Swedish hip hop grows with its urban population

Published On August 5, 2009 | By Greg | Features, Sweden

swedish-hip-hop-featureby Hazard (courtesy Planet Urban, www.planeturban.com.au)

Located on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe, the Kingdom of Sweden (which got its name from the Old English ‘Sweoðeod’, meaning ‘people of the Swedes’) is on the surface, and in the history books, a highly progressive monarchy embracing equality and peace over war and vengeance, a stance it has taken since first being at peace in 1814.

Bubbling somewhat underneath the surface however, is the fact that 85% of Sweden’s population reside in urban areas, including Gothenburg, Malmö, and the capital city of Stockholm (with 1.3 million of its population in urban areas). Like the other bustling urban environments of the world (New York, London etc.), and wherever there is some form of government or law in place, there is societal disenfranchisement and unrest among many of the ‘Rinkeby Sweedish’, the urban population comprised of by lower class citizens and immigrants.

With a prehistory dating back to 12,000 BC (the Allerød warm period), Sweden was a poor, little known and scarcely populated country, despite its roaming hills and considerable livestock (horses, reindeer, goats). It did not come to prominence until the 17th century, with the reign of king Gustavus Adolphus, which saw Sweden emerge as a European Great Power.

Remembered more so than any of its other historical periods or contributions to the world, is the Viking Age, which spanned roughly between the eight and eleventh century. Going in search of new territory, while also trying to etch out a place in history for their own native land, the Swedish Vikings or ‘Rus’ (as named after one of Sweden’s founding fathers Kievan Rus), working alongside the North-Germanic Geats and Gutar tribes, are believed to have trekked from east to south, going across Finland, Russia, Turkey and even as far out as Iraq. The adventures of the Vikings are commemorated on many of the historical ruins (or ‘runestones’) in Sweden. With that in mind, you can’t help but think that today’s Hip Hop artists from Sweden are in one way or another channelling their Viking ancestors.

Before the arrival of Hip Hop culture into the Scandinavian consciousness in 1983, it had established itself on the global stage as the home of seven Nobel Prize winners (including Selma Lagerlöf and Harry Martinson), sculptors (Tobias Sergel, Carl Milles) and cinema auters (Ingmar Bergman, Greta Garbo).

Musically, Sweden has a rich and varied history, sharing the tradition of Nordic folk music with its neighbouring nations, including polka and waltz music. Utilising many of the same traditional music instruments as other countries, the early Swedish folk music, while not extensively documented in history, is believed to have featured accordion, flute, clarinet, fiddle, the lur (a form of trumpet) and nyckelharpa (a string instrument). Today’s Scandinavian folk music incorporates traditional elements with the modern influences of jazz and rock.

When many think of Swedish popular music, the polished and overly cheerful recordings of ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base and the like come to mind. Capturing the attention of a large portion of Sweden’s youth however is the considerably large Scandinavian heavy metal scene, with bands such as Arch Enemy and Scar Symmetry innovating on a worldwide level.

Drawing inspiration and sharing kinship with the long-standing tradition of jazz and blues music in Sweden (with Reggae thrown into the mix), as well as Sweden’s sexual revolution of the 1960s/70s and films such as I Am Curious (Yellow), Scandinavian Hip Hop has become one of the most visible and prominent movements outside of the main key areas (America, Japan, France, England).

Widely credited with introducing Hip Hop culture to Sweden are breakdancers such as Robot Lasse and Perkeles, who were inspired by films like Wild Style and Beat Street. On the musical side, musician Per Cussion and pioneering rapper Grandmaster Funk were the first to release Hip Hop recordings with the singles Don’t Stop, Snow Blind and Payin’ the Price dropping in 1984.

The summer of ’84 saw the further proliferation of Hip Hop into Swedish culture, as individual entities Double M Crew, MC II Fresh, Abdula & The Rockers, Almight T, and Rock Ski joined forces to create the collective Ice Cold Rockers, following a major breakdancing competition.

While the early steps in Sweden’s Hip Hop development were mainly being felt in major cities like Stockholm, by 1986 a wider section of the population was aware of this energetic new movement, as the successful film Stockholmsnatt was released. The film featured the members of the IC Rockers, with Pop-C and Snoopy (a.k.a. Quincy Jones III or QDIII) having a major hit with the single Next Time, taken from the movie’s soundtrack.

