IBMCs headed up to Finland to find out more about Finnish Hip Hop. We interviewed Laineen Kasperi, Redrama and Jonti and Shaka. In the Finnish Hip Hop scene most of the rap is in Finnish. One of the biggest emcees to rap in English is known as Redrama. He is a Helsinki-based rapper and producer. His first breakthrough was by winning the Finnish MC-Championship in 2001, the same year his first EP came out.
After he got signed to Virgin Records UK in 2003 he gained a lot of airplay and got to be one of the best selling rap artists in Finland. Since then he has released three studio albums and toured throughout Europe with affiliated group Madcon and warming the stage for acts like D12 and Gang Starr.
After meeting him in his friends’ clothing store we connected for the next day to do an interview with him about his experiences of being a part of worldwide Hip Hop culture.
Can you start by introducing yourself?
Redrama: This is Redrama, from Helsinki. I am a rapper, producer, musician. Hip Hop musician sounds really good, I think we go with that.
How did you first get into contact with Hip Hop?
Redrama: I first got into contact with Hip Hop mostly through my younger brother, when I was ten. My first touch with it was breakdance, when my mom and dad took me to see Beatstreet, a breakdance movie. As a kid I wanted to breakdance, but there weren’t any good breakdance courses so I didnt take to it. Musically I listened to a lot of rock music after that, like Metallica and stuff like that while my younger brother was playing Hip Hop in his room. I kept hearing it all the time and he sort of forced it on me. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t really get it. I think it was Nas, Illmatic, that really hit me and from there on it just grew and grew and grew. I started writing or trying to write, really early, at 14 years old. I have been listening to a lot of other stuff too, but whatever you call Hip Hop nowadays is the music that I love the most.
What does Hip Hop as a culture mean to you?
Redrama: Basically it is pretty much my life, because I have been fortunate enough to do it professionally for a really long time. Everything has been attached and involved with Hip Hop since I was 15, 16 years old. Its hard to say really what it means to me because it means everything in a way. Of course for me it is the music, I was never a graffiti writer, I never even did tags or anything. Most of my friends did, and I was always there and saw that culture too. It’s strange to say nowadays that we all know that Hip Hop has been changed and commercialised, but the underground, or whatever you call it, is still there, so for me Hip Hop is still doing good. There is still so much good music in the world that I know that I’m never gonna hear everything.
When did you start making and recording your own music?
Redrama: At 15 years old I recorded my first songs. I had a small 4-track cassette deck and I had a drum machine, so I had one track the drums, one track guitar. I played guitar already since [I was] 10 years old. The first songs I wrote I actually recorded. So I’ve been recording since I was 15, 16. Yea that’s old school, the cassette deck with four tracks. Now everybody with a computer has 32 tracks and effects and all. But I love that it’s like that, so that I don’t have to do it with the cassettes anymore.
What do you think about the Finnish rap scene?
Redrama: I have been a part of the Finnish rap scene since I did my first shows around 18 years old. I performed basically everywhere I could and I got to perform like one or two songs and I just tried to get as many of those as possible.
And then there is Funkiest, the first main Hip Hop store here, or the only one. Nowadays we have a shop called Lightsaber too, but thats also funk and electro. Both are good stores, but the good thing with Juha (shout out to Juha from Funkiest!) is that whoever wanted to release and sell his own music, he did that. And that has been a big big part of the Finnish scene, those years, before the big labels got interested and before the media knew anything about Hip Hop. Without him the scene wouldn’t have started as early as it did, because it was possible to record your own music and release it and sell it, he was a big part of it.
