Published October 4, 2018
Logi Pedro Stefánsson’s studio, 101derland, is under renovation. Furniture is piled up in the corners. Loose electrical cords snake across the floor. Echoing around the rooms, people discuss video shoots and meetings as they meander about, occasionally interrupted by a singer or beat.
Logi moves through the chaos unfazed. At each room, he stops and explains the thought processes behind the renovation; who works in each room, what it used to be, and what it will be in the future. As he enters the final room, the newly opened 101derland media department, it’s hard not to be impressed, both by him and the empire he’s built.
The 26-year-old is probably the closest thing Iceland has to a music mogul. His accomplishments in the scene are almost too numerous to list. He’s created, produced, or championed many of the biggest acts in Icelandic hip hop, co-founded the label Les Frères Stefson, created the infamous 101derland studio, and, oh wait, did we forget Retro Stefson? If that’s not enough, Logi recently released his own solo album, ‘Litlir svartir strákar’ (‘Little Black Boys’), which took the Icelandic hip-hop scene by storm this May. It’s clear there’s very little this guy can’t do.
Still, in person the artist is anything but cocky. Soft-spoken, thoughtful and, above all else, honest; he’s so humble it’s almost disarming. That said, in some moments, the glimmer in his eye shifts and Logi, the businessman, comes out in full force. With sharp astuteness, he transforms into a prophet of what will be cool tomorrow.
If there’s anyone to bet on, it’s Logi.
The natural tastemaker
Logi moved from Portugal to downtown Reykjavík at the age of three. Not long after, he began studying music, starting with the classical flute and moving on to guitar and drums in the coming years. At age 11, he wrote his first song. “We got an Apple computer then. It had Garageband on it and I started playing around with the programme,” he says. “I can’t remember it at all, but it started then.”
In 2006—at the tender age of fourteen—Logi found his first musical success with Retro Stefson, a band he founded along with his brother, Unnsteinn—also now a successful solo musician—and their friends. “It was really natural,” Logi says of the the band’s creation. “It was a group of friends coming together, and we had a lot of drive. Everything clicked.”
The band, which had an eclectic, almost all-inclusive style that mixed together pop, funk, dancehall and more, became one of the most popular acts in the country. They toured the world, signed with Universal and released platinum records. Logi and Unnsteinn quickly became emblematic figures of Icelandic culture and—more importantly—respected tastemakers.
It was during the height of Retro Stefson that Logi began producing hip-hop on the side, working with artists like Emmsjé Gauti and eventually masterminding projects like Young Karin and Sturla Atlas. “For the first Retro Stefson albums,” Logi explains, “we were always trying to do something new, to create something different. But with producing, I wanted to make music that felt familiar. I wanted to feel comfortable. It was a different approach.”
During these early years, Icelandic hip-hop was underground, having collapsed after the initial surge of acts like Quarashi and XXX Rottweiler in 2003. Indie music—specifically that of the krútt genre—ruled the country and dominated the image of Icelandic music internationally. For many, the future of Icelandic indie looked unstoppable, but for Logi, it was a bubble.
“I just had enough of the indie krútt Icelandic thing. I didn’t want everything to be soft and cuddly and full of nature,” he says, flashing a boyish grin. “I wanted to make cool music that was progressive, and the indie scene always frowned upon trying to be cool.” He laughs. “But they were trying to be cool by actively not being cool. It was so forced.”
And as indie declined, Logi explains, Retro Stefson became the pivotal champion of Icelandic hip-hop, the one that tipped the balance of public attention in favour of the genre. “We were a really respected brand in music and we vouched for the scene,” Logi explains. “We started to record artists and brought Icelandic hip-hop to a professional level.” He pauses. It’s clear the compliments make him uncomfortable. “Look,” he says, “I’d say we gave it credibility.”
The big bet
Then, suddenly but seamlessly, Logi’s voice abruptly switches from soft to strong. “See,” he continues, “at that time, hip-hop was a leading genre everywhere else in the world and I knew that hip-hop was about to be the biggest genre in the world.” Logi, the famed businessman, has finally shown his face. “So we bet on hip-hop in Iceland. And it became big.”
