The landscape of Icelandic rap has been ever-evolving since the first fully Icelandic language rap albums dropped in 2001. While English-language hip hop existed in Iceland before this point, the linguistic shift provided a crucial turning point which continues to influence the country’s rap offerings today. The Grapevine spoke with Árni Páll Árnason, better known as the pre-eminent Herra Hnetusmjör, about his style, his history in the scene and his upcoming family-friendly show.
Reclaiming a name for himself
“I thought there was something sweet about using my old name,” Herra Hnetusmjör says with a laugh, referring to the sarcastic rap duo he was a part of at 11-years old. “We didn’t listen to any Icelandic rap at the time, I thought it was horrible. We only listened to what was going on in the United States.”
Nearly a decade and a half later, Herra Hnetusmjör’s name is omnipresent in Icelandic rap—a genre, he says, which had finally started coming into its own by the time he burst onto the scene in 2014. With names like Úlfur Úlfur, Gísli Pálmi and Emmsjé Gauti on the tracks, “more and more people were doing cool, diverse shit,” he says. That same year, Herra Hnetusmjör released the single ‘Elías’ and he’s been maintaining his spot at the helm of Icelandic rap ever since.
Influence, not imitation
Known for pairing his swift, omnivorous flow with relatively light-hearted content and nearly unparalleled technical skill, Herra Hnetusmjör puts himself in a league of his own. “I’m that guy you call when you want to have a party,” he remarks. This is where his international influence from renowned artists like Rick Ross, Yo Gotti, 2 Chainz and T-Pain becomes apparent. “When I was younger, the hottest shit around was Snoop Dogg and Akon,” he reminisces. “I think the music in 2008 was the best music that’s ever been made.”
For his part, Herra Hnetusmjör commands the mic without a wisp of hesitation. This level of melodic conviction can only be achieved by someone undoubtedly destined to fill the space they occupy. Evolving your style while remaining true to your distinct sound may seem like a challenge to some, but for Herra Hnetusmjör it’s what’s made him an unstoppable force—and elevated his name to a staple in Icelandic hip hop as much as its namesake spread is a staple in pantries around the world.
“In the past few years, rap has gravitated more towards pop and I think that’s cool. Some people say because I’m so popular now, I’m not a rapper anymore, but I really don’t care. I just do whatever I’m feeling at the time,” Herra Hnetusmjör says. “I just rap about my reality. I’ve never, ever rapped about being a gangster. I just rap about my city, Kópavogur, and the money I make from rapping. I try to keep it from being melodramatic.” He goes on, “I’m just a dad with another baby on the way.”
On October 30th, Herra Hnetusmjör is putting on a double-header concert at Háskólabíó. The opening concert at 17:00 will be accessible to the whole family. He shares, “I’ve gotten many, many e-mails from parents who want to bring their kids to my concerts and it hasn’t been available until now.” A more party-focused concert will take place at 20:00, perfect for the fans looking for the usual Herra Hnetusmjör live experience.
“A lot of my concerts so far have been at Gamla Bíó, which is a really nice place, but it’s a real party venue. It’s a mosh pit venue. So it’s perfect for 18 to 25-year-olds or so, but there’s a whole demographic beneath that and over that who don’t really want to go into a mosh pit and get beer thrown on them,” he chuckles. “I haven’t really given them an opportunity to come see me in a full concert before.”
Tickets for both of Herra Hnetusmjör’s performances at Háskólabíó on October 30th are available here.
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