It’s JóiPé’s 19th birthday. Or at least, it will be in 24 hours, the young artist—real name Jóhannes Damian Patreksson—explains quietly as he sits back in the corner of Te & Kaffi. It’s 9:30 AM, early October, and above his head, the last lights of summer glimmer in the window through the morning fog. Abruptly, the rapper stops and yawns. He’s got an English exam directly after the interview, he confesses. It’s one of his last—he’ll graduate at the end of the month.
Next to him, restlessly shaking his leg, sits his musical partner Króli—real name Kristinn Óli Haraldsson. The normally talkative artist is equally exhausted, having been up the whole night preparing for his debate club. Exactly a month after Jói’s birthday, Kristinn will turn 20.
“But I don’t like birthdays,” Kristinn interjects, shaking his head. “I’ve never actually held a birthday party. It seems weird. It’s egocentric.” Jói nods in agreement. “It’s stressful,” he adds in his trademark baritone, his gaze averted.
It’s a surprising statement from the two young men, who are, unequivocally, Iceland’s biggest pop culture icons of the past two years. From their star-making hit “B.O.B.A.” to their album, ‘Afsakið Hlé,’ which was Iceland’s biggest selling album of 2018, the duo of JóiPé & Króli have become synonymous with Icelandic hip-hop and pop, and in doing so, have captured the heart of the country, becoming the rare type of star that both teenagers and grandmothers would recognise. Now, JóiPé & Króli are preparing to drop their third album ‘Í miðjum kjarnorkuvetri’ (‘In The Middle Of A Nuclear Winter’) on an undisclosed date in October.
Two years in the blinding spotlight have, it seems, taken a toll on the artists. “When you play on stage a lot, and that’s basically your job, the line blurs for egocentrism,” Kristinn explains. “Then you appreciate time with the friends that you really love.”
For Jói, his birthday celebration will thus consist of a simple family dinner and, if he’s up to it, maybe a handball game. “If I’m capable with my knee,” he adds simply, gesturing down. “He hyperextended it,” Kristinn explains.
The rise of JóiPé & Króli
The first time that the Grapevine covered JóiPé & Króli was as part of the 2017 young hip-hop issue. At that time, the two were probably the least known of any artist featured, and undoubtedly the youngest. In the brief interview at that time, the duo joked about the time Herra Hnetusmjör dissed them on Twitter, their love of pretending to be rich in their old-school style raps, and Kristinn’s short-lived Facebook relationship with infamous Icelandic pop singer Leoncie. They were newcomers to the scene, and jovial ones at that, anxious to create, play, collaborate, and—in all honesty—adorably excited to be included in the same ranks as the other artists featured.
Two months later, the teenagers dropped their single “B.O.B.A.” and album ‘GerviGlingur’ (‘Plastic Jewelry’) and everything changed. In a matter of weeks, the duo’s popularity surpassed that of the other young artists with whom they shared the pages of the Grapevine and, to be frank, many of the elders in the scene.
Perhaps it was the honesty and wholesomeness of their content—the two would alternate between discussing relationship troubles, depression and anxiety, to then making fun of rap tropes and throwing around party rhymes—or maybe it was just the beats, but whatever it was, JóiPé and Króli had tapped into something that stuck with people, and it only grew from there.
“It feels like ages ago,” Kristinn muses, when asked about that period. “It brought us a lot of good things and opportunities that we are really grateful for.” It might sound like a platitude—and maybe it is—but there’s a softness in his voice that seems genuine. Jói nods. “It was something we didn’t expect at all. We never could have,” he adds.
A year later, they followed up ‘GerviGlingur’ with their sophomore effort ‘Afsakið Hlé’ (‘Excuse The Commercial Break’), which saw the duo explore a more melodic and sophisticated style of songwriting.
“We were trying out new types of music [on ‘Afsakið Hlé’]. Less rap and more singing,” Jói explains. “It was more expressive and honest.”
“Yeah, it was way more honest,” Kristinn adds, strongly emphasising the word “honest.” “The album was made in half a year, so it was just how we were feeling then, and it was a really weird time,” he explains. “Two teenagers all of a sudden playing everywhere and being everywhere, so ‘Afsakið Hlé’ was kind of a diary of that time. It told a story really naturally. We didn’t have to draw it up at all.”
