland to make new-school hip-hop and trill music, the first to really expand the boundaries of Icelandic rap. Shades are now focused on evolving their sound. “We make like five beats a day. We’re always making beats,” says Geimgengill, one of Shades’ beatmakers. “It’s like an addiction. I just have to make a beat!”
Geimgengill is known for bringing weapons to performances—not things like guns, but weirder weapons. Like fishhooks. “We always have a lost and found after the show and there are always weapons there.” The group is quick to assure that they’re not trying to hurt people, it’s just part of the theatrics.
“We like to shock people,” Prins Puffin concludes. “But it’s not all about that,” Shamanshawarma says, raising his eyebrows. “If people are laughing then it’s good. If people are smiling, that’s good, ‘cause then they’re having fun.”
Do they have any superfans? “Our friend has Elli Grill tattooed on his ass,” Prins Puffin answers. Elli Grill is quick to add: “He got permission from his mom though.”
Shades of Reykjavík are playing on July 24 at 21:00 at Gaukurinn. Tickets are 1,500 ISK. Check out the full listing here.