The late 1980s saw the arrival of innovative new artists such as Papa Dee, who is recognised as the first artist to fuse Hip Hop with dancehall/reggae in Sweden (something that continues on an even larger scale today), on his Competition is None album, produced by the famous duo of Rob’n’Raz. Meanwhile, Stockholm based producer See-Que worked in conjunction with established American label Priority Records for the compilation album Basement Flavor.

Much, or essentially all, of Sweden’s Hip Hop output up to that point had been performed in American-influenced styles and voices, with rapper MC Tim breaking the mould in 1989 on the track Jag Är Def. The trio of Gurra G, Dr. D and Pedda P, collectively known as Just D (originally marketed as Sweden’s answer to the Beastie Boys), further took Scandinavian Hip Hop in a home grown direction, translating the Swedish language rap style to a wider scale.

Interestingly, the first time that the official mainstream spotlight glared upon Hip Hop in Sweden, it was thanks in large part to singer Neneh Cherry and her debut album Raw Like Sushi (driven by the single Buffalo Stance). Born to a Swedish mother and Sierra Leone father, her brother Eagle Eye Cherry would go on to considerable success in the late 90s with the track Save Tonight. This burst of international success compelled the local media to pay closer attention to Sweden’s rap scene.

In the inaugural (and quite ridiculously-titled) Swedish Championship in Rap, female rapper Ms Melodie (not to be confused with the Boogie Down Productions member), was the runner-up to the group Sons of Soul. Changing her name to Leila K, she went on to have international chart popularity with the track Got to Get, picking up the torch initially lit by Cherry.

With a solid Hip Hop market now in place, further strengthened by Just D’s album Rock N Roll and the success of Snoopy (QDIII) in the United States, the scene was set for young acts like the Sure Shot Groove (MC Stranger and Complicated C) to emerge.

Formed in 1991, interracial seven-piece outfit Infinite Mass have since become one of Sweden’s most pivotal pieces of the Hip Hop puzzle, after initially winning the Swedish Rap Championship in 1992. Their work on the film Sökarna and the controversial single Shoot the Racist (later renamed Area Turns Red to defuse any controversy) from the soundtrack made sure that the group would go down in infamy. They would achieve the biggest mainstream success of their career in the late 90s and into the new millennium with albums like the G-Funk inspired Alwayz Somethang (1997) and The Face (2001).

Equally important to the commercial birth and continued flourishing of Scandinavian Hip Hop are The Latin Kings (a.k.a. TLK), who debuted in 1994 with Välkommen till Förorten (Welcome to the Suburbs). On a side note, the album was produced by Gordon Cyrus, who went on to found Sweden’s first Hip Hop label, Breakin Bread. Consisting of front-man Dogge Doggelito and brother tandem Salla and Chepe, the TLK trio, with roots in Venezuela and Chile (who named themselves after the infamous street gang of the same name), grew up in the concrete suburban area of Botkyrka in Stockholm, incorporating the ‘Rinkeby Sweedish’ (‘multiethnolect language’) dialect into their music, representing the darker side of Sweden’s suburbs.

With the popularity of their debut among critics and its decisive impact on the charts (going Gold, with 50,000 units sold), TLK like many music outfits felt uncomfortable with their record label contract and its constrictions (claiming that they were owed money), deciding to head out on their own to form Red Line Records. Signing acclaimed artists such as Isson & Fille and Fattaru to Red Line, TLK have released three more Platinum and Gold-selling albums (including a Spanish language version of Välkommen till Förorten in 1995, titled Bienvenido a mi barrio).

Heavily influenced by America’s East Coast rap scene (particularly New York), while still also carrying over the fusion with dancehall/reggae, a new generation of Scandinavian Hip Hop artists emerged in the late 90s, many of whom are responsible for the current international boom it is experiencing. Stockholm artist Petter set things off with Mitt Sjätte Sinne, his 1998 debut album, which went Gold and peaked at number five on the Swedish album chart. Even more successful was 1999’s Bananrepubliken, which went three times platinum. Commemorating Petter’s tenth year in the game, 2008 saw the release of X – Greatest Hits.

