Note: My translations may be off. I am still learning Norwegian. So, if anything is mistranslated, please let me know. As well, the second part of my lecture on The Great Gatsby will go live soon.
A few weeks after we moved to Bergen last August, I heard some music coming from outside. There was a pop up stage down the road, with various artists performing. As the concert progressed, I started hearing some beats and wondered who was performing. I walked down the street to see a 14 year old performer. I stood there, enjoying the music and his stage presence, even though I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. When I left, I looked up information about the even online and found out that this was MachoMayne, a Norwegian rapper from Bergen who had garnered a large following online.
Digging further, I came across an article from 2017 discussing the emerging artist. This article struck me as odd because MachoMayne states, “Det er litt rart at jeg lager gangster-rap, for jeg tror egentlig jeg er den roligste gutten i klassen.” (“I think it is pretty odd that I make gangsta rap, because I am probably the quietest boy in my class.”) His assertion that his music is “gangsta rap” really struck me, and I decided to dig deeper. At the concert, I knew that one of his songs was about fidget spinners, and when I started looking around online, I found that others songs, such as “Skolegården” (“School playground”) did not have anything to do with “gangsta rap.”
The 2017 article contained the names of other hip hop artists, so I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole and started looking at the various artists. What I found, for the most part, was artists appropriating, just as MachoMayne had done, rap culture and imagery within the context of songs that didn’t really address social issues like “gangsta rap” does. “Skolegården” does this extensively with MachoMayne in the school throwing money around, rapping next to expensive cars, and other hip hop video tropes.
My initial introduction to Norwegian hip hop made me think that it would be interesting to look at the appropriation of hip hop tropes into a society that, from the outside, appears to be free from racism and oppression. As the semester went on, I put this thought to the side and didn’t come back to Norwegian hip hop until a couple of months ago. At that time, I got in touch with Øyvind Holen, a leading scholar on Norwegian hip hop. (I am adding his Spotify playlist on Norwegian hip hop from 1991-2018 below.) Holen has introduced me to countless artists who address the social issues underlying the egalitarian image of Norway as an all-inclusive society. I plan to do more research on some of the artists I have found, but over the next two posts, I just want to highlight some of the songs and artists that have caught my attention.
Hkeem «Ghettoparasitt» (“Ghetto Parasite”)
Hkeem, the 21 year-old rapper from Stovner, a neighbourhood in Oslo. His 2018 song «Ghettoparasitt», along with accompanying video, tackle issues of racism and oppression that immigrants and the children of immigrants endure in Norway. This has been a common theme across the artists I have listened to from Pumba’s «Jeg ser deg» and «Hvor jeg kommer ifra» and the work of Karpe, both of which I will discuss later. I want to begin, with Hkeem, though, because I think that «Ghettoparasitt» serves as a good entry point into how Norwegian hip hop addresses the issues that reside beneath the surface. It must be said that Hkeem comes from a long line of Norwegian artists who have been doing the same thing for the past few decades.
«Ghettoparasitt» begins with what sound like newscasts, either interviews with citizens or reporters themselves. I cannot tell if the first line here is Hkeem or not. It does not sound like an interview.
Du plager, han plager henne, du plager meg
I dag blandes det opp med pakistanere og negere
Ditte e en ukultur som har kommet til
Norge, som eg meine vi ikke skal akseptere
You’re bothering, he’s bothering her, you’re bothering me
Today it is mixed up with Pakastanis and Negroes
This is a culture that come to Norway, which I mean we should not accept
From the outset, «Ghettoparasitt» highlights the rhetoric surrounding immigrants and people of color in Norway through its use of public broadcasts and statements that speak against diversity. The vide underscores this as well by showing the faces of five Black men as the sound plays. Immediately before Hkeem begins the first verse, his name, with the Norwegian flag interlaced within it, flashes on the screen. This signals that Hkeem, along with the men, links his identity to Norway, something that the commentators find threatening.
The second line is Erik Gjems-Onstad, a decorated war hero and immigration opponent. He stated (linked above), “Norwegians are a nation within the white race, and today they are mixed up with Pakistanis and Negroes and all sorts of other races and nationalities.” He also provided heritage (inheritance) to well-known neo-Nazis. The next is from Sylvi Listhaug. (I need to look more into her.)
Hkeem’s first verse begins with a woman viewing him and his friends as a threat. She buys into the stereotypical image of the men as threatening and violent even though they are just going downtown to walk around. Hkeem starts by rapping that the woman has a heart attack when they get on the bus, and she gets off at the next stop because she is afraid of them. He continues by rapping that he overhears someone say he is an «fremmed i [sitt] eget land» (an alien in his own land). He states that he loves his country but people keep thinking he’s walking around with dynamite.
