It might seem like an oversaid statement, but it’s funny to actually consider how much we owe the internet. Slews of memes and Reddit communities dedicated to sneakers aside, it’s played a key part in introducing those who live in more remote countries to the same subcultures and good music that those living in massive metropolitan cities do.
Case in point: Iceland. A remote island that’s barely any bigger than the state of Ohio, it’s home to just over 300,000 people; a third of which live in its capital city, Reykjavik. Despite its small size, it still manages to create some of modern music’s most thought-provoking artists; thanks, in part, to the fact its youth are so switched on to what’s happening both stateside and throughout the rest of Europe.
Artists or fans, many of them show face at the city’s annual techno and hip-hop festival, Sónar Reykjavik. A tautly curated line-up performing against the stunning backdrop of Iceland’s snowy and mountainous coastline, the festival taps into that fascinating vision of post-millennial hip-hop: a generation of artists inspired by the urgent political climate we’re living in, and the new era of semi-ironic, Soundcloud-birthed MCs. And for a country that’s nearest Supreme store is separated from it by 2000 miles of open ocean, they’re all dressed pretty well too.
Unless you’re a serious rap fan or happened to be at Sónar Rekyjavik 2018, chances are you might not know many of the talents emerging from Iceland right now. To get you up to speed, here are 10 names you should keep your eye on.
Iceland’s self proclaimed “bubblegum bitch” of rap, Alvia left home at 16 with her sights set on making music. She doesn’t consider it her career though. Instead, it’s more of an extension of what she was born to do: a duty rather than a conscious decision. Her music mixes trap with dreamy, seductive rap lyrics, and at times sounds like a hip-hop spun Grimes. Anybody looking to get the full Alvia should seek out her videos and live shows: her Sims World video for the single “CyberGum” is nothing short of brilliant, and she’s famed for throwing hubba bubba into the crowds at her gigs too!
Raised in the city of Kopavogur just outside Reykjavik, Birnir started writing his rhymes in the 10th grade, but took his time honing his craft before staging a live show. It was a slow start (apparently his first live performance was in a near empty bar with an audience of one!), but his reputation has skyrocketed since linking up with the likes of Joey Christ. Inspired by the likes of Gucci Mane and Rick Ross, he never intended to have rapping be his full-time gig, instead he just wanted to get pretty good at it. Accidental hip-hop star or not, it won’t be long before Birnir has Iceland eating out the palm of his hand.
While everyone else seems hellbent on fronting a new movement, there’s something brilliant about CELL7’s unwaveringly traditional and flawless flow. Real name Ragna Kjartansdottir, she found her feet on the Icelandic rap scene back in 1997, when she was a pioneering member of the group Subterranean, whose debut record Central Magnetizm is one of Icelandic rap’s most prolific. Today, she still raps in English rather than Icelandic, and her sound mixes hip-hop with old school funk; the results are irresistibly cool. It’s no surprise she’s considered the country’s First Lady of Rap.
In case you hadn’t clocked her name, there’s something sinister about the half-Icelandic Countess Malaise. From her style to her delivery, sometimes wrapped up in glitchy, lo-fi autotune, she’s one of Iceland’s most assured and enigmatic young rap talents. Seeking inspiration in gothic 60s comic book characters (her name is partly inspired by the criminal queen of Brit comics, Modesty Blaise) and using her platform to tackle subjects like sexual abuse head on, she takes her craft seriously, and pairs her productions with equally incisive visual art.
Daughters of Reykjavik
Like a mutant version of the Spice Girls with a penchant for raunchy and feminist rhymes, Daughters of Reykjavik are a 16-piece rap collective who’ve spent the past few years tearing up the DNA of Iceland’s hip-hop scene. With their proudly political rhymes – tackling everything from sexual violence to consent – the group flit from serious issues to the more tongue-in-cheek, but always manage to deliver an audacious live show. Depending on where you catch ‘em, you might see any number of them rapping, crowdsurfing and dancing their hearts out, but whether there’s five, 10 or all 16, the spirit is always there.
Scrap yards; swimming pools; geysers and aircraft hangers: just some of the places GKR takes us in his technicolour array of his (often self-directed) music videos. The 23-year-old Reykjavik native found his rap voice when he was at art school, battling depression and creating music to fight it. It might sound tongue in cheek, but there’s an honesty in what this rapper spits, and it plays a valuable part in keeping him focussed and happy. His latest single, Nei Takk, is about setting your own standards and – as the title suggests – learning when it’s right to say no to shit you don’t need in your life.
Everybody’s got their eye on Joey Christ right now. His viral track “Joey Cypher” dropped in summer 2017, and it’s his solo rap breakout after working almost exclusively alongside his best friend Sturla Atlas for so long. But that doesn’t mean he’s alone: the song (which has a killer video shot in Costco), stuck to Joey’s love for working the rappers he admires the most. He smashed his set at Sónar too, using his slot to champion his friends and collaborators on the Icelandic hip-hop scene and set them too on a path to success further afield. Just last week, he picked up both the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album gongs at Iceland’s equivalent of the Grammys, cementing him as the Iceland’s current hip-hop prince.
JóiPé x Króli
For every artist that takes themselves super seriously, there’s a duo like JóiPé x Króli who treat rap as a no-fucks-given playground. One’s a freckled kid with long ginger hair, regularly decked out in tracksuits and cross body bags; the other could be a Gosha model. Together, they’ve created some of the most affable and popular viral rap in Iceland. Like B.O.B.A, their song about being so into a girl that you’ll hand over your credit card to her and be at her beckoning call. In the wrong hands, stuff like this could fall into parody territory, but this duo have the skill in their delivery and lyrics to back it up
If you thought all Icelandic rap was set to traditional hip-hop sounds, check out Lord Pusswhip. He raps commandingly over beats (usually his own) that sound like Kaytranada hurtling through a haunted house: looping, intriguing, dark and catchy. Check out his track, OCB: it samples the “I Slay” vocal hook from Beyonce’s “Formation” as if out of nowhere, among the slow drone delivery of Pusswhip himself. And if you’re still here, looking for a reason to check him out: recently, he’s upped sticks from Reykjavik and worked in Berlin for a while, alongside artists like Tommy Cash. He’s almost indescribable; sort of discomforting; but definitely great.
SMJÖRVI and HRNNR
Frequent collaborators SMJÖRVI and HRNNR are the perfect products of post-Vine rap culture: sorta satirical with their rhymes and achingly on-trend with what they wear. The video for their breakout song “ENGAR MYNDIR” was shot in a supermarket on someone’s phone, while their first collab ‘Rúllum á Bílum’ proudly rips into cliched rap culture, opening with the line, “Pull up in the Prius. I get straight As.” Right now, this duo are both wrapped up with school work (like most of Iceland’s rappers) and so it’s pretty quiet on their front, but we should expect to see something ace from them sometime soon.
For more hip-hop from around the world, check out 10 Italian rappers you need to know right here.
- Photography: c/o GKR