Many serious conversations have taken place in a hot tub here in Iceland. It’s the unofficial meeting place of businesspeople, politicians and, now, journalists and rappers. Rap in Iceland is undergoing one of its periodical booms at the moment. I’m meeting Águst Bent, the Icelandic rapper and director. We’re here to discuss his new video, career and life as an Icelandic rapper.
“Whenever I’m abroad and I tell people I’m a rapper in Iceland, they always make a face, ‘a rapper in Iceland? What do you rap about?’” says Bent. “They seem to think you have to be complaining about something in order to rap, but that’s not true. Rapping can be all braggadocios.”
Bent meets me in the lobby of World Class Laugar, a gym and spa, but I don’t have a membership. This doesn’t phase Bent. He just tells me to go ahead of him. The security gates have a retina scan. “You just run through and I’ll come right behind you,” instructs Bent. We make it through the first glass security barrier. When we go through a second security door, we enter a VIP change room.
“Do you have swim trunks?” Bent asks. I suddenly realize when he said “we can do an interview at the spa,” he meant IN the spa. It looks like I’m going in my underwear. Luckily, there are complimentary robes.
“It’s nice to go in the fancy dressing room because you can see famous penises. Famous people are shy and don’t want people to take pictures on their phones, so they always go to the fancy dressing room,” laughs Bent. “You can see Páll Óskar’s penis or Jóhannes Haukur, the actor who’s supposed to be on Game of Thrones’ next season. I almost saw his penis today. I might grab it on my way out if he’s still there…not grab it, but like take a peek, a mental photo.”
It’s one more security door and we enter the spa. It’s a strange place with blue mood lighting, decorative sperm-shaped wall ornaments and benches that look like two asses fused together, a confused human-centipede attempt. We stroll past all this to another door. It’s a bar.
“It’s a nice bar, but they always serve you one drink and then step away,” says Bent “I have to dial them up on the phone. I always come here and drink beers then sit in the hot tub a little bit. It’s a really expensive way to drink.”
Bent sits across from me in a booth at the spa bar. He seems to be constantly thinking and it’s hard to ask questions because I’m constantly laughing. He’s an entertainer both on and off stage.
“I’ve never really considered rap to be music,” he says with a grin. “Some people say, ‘RAP’S NOT MUSIC!’ That’s right. Music is nerdy. Rap is cool.”
The accidental nationalist
Bent released a new single, Baraseira (translated: “Just sayin'”), and an accompanying music video last Thursday. The video contains a lot of nationalistic imagery: the flag, a map and even Bent rapping at the annual sheep round-up. National symbols in rap videos seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment with Úlfur Úlfur featuring an Icelandic horse in a recent video, Brennum Allt.
“Some of that is by accident. The Icelandic flag or the big map of Iceland was in the studio. It was just there when we came. I didn’t have a set dresser put all those flags up. It’s nice to have a little bit of a theme, even if it was an accident,” says Bent. “That’s something I studied in the Icelandic Academy of Arts. You basically do a thing and then afterwards you say, ‘hmmm…what can I say this means.’”
This seems a bit modest, given the polish of the video. I push a little bit harder and ask what he was trying to do.
“It wasn’t about a celebration of Iceland or anything. I just wanted to do something fun, you know? Where doesn’t rap fit in?” says Bent while taking a slow sip of his Gull. “That’s what being funny is—taking something and putting it where it doesn’t fit in, the juxtaposition. In the video, when I’m at the sheep round-up beneath the mountains, I’m dressed as inappropriately as I can be—kind of preppy, posh clothing and dancing wildly.”
Bent is really funny. Almost everything he says is constructed in a clever way, making me laugh. You can tell not just how talented he is at humour, but how important it is to him.
“I try to be more clever than funny. Some people say that clever and funny are opposite, but I think it’s very close—maybe I just have that sense of humour,” he shrugs, not missing a beat. “I’m a grown man, rapping, so I can’t take it too seriously. That would just be awkward.”
Raspy is a word
Before I came to interview Bent, I asked a few people about his rapping and his videos. The one comment that kept occurring again and again was about his voice. It’s got a distinct melodic quality that fits with his music and his rapping.
“It’s not something I worked on. I always had a weird sounding voice. I can’t prank call anybody,” he says with the timing of a comedian. “When I was a kid, I didn’t sound like a kid. I was ten-years-old and had the same voice I have now. It was weird…kind of like raspy, not really deep. Raspy is word, right?”
The beer is finished and it’s time for us to head into the spa proper. I try to get any information about an upcoming album or his plans for the future.
“I’m not thinking about making an album. I’m just keeping my name out there, one or two songs a year. I don’t really make future plans,” he says, drawing out the word “future” for effect.
I pack up everything and leave my bag at the booth and head into the spa to take photos.
“I’ll dump the bucket of ice water on my head and you can take a photo. But I’m only doing it once.” he says. My camera jams just as he pulls the rope. I miss the shot. “I’ll do it again. I want it to be good.”
Check out Bent’s new video: