THE VIBRANT NEW SOUND OF ICELANDIC RAP
A bar known as Prikið in downtown Reykjavik has become a church to a new generation of rappers, from the trap-inspired Elvar to the fierce and frenetic Countess Malaise.
On a street corner in downtown Reykjavik – or ‘101’ as the locals call it – sits an old and colourful corrugated iron building known as Prikið (pronounced ‘Prikid’). It’s frequented during the day as a coffee house, later in the evening as a bar, and even later than that as a bouncing night club. But most people around here know it for the imprint it has left on this country’s music culture: Prikið is the beating heart of the Icelandic rap scene. “It’s our church,” says Joey Christ, one of the city’s most acclaimed rappers. “It’s where artists get their first chance and where legacies are cemented.”
Hip-hop has been growing steadily in Iceland, ever since it first exploded onto the global airwaves in 2015 thanks to breakout stars like Gísli Pálmi and Úlfur Úlfur. But now there’s a new and diverse crop of artists bringing crowds to Prikið, thanks to their raucous live shows, thumping production, and determined DIY attitudes. For this reason, the fresh sounds coming out of Reykjavik are the focus of New Era’s latest music documentary; the second in a docu-series that will continue throughout 2023 and began earlier this year with a deep dive into youth culture in Accra, Ghana. In each film, New Era are collaborating with creative communities around the world, providing the funding and support that will fuel them even further.
At the heart of the creative community in Reykjavik is Geoffrey Þór Huntingdon-Williams, the manager of Prikið and founder of Sticky Records. “Iceland is a creative and magical place to grow up,” says Geoffrey. “We’ve always had this reemergence and disappearance of rap in Reykjavik. You could get deep about it, and relate it to the history of old Norse rhymes and how we have always liked to play with words. But something about the energy of rap music translates very well here."
One of the artists Geoffrey is most excited about right now is Elvar. Elvar was born in India but has lived in Iceland since his infant years, and he’s known across the city for trap-inspired bangers like “TROPEZOO” and “CHEATCODE”. His story is one underpinned by confidence, community and a tireless DIY attitude.
Along with his school friends, Elvar started a collective called FLY SOUTH: a mixture of musicians, producers, filmmakers, fashion designers and visual artists. Struggling for places to record their music and film their videos, they decided to rent a space in the city and build their own studio from scratch. It’s got a recording booth, a chill out zone, an office and even a bar. “We’re here everyday, working on so many things,” says Elvar. “And we’ve become so close, because we work on everything together. We have so much freedom. Everything we need is here.”
Over the years, Iceland’s hip-hop crop has been largely male-dominated, but that is now thankfully starting to change. Another artist famed for packing out Prikið – with her explosive live shows and frenetic DJ sets – is the Filipino-Icelandic artist Countess Malaise. “I’d describe my music as emotional, fierce and sexy,” she says. Her hit single “Tired of This Shit” is an unblinking and infectious ode to losing your temper.
Whenever artists like Elvar and Countess Malaise drop new singles, they always get serious love from the city’s devoted rap and electronic radio station, Útvarp 101. The station is yet another example of how the rap scene here supports itself, and was started by Joey Christ: an established Icelandic rapper who rose up on the 2015 wave, and went on to open shows for everyone from Young Thug to Migos.
In May of this year, New Era played its own part in elevating the special wave of talent that’s rising up in Reykjavik with a sell out show at Prikið, headlined by Elvar and Countess Malaise, and managed, of course, by Geoffrey. “The party was crazy,” he smiles. It was just one step in the brand’s commitment to the scene: New Era will also provide funding for the venue and the surrounding scene so that the city’s next generation can cement themselves as the artists of tomorrow.
“New Era are a staple of the hip-hop community,” says Joey Christ, “so I think it’s really cool that they are putting some funding into the scene through Geoff and Prikið. When you perform there, you’re playing for people who love music.”