Following in the wake of his chart triumph, artists like Kenyan-born Ken Ring (who has since worked with Proof of D12, British beat-maker Tommy Tee and with Smif N Wessun on their last album) and veteran rapper Ayo, have made equally impressive strides into the mainstream music arena.

Other performers who benefited from the Swedish rap explosion of the 90s include fusion duo Eye-n’-I, DJ Sleepy and Petter collaborator Thomas Rusiak, whose production credits include work on Slick Rick’s The Art of Storytelling (1999).

In that same period, the group that has now become synonymous with Swedish Hip Hop emerged, known to the world as Looptroop. Based in the Västerås area (100 km west of Stockholm), Looptroop voice the concerns of the disenfranchised middle class of Sweden. Formed by Promoe and Embee back in 1991, with Cos.M.I.C. joining two years later, the now revered group released three cassette-only projects between 1993 and 1996, as frequent collaborator Supreme joined the ever-increasing fold.

Ready to take things to the next level, Looptroop signed a deal with local punk rock label Burning Heart Records in 1998 to distribute their newly formed Davis Vs. Goliath Records. The label’s first official release was Modern Day Symphony (2000), which sold considerably well, off the back of the underground single Long Arm of the Law, where they called to task Sweden’s police force, despite limited radio and media exposure.

Dreadlocked front-man Promoe was the first to venture out of the group for solo work, dropping the well-received projects Government Music (2001), The Long Distance Runner (2004), White Man’s Burden (2006) and Standard Bearer (2007). Promoe is best known as a solo performer for the graffiti anthem These Walls Don’t Lie. The track, which samples the Bollywood composition Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna, also helped further expand Looptroop’s Australian popularity, becoming a signature anthem for both Promoe and Looptroop.

Embee followed in Promoe’s footsteps, releasing Tellings from Solitaria, which won the Swedish version of the Grammy (called the Grammi) for ‘Best Hip Hop/Soul Album’ in 2004, followed by Mash Hits in 2006.

On the group front, Looptroop delivered on the promise of their first major label album with 2002’s The Struggle Continues and 2005’s Fort Europa, growing more politically charged and outspoken, particularly on the latter’s title track, where they compare Sweden’s immigration policy to the Berlin Wall.

After the departure of Cos.M.I.C. from the group, who left to spend more time with his family, the group officially changed their name to the Looptroop Rockers. Their first album to be entirely recorded in English, Good Things (2008) finds the newly christened group sticking to their roots while incorporating more live instruments and heavier reggae-influenced grooves, still managing to be at the forefront of Sweden’s Hip Hop scene after a decade-plus on the scene.

With a mixture of veterans and newcomers, Sweden’s Hip Hop scene continues to grow, with the rise of young artists inspired by the music of the past (from Just D to The Latin Kings) who are determined to take it to new heights of musical sophistication and global acceptance. Three of the more prominent new school performers are Chords (who moved between America and Sweden for his latest album, the excellent Things We Do For Things), Hip Hop/dancehall hybrid artist Timbuktu (also a frequent Looptroop collaborator) and Adam Tensta (who is of both Swedish and Finnish extraction), best known for the rallying single Banging On the System.

Thanks to the internet and file sharing, in addition to Hip Hop’s general continued proliferation throughout the world, Sweden’s Hip Hop scene now more so than before, stands firmly on its own, free from the overt reliance on the United States of the past, drawing equal amount of influence from the music scenes of France, Britain, Denmark and Japan.

As rap music gains more of a foothold in Sweden and continues to capture the attention of the youth, it is being utilised as it was originally intended in many ways, creating a dialogue between the recording artists and their captive audience.

Comments

  1. […] Swedish hip hop grows with its urban population | World Hip Hop MarketThe summer of ‘84 saw the further proliferation of Hip Hop into Swedish culture, as individual entities Double M Crew, MC II Fresh, Abdula & The Rockers, Almight T, and Rock Ski joined forces to create the collective Ice Cold Rockers, … Born to a Swedish mother and Sierra Leone father, her brother Eagle Eye Cherry would go on to considerable success in the late 90s with the track Save Tonight. This burst of international success compelled the local media to pay closer … […]

  2. Chris says:

    Hahaha gustavus adolphus…We have never had a king called that!