‘Da’ What is Hip Hop? – Espen of Deadbeatz (Essay)

Posted on January 28, 2013 by


This series has been a long time coming and it is finally underway.  I hope you have seen the trailer by now and are ready to find out what hip hop means to artists from all around the world.  I am kicking off the series with an essay by Espen Anderson who is a producer and part of the Norwegian Hip Hop collective – Deadbeatz! Did you know that hip hop is “the most popular music style among young Norwegians today”? Hit the jump to find out what hip hop means to Espen and to the folks in Norway!

“When I first decided to write this piece on my thoughts of Norwegian rap and hip hop music, the idea was to write a straight forward piece about what I like and not, trends and artists etc. But the process of writing made me think about a lot of the features that define the Hiphop culture, how it’s possible for a subculture to be transferred from one part of the world to another, and the changes it possibly goes through in the process. Do Norwegians view and experience hip hop music the same ways Americans do? I’m not sure. By this article I try to say something about the journey hip hop music has made in order to end up as the most popular music style among young Norwegians today.

I could have used many videos to illustrate this article, – by old heroes or by up and coming creative rappers playing with style, genre, language and lyrics. I ended up with a couple of songs from Karpe Diem and Lars Vaular, two of the hottest names in Norwegian hip hop at the moment, to showcase what is most popular on our radio stations, and among young mainstream Norwegians today.

Karpe Diem is known for their great live performances. Despite their untypical backgrounds, both with refugee parents, hindu and muslim upbringings, and university degrees, “everyone” loves this hip hop duo from Oslo, the capital of Norway. They rap in their Oslo-dialect.

Hiphop probably made its first appearance in Norway in 1984, through the movie “Beat Steet”. All I remember from that summer is Norwegian kids with no sense of rhythm breakdancing in the school yard. Rapping didn’t really catch on until a few years later, and continued as an underground phenomenon for years.

The first Norwegian hip hop records, that were published at the beginning of the 90’s, to a great extent seemed to imitate every aspect of the American Hiphop-scene. It took time for the new cultural expression to get incorporated into our Norwegian context. Lyrics in Norwegian were for years viewed as controversial, and by many looked upon as ridiculing the Hiphop culture. English was viewed as the universal language, and focus was on being able to reach the Hiphop kids in N.Y, which were seen as owning the authentic culture – with its original elements that should be kept intact.

Other European countries, among them our neighbor Sweden, started using their own language when rapping way earlier than us. I’m not sure why we were so slow. Some suggest that the way comedians early on used unprofessional rapping in commercial jingles, and by that made fun of the Hiphop culture, gave rapping in Norwegian a bad name that was hard to get rid of.

For years, rappers would stick to the English language in order to get acceptance for being real and authentic, and the hybrid character of the Norwegian hip hop we know today didn’t really start to emerge until towards the end of the 90’s, when rapping in our own language started to catch on. One of the first groups to use Norwegian dialect successfully in hip hop, was Tungtvann, a duo from the northern parts of Norway. Somewhere along the way, there had been a shift in what was viewed as “real” and “authentic”, and the Norwegian language had become accepted.

By that time, Hiphop had been a part of Norwegian cultural life for so long, that what was in the early years viewed as an imported cultural phenomenon, as time went on had taken on local features. Kids’ way of identifying with the culture had changed. Over the years there had been a continental shift in references, as Hiphop got deeply rooted in the Norwegian youth culture.

Language and dialects make identity

Norway was, up until about WWII, consisting of fairly isolated pockets of humanity making a living in the valleys between the mountainous areas which cover most of Norway. Travel was difficult and communication was slow. As a result, local and regional dialects have developed on their own, producing an incredible range of sounds and words, with radical differences in grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and accent. In Norwegian hip hop music, the dialects make a powerful weapon when it comes to convey culture and identity. It even has its own word: “dialect rapping”.

Unlike the many different accents in the United States, Norwegian dialects can differ so much that even Norwegians have difficulty understanding other Norwegians, depending on the dialect. The same word can be pronounced in hundreds of different ways across Norway. No dialect is considered to have more worth than another, except by the people who speak them, and officially, there is no such thing as a spoken standard variety in Norway.

M Hazy represents the wave of young kids that have grown up with hip hop as the most influential music style in their lives. He is rapping is his Bergen-dialect.

Hip hop from the Norwegian west coast, especially the wave of young talents from the city of Bergen, has caught on lately, with popular artists like Lars Vaular, A-laget, Jonas V and many more – here illustrated by a song I produced for one of these emerging stars, M Hazy, only 15 years old and working on his first EP. This kid is a great example of the new generation of young rappers in Norway. He is bold, loud and hold high standards to himself, has both local and global references – and finds that the way for him to be “real” in his rapping, is to do it in Norwegian, – in his own dialect, and by this, his music illustrate important aspects of how language, identity and culture –both local and global – work dynamically together to continuously shape Norwegian Hiphop.

Hip hop music taking over

In 2011, the seven most played songs from Norwegian artists on Norwegian radio all fit into the category RnB/ hip-hop/rap. The top-three songs with Norwegian lyrics are from the same category. When looking at all artists on Norwegian radio, no matter what nationality, six out of the top ten songs also fit this category, with most of the artists being American.

This trend of hip hop music being increasingly popular in Norway only seems to grow, as it has become the sound of Norwegian youth culture, and for many, especially young people, hip hop equals music, and is all they ever listen to. The future seems bright for Norwegian hip hop, as there’s an explosion of new talents emerging, representing their own style, dialect, language – themselves and their opinions, through their music.

Lars Vaular is one of the most influential rappers from the west coast of Norway. He is rapping in his Bergen-dialect.

Espen Anderson