‘Til I drop dead
That’s it. That’s all they have to say about that, and the two clam up. In fact, it’s quite difficult to get them to say anything about their past efforts at all—both seem to have little interest in discussing it. Perhaps they’ve already talked each album to death with journalists over the past two years, or perhaps they are just exhausted. But maybe it’s that each of their sights are so focused on the present that neither has any time or desire to look backwards.
Granted, Kristinn’s days are currently filled to the max. “The line of today is really blurred because I woke up at 12:00 yesterday morning,” he explains, smiling. Yesterday morning he drove to Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík to draft some speeches and answers for his debate team, worked with the team on how to perform them, then went home and worked on writing until he came here for the interview. “After this, I’ll just go to sleep for a few hours and then start it all over again until I drop dead, until I can’t stand,” he says.
But Kristinn’s activities run a far wider gamut. Not only is he putting the final touches on his new album with Jói, but he’s also performing in the Queen tribute show, ‘We Will Rock You,’ at Háskólabíó, and premiering a movie next week—‘Agnes Joy.’
“It was really fun. I am really charmed by acting. I actually kind of just want to do that next,” he explains, shrugging. “Go and test it out to see if I could have a career in it. It was an honour to share the screen with such talented actors and actresses [in ‘Agnes Joy.’] Just magnificent.”
Kristinn’s days are busy, yes, but he revels in the difficulties of keeping up with such a demanding schedule. “I wouldn’t be doing these things if they weren’t fun and I wasn’t interested in them,” he says. “It’s not anyone’s fault that I’m tired, just mine. I put myself in this situation and I’m going to finish the projects that I take on.”
Journey to America
In two days, JóiPé & Króli will head to New York to play at a wedding for an American couple. They’re jazzed by the opportunity to travel abroad with their music. “I’ve never been to New York,” Kristinn says, smiling. Jói raises his eyebrows. “I’ve never even been to America.”
It’s here that Kristinn gets an unexpected burst of inspiration. “I’m really excited to go in the middle of the impeachment inquiry,” he says, his eyes shining. It seems he’s finally found something he wants to talk about.
“I’m doing this debate, and I realised that the only Western country that doesn’t have a nation-owned broadcasting company like RÚV is America. You have the five national news empires—NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and the CW—and they are all either conservative or liberal,” he explains. “To not have a news service working for the people, of the people, by the people, is scary. People don’t trust anything because it’s basically just falsifying things so you can get some clicks. It’s fucking awful.”
“Especially when your President is the epitome of a populist, you can’t trust anything,” he continues. “The only things he listens to is Fox News—Fox & Friends. It’s crazy. When I want to know stuff fast, I watch John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Seth Myers, or Stephen Colbert, but then I’m only getting one side of the spectrum so I’m not much better. They are coloured by the fact that they hate the White House and want everything, the president included, out.” He pauses. “It’s not possible to just get news, there’s always something behind it. It’s fucking horrible and I hate it. It’s propaganda.”
Pissing on a building
Kristinn then dives into his thoughts on the impeachment inquiry. He’s quite passionate about the subject—surprising, especially for an Icelander who is, quite frankly, known primarily for being a rapper. “It’s funny. The three reasons you can impeach a president are high crimes and misdemeanours, treason, and using his office to enrich himself. Trump has basically done two but his meaning—fuck his meaning, by the way—is that he hasn’t done ‘and misdemeanours.’ He thinks you have to do both,” he says, incredulously.
“He’s saying, I’ve done the high crimes but I haven’t pissed on the side of a building so you can’t impeach me, which is fucking ridiculous,” Kristinn jokes, shaking his head.
Considering his interest in the subject, it’s natural to wonder if Kristinn would ever want to enter politics himself. The answer, though, is a hard no. “It destroys people,” he explains. “Especially in a country as small as Iceland. It’s always about the man and not about the point. People just want to destroy other people.” He pauses. “But that’s just how it works. The most effective way of gaining something is dragging something else down. Not just in politics, but in life itself.”
The clouds on your head
It’s a bleak worldview, and it’s easy to wonder if the hopelessness Kristinn describes will reveal itself on their next album. With a title like ‘Í miðjum kjarnorkuvetri’ (‘In The Middle Of A Nuclear Winter’), which seems impossible to disentangle from our modern political climate, it’s difficult not to ask. At least, the effort seems a far cry from ‘GerviGlingur.’
That said, both musicians emphasise that the battle with this release is an internal one. “It’s been a tough album,” Jói says, while Kristinn is a bit more poetic with his take. “In the midst of a nuclear winter, it’s easy to think about nothing,” he states simply.
