Grapevine’s artist of the year award goes to the musician or performer who somehow helped to define the zeitgeist during the preceding twelve months. This year, our panel selected 22-year-old rapper Gaukur Grétuson, whose optimistic, playful, colourful version of Icelandic-language rap as GKR seemed to personify the spirit of the scene in 2016.
So, how does it feel to be the Grapevine’s artist of the year? “Yeah… shit!” exclaims Gaukur, over a crackling phone line. “It feels awesome. It’s always nice to get recognition for the work you do, and confirmation that you’re doing a good job. It’s a good stamp on the GKR name.”
GKR has been honing his craft for three or four years. “The first time I was doing stuff under the name GKR was on the video game Counterstrike,” laughs Gaukur. “But the first time I made music as GKR was 2012. The scene was still small then, but Gísli Pálmi was building his name. Emmsjé Gauti was releasing a couple of tracks, and Blaz Roca and Rottweiler. Hip hop was just starting to build up again.”
GKR started out online, making connections to like-minded producers via SoundCloud and YouTube. When he released his first track track in 2014 he got immediate positive feedback. After the release of his 2015 single “Ballin,” he played his first live show at Prikið, and ended up rapping standing on a table in the crowd. It was a formative experience. “I was scared of going on stage at first,” he recalls, “but then in the third track, I just got this feeling. I was so confident. I felt a moment. It was completely me. It was what fit me best. It came very naturally.”
The big stage
Since then, GKR has performed on some of Iceland’s biggest stages, including Harpa’s Silfurberg and the Laugardalshöll sports hall. But to Gaukur, the size of the show isn’t what matters. “It’s all about the people,” he says. “There’s no difference for me between playing to 5000 people or at Prikið—it’s the same feeling. It’s all about the crowd and the energy they give.”
That energy has been growing as Icelandic rap hit the mainstream in 2016. “Things have changed so much,” says Gaukur. “If you were talking about rap five years ago in Iceland, people would think of grey hoodies in the garage, or listening to it on the bus like Eminem in ‘Eight Mile’ or something. This year is the first time the Icelandic Music Awards will have a category for hip-hop and rap—it used to be mixed in with rock, or country, or whatever. And now I see a lot of kids, like my cousins—just eleven or twelve—listening to mumble rap. They’re listening to Lil’ Yachty a lot. It’s super fun, it seems very positive to me.”
Gaukur is determined to ride the wave and reach out beyond Iceland’s shores, including a gradual mixing up of the Icelandic and English languages. “I want to work harder than I’ve ever worked before,” he says. “I’m gonna work so hard that it will be another level. I want to move past Iceland and play in other places. I’m not great in English, but I want to incorporate English words into the Icelandic tracks. If the hook of a super powerful track like ‘Meira’ was in English, but with Icelandic verses, it could work in any country. In my opinion, energy can always deliver.”
Read about why he won and check out the rest of this year’s winners here!