Hkeem concludes the first verse with four lines that encapsulate the themes of «Ghettoparasitt».
De folka trenger kunnskap
Vi brakte te, brakte tro, brakte god mat
Føler meg fortsatt som en fugl fanget i et bur
Erik og Kriss kom seg ut, når er det min tur?
The people need knowledge
We brought tea, brought faith, brought good food
Still feel like a bird in a cage
Erik and Kriss got out, when is it my turn?
Here, Hkeem tells listeners that people need to be informed about the contributions that immigrants have added to the society (tea, faith, and food). The mixture of cultures is not something to be afraid of, it is something to embrace. Without it, we would remain isolated and cultivate our own enclosed societies that would atrophy under their own nepotism.
In a broader context, this line makes me think about Norway itself, a nation that, due to its geography, has many different dialects. One thing Norwegians have told me is that some of them have a hard time understanding everything that people say in other regions of the country. You only need to drive around the area, even in Western Norway, to understand how these differences arise. For example, it is only 50 miles from Bergen to Norheimsund. However, to get to Norheimsund, you have to go through numerous tunnels, too many to count, through the sides of mountains. Before these paths were dug into the earth, travel would occur either by boat or by long treks either up or around the mountains.
Hkeem finishes by providing the metaphor that he feels like a bird in a cage, trapped with no idea where to go. He even asks when will it be his turn to escape, referencing Erik and Kriss, a Norwegian hip hop duo from Stavanger who became popular in the early to mid-2000s. When will Hkeem be able to achieve success? When will he be able to, as I would argue, be known as Norwegian?
In the chorus, Hkeem presents the ways that others view him, as a ghetto parasite who can break the law whenever he wants. They view him as a thief, talk behind his back, and the police are on his neck. The repetition of «Som en ghettoparasitt» (Like a ghetto parasite) drives home the point that some Norwegians do not view him as a fellow-countryman. Instead, they view him as a threat that will undermine their way of life.
Hkeem begins the second verse by referencing Mahad Mahamud, a Somali citizen who was denied citizenship after being in Norway for sixteen years, training as a bioengineer, and getting a job at Ullevål Hospital. Hkeem raps that Mahad is stateless, and he asks, «hvor er staten?» (Where is his state?). Implicit here is the question of how do we define citizenship and who becomes a citizen of a nation. In the rest of the verse, Hkeem questions the idea that Norway is «fargeblind» (colorblind) when they look on him as a ghetto parasite and a threat.
After the second chorus, there is another newscast, this time from Vår Staude in 2015 on God Morgen Norge (Good Morning Norway). The first three lines are Staude and the last three sound like two different people, one telling someone to get out of Norway and the person responding that he is Norwegian.
Du er muslim
Sist jeg sjekka så var det å være profesjonell
musiker, slik du nå satser på, ikke helt forenig med den rollen
[?] komme deg ut av landet mitt
Jeg bor her også, jeg er norsk
Du skal ut, du skal ut
(Translation)You are Muslim
Last time I checked it was to be profesisonal
musicians, as you are focusing on, not compatible with that role
[?] get out of my land
I live here too, I am Norwegian
You’re going out, you’re going out
Again, through the use of such clips, Hkeem highlights the rhetoric that is circulating, within the media, for everyone to hear. At the end of the second verse, he directly confronts this by when he raps that people are commenting on shit and being able to say what they want because it is a free country. However, he raps that people are commenting everywhere and commenting on shit, and concludes by asking, “Why do you complain to me when my country is your country?” Here, Hkeem again claims his Norwegian identity. Why, when immigrants have brought food, tea, faith, and much more do people still talk negatively about their presence, especially when they are Norwegian as well?
I mentioned the video earlier, and I think the video for «Ghettoparasitt» is extremely important because it reverses stereotypes. Instead of Hkeem and his friends being treated as outsiders, three Norwegian men become treated as outsiders by Black and Brown citizens of Norway. They get denied entry to a club. A policeman stops them and sees if they have been drinking in public. A woman runs from one of the men when he tries to give her back an item she has dropped, ending with the man face down on the hood of a police car as the Black woman looks at him. In each of these instances, the men are living their lives, going downtown for a walk, just like Hkeem and his friends. The reversal is powerful, highlighting the double standard that occurs.
Next post, I will look at two more songs. Who knows, I may even look at more before I’m finished. Until then, what are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.
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