But back then, the names I remember are Ceebrolistics, that’s Murmerecordings, they’ve been around. They started much earlier than me, they always had their own sound. Nowadays they are doing more grime and dubstep and getting really good at that. Then there was this guy who called himself Celes, nowadays he calls himself Davo, he’s a good friend of mine. So there were only like four, five artists everybody knew about, and they were everywhere. At the Worldwide parties that were here in Helsinki there were open mics and stuff like that. Then Fintelligens, they got signed, I think that was around 2000. They were signed to a big record company and suddenly they had a video on MTV, on the radio and stuff and then everything blew up. That year, I was already doing my own shows and I released my EP, Only Redrama, and it sold pretty good. Fintelligens came out and it really blew up, because then the media got hold of it and the media started writing and the radio started playing, so then it happened really fast. All of a sudden you had maybe ten groups on major labels and the radio was full of Hip Hop. That was the boom, it was really fashionable doing it, so there were a lot of people doing it. Some of them are still around, but not many. Fintelligens are still around and they are basically one of the biggest names here. They have been that since they released their first album.
Thats a really long answer to your question. For me now the scene is better then ever, because it’s really versatile, you have so many different sounds and lyrically they are really different too. From communist rap to the socialist, working man, questioning the political system and everything. Then you have the more commercial radio stuff, for the younger people, pop music basically. And then you have the guys that started the more electro stuff.
The only thing for me that I find a little bit sad, I like it that everybody is doing their stuff in Finnish, and most of the guys are my friends, but for me it would be cool to hear some more English rappers too. That happened in Sweden, and that was a really healthy thing. There you have both and we used to have both, but now there’s some good talent and there’s some good Myspace artists, but I don’t see anybody rapping in English on the festivals I go to from year to year. So I’m hoping for that to happen, but I’m sure it’s gonna happen soon.
How is it for you to rap in English in Finland?
Redrama: I think I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of support since I started. When I released my first album I was signed to EMI, that was a big label. It got really big, but the media stuff was a little bit annoying because they started calling me the Finnish Eminem and stuff, you should see the headlines, it was in all the newspapers. And I was really shy, and I still am, but I was really unsure of myself. I thought that everybody hated me and I didn’t like it at all because there was too much hype in the media about everything. I didnt like that time, but other then that I can’t complain at all, my first album sold a lot and I did a lot of shows, I got to tour in Europe with my first album and I warmed up for Gangstarr.
In which countries did you perform?
Redrama: I think it was 27 countries, it was basically every European country, except for the eastern countries, like Poland or Czech Republic, unfortunately none of those, and none of the Baltic countries.
I was still very young, looking back at it, it happened sorta fast, I wasn’t really ready for that, but we just went for it and it was really cool. I had Madcon with me, the Norwegian group, who now blew up with the Beggin’ track and this crossover Hip Hop they do. I worked together with them on my first album, I was working and living in Norway at the time. I had them backing me up and they were more experienced on stage so we had a blast.
It was really cool meeting Premo, I mean I felt like a little kid, you know meeting the godfather of boombap. And whenever he is here I get to see him and meet him, and you know, he fucks with me, but he’s actually quite a humble guy and that’s what I like about him.
Do you listen to rap in other languages, except for American / English and Finnish?
Redrama: I listen to a lot of Swedish, because I went to Swedish speaking schools and both my parents speak Swedish. Nowadays I speak more Finnish, because only 6 percent of the population in Finland is Swedish speaking. I listen to a lot of the Swedish stuff, right now more than Finnish. I listen to the Finnish stuff my friends make, but I haven’t had time to check out all the new stuff that’s going on, so I try to see them at shows.
Any Swedish artists we should look out for?
Redrama: Timbuktu, I love Timbuktu. And the sort of American sound in English, like Pato Pooh, Eboi, who is part of Adam Tensta’s crew. He is coming out with his own music now. He is technically just one of the hardest rappers I’ve heard from Europe. Other people I like there are so many in Sweden. Prop Dylan, he was on my album, he’s gonna be on my mixtape. He came to perform at Pipefest, which is the biggest Hip Hop festival here, with him I’m gonna work more. He’s really good, more like backpacker, boombap basically.
Any Finnish artists?
Redrama: Finnish artists, my favourites would be Juno, Asa, Davo, Kemurru. That would be it, Jontti and Shaka are really good, TPH, he’s really good, there’s a lot of good stuff going on.
Do you see any artists as influences?
