Ten years ago, rapper Dabbi T conquered the underground, but as drugs took control of his life, his career ground to a halt. Now, he’s making his comeback with the EP ‘T’, marking his return to music—and sanity.
The crisply dressed Dabbi T, whom I meet at a café he owns in downtown Reykjavík, is today a far cry from the drugged-out sob I ran into at Iceland Airwaves some years ago. Dragging me into a banged-up car he was driving—because drug dealers had repossessed his beloved Honda—he asked me: “Aren’t you happy we can now go out for a Thursday beer?” The junkie denial is endless.
This was during his second stint at the bottom. He had started dabbling in alcohol and cannabis at the age of twelve, and quickly lost control. He first entered rehab at sixteen, and while sober, his rap career took off.
In 2007 he released the self-funded album ‘Óheflað Málfar’ (“Unrestricted Speech,” in English). Only 1000 units were released, making it something of a collector’s item today. It didn’t receive much airplay, but it took off in the underground, becoming a cult hit among teenagers.
“I was dealing with some deep emotions at the time and that inspired me to make the album,” says Dabbi. “I know I’m not the best rapper. I don’t have the best flow, but I have always written about things that matter to me, and I think that’s what people connect with.”
Now, a decade later, he is finally ready to unveil the follow-up. He recently released the three-song ‘T’, and a video for “King”, which features Dabbi T sporting a tacky ski suit on Bláfjöll.
The reason for the ten-year break between records is that following the release of ‘Óheflað Málfar’, drugs took over once again. And the second time around they were far less forgiving.
The second fall
At his lowest point, Dabbi was a practically homeless couch surfer. Most of his time was spent at his brother’s place—also a heavy user—where the dependence had no limits. With the use came large debts to dealers and, inevitably, crime.
“I used to finance my addiction through petty crimes—break-ins and the like—as well as by being a terrible drug dealer,” says Dabbi. “I used to get really high on my own supply, so to speak, so most of the cocaine I was supposed to sling went up my nose. Before I knew it I owed some scary people millions.”
The spiral seemed endless. Drugs consumed his mind and he was filled with a precarious apathy towards life.
“In the beginning I tried to keep up appearances and maintain the image that everything was fine,” he says. “But taking E and refereeing a basketball game don’t really work well together. So it was actually good when the facade broke down and everybody saw the true state of things. I didn’t have to hide anymore.”
As the dependance grew, the rap disappeared. The next song was always on the way, and the newest verse forever in the process of being completed. But the creativity had evaporated in a drugged-out mind.
For nine years, Dabbi T gave up rap. He was simply unable to write during his junkie years, and unwilling to rap after he became sober. The music had become entwined with an unhealthy lifestyle and his past, and his silence a part of isolating himself from everything associated with his addiction.
“I had to remove myself from everything,” he says. “I even had to cut my brother out of my life. It still hurts. I even stopped listening to music. I used to listen to a lot of gangsta rap, but this time around I just stuck to the AA radio station. The rap was a part of my dark past, I had to remove myself from it.”
This was the antithesis of his first time sober, when he continued dealing drugs, and stayed in touch with people who were still using. He claims that his subject matter has changed as well. Gone is the glorification of drugs, replaced by more introspective and contemplative motifs. Last year, he released the song “Blár” (“Blue”), which takes both a physical and mental journey through the life of a user in Reykjavík.
“I have no interest anymore in praising drugs in my lyrics,” Dabbi explains. “‘Blár’ was my reckoning with that world, and that part of my life. It’s the story of my abyss. The title is actually a reference to when I showed up to a hallucinogenic party naked, covered in blue body paint—a real bottom.”
It is fair to say that the sins of his youth have remained with Dabbi T—his sins meaning not just the drug abuse that cost him his career and laid waste to years of his life, but also the first song he ever released, “Þröngar píkur” (“Tight Pussies,” in English).
“It is pretty awful that when I meet new people, or get a new job, they Google my name, and the first thing that pops up is a song I wrote when I was sixteen,” he says. “Dabbi T back then was a teenage boy under the heavy influence of porn.”
The curse of the song still lingers. Recently a columnist for Nútíminn wrote about the myth of the tight pussy, with the song acting as an introductory reference. Last year feminist rap collective Reykjavíkurdætur mockingly blazed the title into their song “Fanbois.”
“Since I stopped watching porn my attitude towards women has changed drastically,” says Dabbi. “Often when rappers write about women it’s to belittle and objectify them. But as with my new song ‘Hún vol. 2,’ I’m upping this girl who’s got my head spinning, while belittling myself.”
A future without regrets
Today, Dabbi T remains on the straight and narrow. He has enrolled in a programme to finish secondary school, works as a personal trainer, and referees basketball matches—an old passion. He claims that he wants to remain a “20 percent” rapper—approaching his rap from one day to the next, and probing for reactions while indulging his passion for writing.
“Now it’s just about seeing how the reaction to the EP is going to be,” he says. “‘King’ is already on the radio, and if the hype keeps building then I’ll continue. But if it doesn’t, maybe I’ll just start doing something else. Maybe I’ll write poetry or short stories. Who knows?”
Still, there is a clear sense of regret of looking back on all the wasted years, and a period that ended his career before it had really begun.
“I know you shouldn’t think that way, but I do wonder, ‘What if?’”, he says. “There’s also this competitive element within me. So when I see people like Emmsjé Gauti, who was pretty much at the same place as me—we were even in a band together—who are able to live from their art, I can get a bit jealous. But you can’t think like that. You have to live in the now. And that is what I strive to do every day.”