But even Logi couldn’t have anticipated just how big the scene would eventually get. “It’s funny. When we were starting to record the Sturla Atlas projects, we were using the equipment and facilities we had for Retro Stefson,” he explains. “But when I was recording them, I wasn’t using the expensive mic. I wasn’t using the fancy things. We didn’t realise it would become as serious as it became. We didn’t know people would like the music the way they did.”
But people more than liked the music, they loved it. And the rise of Icelandic hip-hop can easily be seen as a mirror of Logi’s activity in the genre. From Sturla Atlas to Flóni to Joey Christ, Logi’s always been there stirring the pot, the silent puppet-master behind the rap curtain.
In May 2018, Logi moved from behind the scenes to centre stage with the release of his first solo album ‘Litlir svartir strákar.’ “It was fun,” he says, of the album process. “It was really therapeutic. I started writing it when I was taking paternity leave. I just had a lot of emotions and feelings that I felt I really had to let out.” He pauses, his voice delicate. “This time though, it didn’t make sense to make other people express them like I have always done. It was due time for me to do it myself.”
The album chronicles a dark time in the artist’s life. “To me, it is kind of a memoir of a time when I was really depressed,” Logi explains, looking down at his hands. There’s no sadness or shame in his tone, just stark honesty. “So the album deals a lot with depression and with me being in a vulnerable state. It’s really personal. It was a difficult period.”
Best and worst
This period included the end of his long-term relationship as well as the birth of his son. It was, in many ways, the best of times and the worst of times for the musician. “During that year, 2017, when you look at it in retrospect, it was like I was born again,” he says. “The most happy days, the most sad days of my life. Having my son was amazing, but the period leading up to it was extremely stressful.”
At his lowest point, Logi made the fateful decision to seek help. “I just had this personal journey. I decided to deal with my depression. I decided to take back control of my life, of the state I was in,” he says quietly, lowering his eyes. While he speaks calmly, the confidence of businessman Logi is long gone, replaced by a resigned vulnerability. He takes a deep breath. “I had to figure out what I had to do to feel better.”
And so Logi’s journey to wellness began. Over the next months, he went to therapy, began taking medication, and stopped drinking. “It wasn’t like I needed to drink,” Logi clarifies. “But when you’re worried, if you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, drinking just magnifies those feelings.”
The necessity of loneliness
Concurrently, he created a sanctuary for himself in the 101derland studio. Logi wrote and recorded all of ‘Litlir svartir strákar’ there, almost completely alone. “It was perfect to do it like that,” he says. “I was going through this rebirth, you know. I had been hitting walls that I didn’t realise because I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t want to run into people. I couldn’t communicate with people because I wasn’t able.”
This put Logi in a strange position when working with the guest performers on the album. “I felt like I didn’t want to share the working space because it was all so personal,” he says. “I asked Guðrún—who performs as GDRN—to just record it separately and send it in. It was a proper solo album in that way.”
It must be said that working in such isolation like so is wildly uncharacteristic of 101derland, which is known for its rotating roster of musicians and friends creating and chilling out side by side. Logi’s solitude was notable, and seemingly eccentric to the others. But in the end, he emphasises, it was absolutely necessary. “I had to do it that way.”
They like me?
“Dúfan mín,” the first single from the album, was recorded in one such isolated session. The song is a calm hip-hop track that manages to walk the line between banger and ballad, neither hype nor cloud rap. It’s somewhat unclassifiable, genre wise, but there’s something in its hard-to-pinpoint sound that just works. Since its release, “Dúfan mín” has garnered more than one million plays on Spotify.
“I didn’t realise that it would resonate with people the way it did,” says Logi. “I’ve been trying to figure out why the song is as popular as it is.” He squints his eyes. It’s clear he’s not being humble, but that he’s genuinely confused by the attention the track has received. “It doesn’t have a club beat and it’s kind of chill, but it still got so many plays. I’m always trying to figure out in what situation can you just blast the song?”