He pauses, giving the statement the gravity it deserves. It’s certainly a dark ideology, but, as Kristinn acknowledges, the album contains darkness. “Your own nuclear winter is only the biggest nuclear winter you’re ever going to go through because you don’t see the clouds over anyone else’s head, just the clouds over your own,” he says. “Aren’t we all going through something? Some hide it better than others, cope with it or work through it, but we’re all just trying to do our best, even when we feel like we have to contribute to society and still be on social media 24/7. Even when we’re having mental issues or going through a rough patch.”
For Kristinn, all listeners can do is to tune in. “It’s going to be interesting,” he says. “I think it’s best—not just for an album, but for anything in life—to expect nothing. Then you’re never disappointed, and if it’s good you are surprised in a good way. I really like the album. I really care for it. We’ve put a lot of time and hard work in it and I think that will hopefully translate.”
The flute prodigy
The new JóiPé & Króli album doesn’t have an official release date, but will drop whenever they feel like the time is right. In the meantime, Jói is fully focused on finishing school. “I’m studying fine art, finishing in the end of October. I paint,” he explains.
Kristinn, still energised by his political sermon, happily interjects, “He also plays the pan-flute. He’s quite amazing.” Jói’s face remains deadpan—a harsh contrast to the big grin on Kristinn’s face.
“No, I don’t,” Jói states softly.
“The JóiPé & Króli offer”
It’s at moments like this that the bond between the two musicians shines. Króli, talkative, animated, and enthusiastic, next to the quieter, sarcastic, and deadpan JóiPé. They’re total opposites—the hip-hop Odd Couple—but something about JóiPé & Króli just works.
With their dynamic at the fore, it’s funny to think back to their origin story, which began when Kristinn messaged Jói on Facebook out of the blue, asking to make music together. When asked why Kristinn chose Jói, in particular, to message, he leans back, smirking. “He was good, they said. Out of all the rappers I could message, I just saw a possibility that he could maybe answer me. I mean, I could have gone for a lower tier rapper.” Jói smiles. “Thank you,” he says simply.
“Life is odd. You just send a Facebook message one evening in December,” Kristinn continues, trailing off. “It worked though. He told me he had just bought a car so that was part of the offer.” Jói says. Króli laughs. “Yeah, the offer wasn’t good, but he accepted it. I’m grateful for that.”
Now, years later, on the eve of their album release, the two are just happy for the opportunity to make and share their music. “It’s nice to be at a point in my life where I can make art I like with my friends and be comfortable expressing myself,” Kristinn says. “A year ago, I wasn’t as comfortable.”
What’s on the horizon, though, is unclear, and neither musician will give a definitive answer as to what their plans are post-album release. “Keep playing handball, I guess?” Jói says sheepishly, when asked.
Kristinn, though, has some grander ideas for the two. “When he’s out of school and the album we’ve been making for a year and a half is out, we’re kind of in a free-falling mood. It’s like letting a baby go,” he says. “So maybe, we’ll do some old people stuff once our baby is grown up. We’ll play golf for three weeks straight. Read.” He pauses. “Or maybe just go on a motorcycle trip from Florida to Alaska.”
Two years longer
He smiles, it might seem like a joke, but there’s an edge to his voice that betrays some sincerity, and it’s hard not to get the sense that the two of them really are at a crossroads. Straddling the cusp of adulthood, both artists are talented and famous. Now it’s up to them to consider what they’ll do next, together and separately. Is it acting? Debate? Handball? Can the two boys sustain the demanding schedule they’ve got now, even with the weekly overnighters and constant fatigue?
Maybe. Maybe not. In that moment, as our conversation draws to a close, it’s hard not to travel back to the young hip-hop article two years ago, when the two sat down excitedly at a table at Prikið, Króli bouncing up and down in his seat, antsy to talk about his favourite rappers and dreams of being one of the big guns in the scene. Comparing those kids to the two reserved almost-men who sit here now, they’re almost unrecognisable. Can two years bring such maturity? With such a contrast in such a short period of time, what will these two men be like in another two years?
Whatever the future holds for the two—birthdays, inquiries, movies, fame, and album releases included—hopefully, for JóiPé & Króli, it won’t involve another nuclear winter.
Info: ‘Í miðjum kjarnorkuvetri’ (‘In The Middle Of A Nuclear Winter’) by JóiPé & Króli will be available on an undefined date in October. You can see JóiPé & Króli perform at Iceland Airwaves, which is from November 6th to November 9th.
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