Redrama: I used to, more when I was younger. Nas was a big influence. I loved the Rawkus sound, when Rawkus Records came out. I really love Pharoahe Monch. Talib Kweli, The Roots, then also some of the 90’s underground westcoast, like Hieroglyphics, Souls of Mischief, J Dilla of course. Outkast has been a big influence for me, from the beginning. I like when Andre went crazy and started singing too, and I like the new Outkast when they came with Hey Ya! Thats also good, but I really like Aquemini, ATliens, I still listen to those albums. It’s the strangest thing that they still sound fresh in every way, musically, production wise, lyrically, everything is still fresh. Of course there are many more, but that’s a couple.
IBMCs is all about the global aspect of Hip Hop culture. You did some international collaborations, like Alien Allies and Conscious Youths. How did these groups form?
Redrama: Alien Allies formed because I didn’t get signed here in Finland. I tried to get a deal here when I did my first demos and sent it to record companies. Then a friend of mine lived in Oslo and he called me that I should come over to Oslo and meet Madcon. So I did and we got to be really good friends and I started recording with them in their studio and I was gonna move to Norway and release the album. But eventually the album didn’t get released. I just pressed up the songs I thought were the best and moved back here to Finland and released those songs. And that was my first EP. We formed a group just because we became good friends and we worked a lot together. I still produced for them, on their debut album, It’s all a Madcon, there are some of my beats there.
And Paleface and Promoe were also in the group?
Redrama: Paleface and me are really old friends. He came a year earlier then me with his first album, so we were the two English speaking rappers here. Then he lived in Tampere and later he moved to Helsinki, so we became really good friends. And we still are, outside the music we are best friends too. But then when we formed Conscious Youths, Nape aka Mr. Singh brought in Promoe, because he got to know him, and then I got to know Promoe through that. Conscious Youths was more a project that we did that was fun and now we are all doing our own things. I think we are gonna release an album one day again. Paleface just released a really good album in Finnish, I forgot to mention that, because it came out this week. One of my favourite rappers in Finnish is Paleface, and that’s not because he’s my friend, it’s actually quite fucking good. I don’t know if it came out on vinyl yet, but they are gonna press it. He’s still a pioneer in Finland and now he switched languages. He did his first album in Finnish, it’s got to be a big thing, everybody’s talking about that.
Are there any international artists you still want to work with?
Redrama: So many. I would like to work with Lupe Fiasco, that would be one of my number one choices right now. J Cole, before everybody thinks they like J Cole just because its fashion, I agree that he might be one of the best rappers in a long time. The Roots, Mos Def. I would like to work with some reggae artists, like Capleton or Collie Budz. There’s so many people. I like to work with Norah Jones just because she’s beautiful and she sings and is really talented. There are so many people, I already feel I’m lucky I got to work with some of my heroes, like Promoe, you know. I was looking up to Looptroop a lot when I was coming out and now I’m going to the studio with Promoe.
I try not to get used to the fact that I can do that. I try to remind myself of the kid, you know, getting exited. If I get a pair of free Adidas I still feel like it’s Christmas, you know. Not like of course I’m gonna get it, cause I’m Redrama and shit. To get that excitement, I think that’s important. If you try to be creative it’s important to get that feeling back, because some people lose it.
You talk a lot about the old school artists you were listening to when you were young. How do you see the history of Hip Hop today for upcoming artists and the young people who listen to Hip Hop?
Redrama: Thats a hard question to answer, because there are a lot of positives in the Internet and Youtube and even in downloading, because people can get the tracks really quickly. But what annoys me a little bit is that somebody takes the whole new Lil Wayne thing and they can’t get an idea where it comes from, and they can’t get an idea that this and that person has done this and that and then the music evolved to this. I feel like an old man telling everybody to study their history. I’m not a Hip Hop professor at all, there is a lot of knowledge I don’t have, but I think with whatever music you should be interested in the history. Without the history you have nothing.