It’s in these rare moments that Logi the businessman and Logi the artist merge. At once, he’s the music mogul, pacing the room, desperately trying to work out the formula behind popularity, and the musician, coping with a level of attention he didn’t anticipate surrounding an intensely personal piece of art. Together, they grapple with one question—why do all these people relate to me?
Locker room friendships
But while Logi’s album is a particularly vulnerable one, Icelandic hip-hop has been trending towards the introspective recently. From JóiPé x Króli rapping about anxiety, to the emotional trap of Flóni, there’s a cloud covering the Icelandic hip-hop scene, and it seems to get darker with each release. So where does Logi, the puppet master, fit into this?
He pauses for a long time when asked. “I don’t know. It’s also been happening on an international level for the last few years,” he says carefully. It’s true—just look at Kanye West’s recent album about his bipolar disorder, or any of Lil Peep’s catalogue.
But for Logi, there’s something about Iceland that’s more insidious, something that incubates these feelings to a greater degree. “In Iceland, everybody knows someone that has killed themselves,” he says starkly. “I realised when I was going through my deepest depression, people were doing nothing about it. Nobody was speaking about it. Every week we had a young male kill himself and no one did anything.”
His voice develops an uncharacteristic edge, like he’s finally vocalising thoughts that he’s been waiting a lifetime to express. “People think that Icelanders are artistic souls that are so in touch with nature,” he says, “but we are pretty emotionally suppressed overall, and we are a suppressive society in regards to boys talking about their feelings. I feel like the vast majority of Icelandic males have this sort of locker room mentality, or locker room friendships, where you can joke about a lot of things but you can’t talk about your feelings.
“Girls are programmed differently,” he continues, his thoughts gaining traction. “They speak about, ‘oh, my boyfriend did this,’ to their friends. Boys don’t say that. They’d never say, ‘oh, my girlfriend did this and it makes me feel sad.’ It makes me feel angry. I’m sad. I’m angry.’ Boys don’t do that.” He pauses. “It’s a core issue.”
The light at the end
But Logi is hesitant to say whether or not he has moved past Icelandic emotional suppression, or even finally left behind the dark period that spurned ‘Litlir svartir strákar.’ “In a way, I have, but it isn’t something that you depart from completely,” he says. “I don’t really like talking about how I feel better, because it always strikes me that when people say they’re a lot better, they’re not.”
His level of self-awareness about his mental health does, though, betray that the worst is probably behind him. “At least I can say that I don’t have the suicidal thoughts,” he says. “I don’t have the depressive thoughts. I feel like when I go to sleep, most of the time, I am just tired and happy.” He gives a small smile. “There is not so much eating me on the inside anymore.”
Of course, the threat of a relapse weighs heavily on Logi’s mind. “The thing is, if I go into a depressive state again, when do I realise it?” he asks. It’s clear the question is not if he goes into a depressive state, but when. “Then I think, if I am feeling happy right now, if I am up, I must go down as well,” he continues. “Of course, you have to live in the moment, though.”
The next bet
Logi, though, never lives completely in the moment. At all times his eyes are on the future, looking for the next big thing in Icelandic music, searching for the movement that’ll take down Icelandic hip-hop, as hip-hop took down indie so many years ago. Looking for the next bet.
When asked about it, Logi doesn’t answer confidently or meekly. Rather, he speaks like he’s telling you what he made for dinner last night. In Logi’s mind, what he’s saying isn’t a prediction or opinion, it’s just a fact. “Indie music is not going to take over again. It is done,” he explains. “And rap music is not going to collapse. The market is really saturated with rappers at the moment and it’s probably peaked, but it’s going to stay steady for the next few years.”
So then what will be the next big thing? “Female artists that produce and write their own songs. That is just a market that is not being catered to at all,” Logi says. “The music women make really resonates, and young women want to listen to music by young women.”
Immediately, you can see the wheels turning in his head, thinking of which artists he’ll work with next, collaborate with next, or even just listen to. He nods. “Yes, that will be the next big thing.” All bets are on.