Perched at the bar of Prikið, I ask the boys next to me if they know Marteinn. Not BNGRBOY. Not Marteinn Hjartarson. Just Marteinn.
“Shit, he’s next level,” says one of them, immediately. “Yeah, by far the best beat maker in Iceland,” his friend says, shaking his head and trailing off: “Everything he does…” They start naming tracks, raving about all of them. GKR’s “Tala um”, the boys agree, is their favourite, but it’s clear right off the bat: Marteinn’s artist name is apt. Everything he touches is a banger.
Earworms and energy
If you’ve heard “Tala um” or, more recently, Ró$iii’s “SWAGA $TÍL,” then you’re already familiar with Marteinn, although you might not know it. In person, he speaks with a reserved voice, and has an aura that is almost inhumanly calm. He immediately strikes me as one of those people that, if they were to suddenly yell, would grab your attention. You’d probably never forget it.
“I started to get into hip-hop when I was around twelve with GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’ and Non Phixion’s ‘The Future Is Now’,” Marteinn says. It’s interesting that GZA was his introduction—’Liquid Swords’ might be one of the best-produced hip-hop albums of its time. RZA is a legend in the scene, and you can hear his influence on Marteinn’s work, which also features eerie melodic hooks over classic head-nod beats.
The distillation of a hit
The first song Marteinn made was with Icelandic hip-hop pioneer Mælginn, but he’s since collaborated with Lord Pu$$whip, Reykjavíkurdætur, Alvia Islandia, Krabbamane, Tiny, and Högni of GusGus. “You have to have mutual trust and respect,” says Marteinn, of his collaborations. Trust and respect are one thing, but his real aptitude comes from his chameleon-like ability to take each artist’s quintessence and push it to the next level.
Case in point: GKR’s “Tala um” and “Meira” take the playfulness of the rapper’s early material, but add complexity and depth. “Tala um” was perky, for sure, but it dispensed with the irony of “Morganmatur,” and showed GKR venturing out of his comfort zone into one where he had something to say. You could say the same of Alvia’s recent work, and Reykjavíkurdætur’s. What’s the common denominator? BNGRBOY.
Marteinn stays tight-lipped about what he’s working on next, though. “They’ll be a lot of beautiful music coming out in 2017, so watch out,” he says. That said, it’s known around town that he’s currently working on an album with Dadykewl—one of the young hip-hop artists featured on this issue’s cover—and also Fever Dream, aka Vigdís Howser. He’s also started performing his solo work more often since he dropped his mixtape earlier this year—his show at Solstice was lit. But fittingly, Marteinn also stays tight-lipped on artists he’s a fan of. Refusing to name-drop, he stays coy. “Shout out to everyone making money,” is all he gives us. Marteinn is a boy of few words, it seems—but endless bangers.