Logi Pedro Stefánsson has been deeply entrenched in the Icelandic music scene since he was just a kid. In 2006— at the tender age of fourteen—he performed at his first Iceland Airwaves festival, playing bass with Retro Stefson, the band he founded with his brother Unnsteinn and their friends. Now 23, Logi makes for a very youthful veteran, having toured the world over and released several hit records with Retro Stefson.
Alongside his work with the band, Logi has in recent years built a solid reputation as a champion and pioneer of Icelandic hip-hop, producing beloved tracks for some of the scene’s frontrunners and masterminding two successful projects—Young Karin and Sturla Atlas—in-between regular DJ gigs at Prikið. In light of all this, it’s fairly safe to say that Logi has had quite an impact on Iceland’s current hip-hop scene, helping bring it to its current shape, form and prominence.
We called him up and asked him to give us some insight into the sudden hip-hop explosion we’ve been enjoying—where it comes from; where it’s going, and where it’s at right now.
On the sudden hip-hop revolution, hip-hop then and now.
I was about fifteen when I started making instrumental mixtapes and posting them on my MySpace page. That was in 2007. I was into graffiti and hip-hop, and as most people know those two art forms are fairly connected. ‘Bentsborð’, an Icelandic hip-hop forum run by Bent of XXX Rottweiler also played a large role in introducing me to the hip-hop world, and that’s where I first got to know some of the guys I’ve worked with since. I’m also in an Internet Illuminati type-cult that derived from Bentsborð, but that’s super secret.
Hip-hop in general has changed a lot since 2007, and I think it’s mostly thanks to the Internet. The genre doesn’t have borders anymore, and it’s become a lot more widespread than many people realize. People might wonder how I went from making music with Retro Stefson to making music for Sturla Atlas, but the thing they don’t realize is that some of Retro Stefson’s instrumentation was always pure hip-hop; Take “Solaris,” for example. The fact is that all of my productions have hip-hop based ideas in them, whether it’s for GusGus or Skítamórall.
Iceland Airwaves 2015 was my tenth time playing the festival, so I’ve been at an advantage to observe the local scene develop over the past decade. I’ve also become a sort of consultant for the festival regarding its hip-hop bookings—when they brought up names like Skepta and JME for this year, it just felt very right.
One of the most famous artists at the moment is Drake, and one of the reasons for this is that he has, through his style and approach, contributed towards changing rap’s image—he raps about his feelings, and people can connect to that. I’m also quite sure that growing up in middle class Toronto isn’t that different from growing up in middle class Europe. Rap music became more universally understood and approved with people connecting more to the lyrics. I don’t think rap is going anywhere, and I definitely believe my generation will still be listening to hip-hop in the future.
On international prospects
Sturla Atlas started off without a thought-out concept. We had a studio and some music to work with, and the rest just came naturally. The songs don’t feature English-language lyrics for business purposes—it just felt natural at the time, and, of course, they can reach a wider audience. Every member of the band has lived abroad at some point, so we’re used to communicating in English. I personally prefer writing lyrics in English.
The language an artist chooses to perform in does play a big role in forming his or her image, but it’s not the biggest aspect, as far as I’m concerned. Personally, I don’t find the lyrical element to be the most crucial part of a song, but rather the vibe and the aesthetic aspect. i-D Magazine recently featured us as one of ‘seven Icelandic hip-hop acts to get to know’, and we’ve gotten a bunch of messages from non-Icelanders saying that they like our stuff.
On non-Icelanders and Icelandic hip-hop
I, for example, listen to Korean and Japanese rap—shout out to Keith Ape. If the rap sounds good, the lyrics don’t necessarily matter.
People are starting to focus more in the performance, the energy and overall image. English-speaking audiences might relate to Sturla Atlas because they understand the lyrics we’re singing, but also because they feel the energy we exude while performing and the image we portray.
Icelandic rap is beautiful. It just sounds really good, which is why I think non-Icelandic speakers are enjoying it as well. I mean, the crowds at Iceland Airwaves proved that they do. Gísli Pálmi showed me some songs the other day where he mixed Icelandic slang with English lyrics. It was beautiful. It made sense. It felt natural.
On the question of cultural appropriation
It’s all about the internet, I would say. People have been fed with all kinds of music from different cultures without perhaps knowing where it comes from, and research is crucial.
I’ve gotten comments on Sturla Atlas, saying that it’s cultural appropriation. It doesn’t really make sense to me that someone would find my making hip-hop music disrespectful to people of my own ethnicity. I’m a half-African immigrant, and find it condescending when people try to tell me what should offend me.
The Sturla Atlas song “San Francisco” is, for example, based on Sturla’s experience in San Diego, at his uncle’s farm, shooting guns. Finding cultural appropriation in that song just doesn’t make any sense to me, but of course playing with words and poetic license is crucial in song writing.
Still, it’s an important discussion to have, and people should be aware of the concept and its various pitfalls. However, you shouldn’t have to be from a specific geographical area to make a certain kind of music. We should emphasize the art itself and its merits, rather than focusing on the artists’ origin.
Therefore, I find it OK for Icelandic people to make hip-hop music, as long as they aren’t stealing music or experiences from someone of another culture, who is perhaps at a disadvantage, and benefitting without giving proper credit. Instead of rapping about the subject-matters of your idols, which you perhaps have no connection to or understanding of, you should rather infuse your art with your own outlook and experiences.
This is basic stuff. I wouldn’t wear a Native American headdress, but of course I’ll produce hip-hop music.
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