I do think everything is moving a bit too fast now, like I said it’s positive that anybody in their bedroom can record a song and press enter and it’s on Youtube and they can get a million hits or whatever. That’s positive so that there doesn’t have to be a corporate label behind it. But the negative side is that everybody releases everything and they steal everything. There is no quality control and everybody steals their beats. Everybody can download a Led Zeppelin track that they worked on in the 70’s for hours and hours to mix and then they rap a fucked up verse on it, and then that’s a cool thing. That’s when I feel like old Hip Hop police saying stop doing that, kids.
Do you collect vinyl?
Redrama: I used to. I’ve been broke. The latest thing I bought was the instrumentals for J Dilla – The Shining, that’s something I just have to have on vinyl. But yeah, I think I have between 500 and 700 vinyls, not that much, I haven’t been DJing, I used to DJ on the radio, I haven’t been club DJing ever. I still feel like I’m gonna buy a lot of vinyls when I have some money, but right now I can’t do that.
So do you think vinyl is still important?
Redrama: Yeah, I think vinyl is very important. I’m gonna press my last album, The Getaway, myself, once I get the money for it. I’m gonna press a small amount and do post orders to whoever would want it wherever. The record label didn’t wanna press it, so I wanna do it myself. Also because we worked so hard on the cover, I wanna see it as a vinyl, I want the people to really enjoy it, I want them to have the big vinyl with the big artwork.
Is that also one of the reasons you left your record label?
Redrama: I left my last record label, there is no big argument, but we didn’t agree on a couple of things, like releasing abroad. That’s a thing that’s hard nowadays because people buy less albums then before. It becomes hard to convince a label that they should do a deal with another label for another country. Because the sales might be 300 and they just think it’s too much work. That’s why I’m gonna stay independent now, at least until I know what to do. I’m happy with everything, but for me it would be really important to be able to tour or do shows anywhere in the world where people wanna see me. It doesn’t have to be the biggest venue, it can be a small club, it can be whatever, I just wanna go and travel and maybe meet some of the people. I get a lot of emails from everywhere, from Europe and from the States, and it feels like it’s gonna be a shame if in five years I can’t say I’ve been to any of these places. That’s what it’s about for me, I wanna go there and meet the people and do the songs live for whoever wants to hear it. Because a lot of people are doing that, and it’s very possible, but if you’re locked on a big label or a major label I think it’s hard.
Do you have a certain message that you try to bring over in your music?
Redrama: That’s the hardest question always, but I’ve been finding out more about that, because of what fans and people who like my music tell that they hear. I never see myself as political and I really try to stay away from that. I think the main message for me is for people to accept themselves as they are, and not think that they have to be this and that. You know the world is going so fast. Young girls who think they have to be thin and look like MTV, and young guys even think that nowadays. And in the western world, the media is demanding a lot from all of us. You have to be aware that people are suffering in Afghanistan and at the same time you have to have a nice fucking BMW and an iMac. So I think the message is confusing, to me it’s confusing at least, and I think it’s confusing for a lot of other people. I think that’s the main message is just accepting people for what they are and never regarding to religion or race or anything like that. That’s the only message that is always there. Unity.
Do you have any shout outs?
Redrama: Big shout out to IBMCs, for this is a privilege and a pleasure for me. Big shout out to Promoe, big shout out to Madcon, Paperboys and Tommy Tee from Norway. Big shout out to Gentleman from Germany. Saian Super Crew, there is so many more. Hip Hop! Thats it.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Redrama: More raw songs, raw in sound, not that much produced and finessed like my last albums were. More Hip Hop, but in my own way. A little bit more organic in the sound and also some tracks that even go back to the boombap sound. I wanna do a mix of something modern and like I said the albums I still listen to, the more classic Hip Hop sound.
Where can we follow you and your music?
Redrrama: The best place is Redrama Official on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/redramaofficial), that’s basically the only place that is always updated. The Redrama site, the new one, is not up yet, so just check the facebook.
By: Krecy and Delta9 | IBMCs on Facebook
Video: Hang It Up (2003)
Video: Music (2009)