Silvana Imam creates hip-hop over the borders
Scandinavian hip-hop is changing
A blackboard lines one of the walls behind Silvana Imam at the office we’re sitting in. On it, there’s a long list of things the near future holds for one of Sweden’s hottest hip-hop artists: Swedish music awards, tour, videos, marketing.
Imam is in many ways a typical example of the Scandinavian hip-hop artist of 2016. She raps in Swedish yet still sells out gigs in neighboring countries. Her songs are musically far removed from traditional hip-hop. Her new album, Naturkraft, contains a mix of electro, punk, classical music, pop, and hard beats.
Something’s going on in the Scandinavian hip-hop scene.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a new wave, but it feels like a new thing,” Imam says.
The music has become freer, more widespread, and more international. Previously grounded in silos inside each individual country, artists are now reaching out to their neighbors much more while still rapping in their own languages. Cross-border collaboration is now the rule rather than the exception as language barriers are broken down.
Found her Danish colleague
When Imam made her big breakthrough in 2014, the media quickly labeled her as an outspoken lesbian feminist who’s not afraid to take on political issues.
Last year she got a Facebook message from somebody she didn’t know. The person wondered if she’d do a remix of his song. The result was “Swimming Pool (Remix)”, a dirty, stripped-down hip-hop banger with Imam and Emil Stabil, a Danish artist who started rapping a few years ago, mostly by chance when he picked up a microphone at a friend’s house and started freestyling over beats in Danish. Last year’s attitude-laden debut EP gave him his breakthrough at home in Denmark.
“I’m not a big fan of older Danish hip-hop,” says Aarhus-based Stabil. “A lot of people were doing gangsta rap, but you can’t be a gangster in Denmark – it feels fake. I feel the same about rapping in English just to make an international impact. I like many of the new Scandinavian rappers who stick to their own language. A lot of them know each other. It’s a cool movement.”
For Stabil, it’s all about the melodies and the music conveying a feeling. The fact that Stabil raps in Danish doesn’t seem to put off fans from outside Denmark.
“I find it crazy when we come to Norway or Sweden and I see the audience joining in the songs,” Stabil says. “A girl uploaded a video where she sang one of my songs with the words ‘yadda yadda Danish.’ And I’m cool with that! I didn’t understand much of what Tupac was rapping about when I was younger.”
...and then her Norwegian
When Imam debuted her new hard song “IMAM 2” during Stockholm Fashion Week, next to her was a masked man who shouted the chorus – in Norwegian.
Behind the mask was Unge Ferrari from Hamar, who has quickly become the new rising star of Norwegian R&B and hip-hop, thanks to his debut album Til mine venner. As a teenager, he began rapping in English over Jay Z beats, but soon switched to Norwegian.
“If you’ve got a good ‘vibe’ it doesn’t matter what language you use,” says Ferrari, who was born Stig Haugen. “Those of us who grew up listening to French hip-hop understood maybe two words in a song. Maybe.”
Ferrari’s guest vocals on Imam’s album are just one of several Scandinavian collaborations he has going on. Stockholm is already one of the cities with the highest number of Ferrari fans, at least by the number of Spotify plays.
“For me, it’s better to sing three words that say more than 10 or a thousand,” Ferrari says. “That simplicity is why I think Sweden and Denmark now get what I do. It’s a little easier to understand what I’m singing about. For me, Scandinavia is one place and not different countries. It means a lot to me to get outside Norway. I think this is just the start for Scandinavian hip-hop.”
Imam didn’t understand what Ferrari was singing at first on “IMAM 2,” but she thought it sounded great.
“When I realized he was singing ‘I created you, come pray for me’ it was much cooler, of course,” Imam says. “But it was still good even when I didn’t know what he was saying. Even if you don’t understand every word, it’s the feeling that’s important.”
An appreciated combination
In her lyrics, Imam uses a mix of Swedish and Arabic, the languages closest to her. She listened to a lot of Swedish hip-hop when she was younger, but she doesn’t feel directly involved in any hip-hop scene today.
“I’ve always been a bit of an outsider. People who never said a word to me before are coming up to me now that things are going well and they want to work together. I don’t think the competition is all that tough in Sweden. My music speaks for itself.”
In the spring and summer, Imam tours clubs and plays festivals throughout the Nordic region. She has already played sold-out concerts all over Scandinavia.
“When we started out together, my manager said I’d be the biggest artist in Scandinavia,” Imam says. “We can now see this hasn’t been done before. In Denmark and Finland, the audiences went completely wild. I tell myself that I’m going to break down language barriers even though I may not really believe it, since I haven’t listened to much Danish rap myself. But then I see the audience and realize that I’ve nailed it. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
By Anders Dahlbom