Talking Creativity And Neostockholm with Yemi

Photo: Austin Maloney

There are few people in Stockholm operating closer to the cutting edge of hip hop than Yemi. He put out Neostockholm, his debut album, just over a year ago, but it already feels like a landmark record, one that cut its own path by mixing rap with glacial synths and peppy beats. Also a member of the collective Europagang, Yemi releases music at an impressive pace, and dropped a new single ‘Jag Är Vrickad’ back in April. We caught up with him just after the release of ‘Vrickad’ to find out more about it, and where his creativity is taking him next.

So to start it off, Neostockholm came out last year, and you’ve just put out ‘Jag Är Vrickad’, so where are you now in terms of projects, and what are you working towards at the minute?

Right now I’m working on what will probably become two separate projects. They’re both very much at the writing table stage at the moment, so I’m not 100% certain what way they’re going to go. But I have the idea for them right now.

Something like an album or an EP, or is it still unclear?

They’re probably going to be two shorter projects that will be connected to one another. They’re in the works at present.

So ‘Jag Är Vrickad’ dropped on April 20th, tell us about that.

I’ve released some other songs after the album, but I feel like ‘Jag Är Vrickad’ is the first real follow-up to the album, in many ways. Because to me it just feels like a natural progression from the album, with an updated sound and an update of where I am right now. It came about very naturally after the release of my album.

When did you write it?

I wrote and recorded it last autumn, and we filmed the video over the winter, and then put it all together this spring.

So it does feel like the first step on from the album? Because you put out new music a lot and pretty consistently, but ‘Vrickad’ is the first step into the next era?

I think so, yeah. It feels like the most essential project I’ve done after the album.

So then with this idea of Neostockholm, because Neostockholm wasn’t just the album title, you said it was like a concept of your world and the world you operated in. So is that idea of Neostockholm something you’re going to keep developing on the new stuff, or is it an idea you want to move on from?

I think in some ways it’s something I’m naturally going to progress away from. But also, to me it’s not just the title of the album, it’s a concept that a lot of my work is based on. So I feel like there will still be a piece of Neostockholm in whatever I make.

And so ‘Vrickad’ was produced by you, and ‘Sonic’, the track you put out just before it, was also produced by you. So are you moving more towards producing all of you own stuff now?

I’d say I’m probably producing as much of my own stuff now as I always have. I produced about half of my album last year, and the other half was produced by Teo Sweden and Gud. I still very much enjoy working with others and vibing off each other’s work and exchanging ideas, both with other producers and artists. But I’m also always doing tracks on my own as well, so I feel I’m as much a producer as an artist.

So you’re not taking a step towards going entirely self-produced, you’re going to keep the same blend as always?

Probably. I’m just going to do whatever comes out, whatever the outcome ends up being of hanging out with the people I enjoy working with. I can’t say for sure if my next project will be entirely produced by me or if I’ll work with other producers too.

In late 2016 you put out ‘Holla @ Me’, which was your first official English-language track. So is writing more in English something you’re looking into doing now?

It’s actually something I’ve always been doing more or less, a lot of the tracks we’ve put out as Europagang [Yemi’s collective with Teo Sweden and Busu] have been in English and I started out in English when I started writing songs. It’s something I’ve always had with me in my music making. But I’m probably going to put out more tracks in English from now on, that’s the plan. That’s not saying I’m going to stop making tracks in Swedish. I’m going to put out songs that are convenient to put out, and they might be in English or Swedish.

Your lyrics are clearly very important in your work, so does that make it challenging to bounce between the two languages in your writing?

I think in some ways, if I’ve written a lot in Swedish and then switch to English, it sort of sparks a new creative burst, because there are other rules that you have to follow in different languages, it’s like switching between two worlds, so it can be helpful in the creative process to do some songs in Swedish and then some songs in English. So I don’t think it hinders me in any way, or it a problem. It’s rather the opposite.

So it’s sort of a useful source of fresh ideas, like switching between instruments or synths or whatever?

Yeah, exactly.

Photo: Austin Maloney

Do you get a lot of creative inspiration from bouncing between different projects all the time, because you have Europagang, all the different stuff you produce, all the different things you feature on, different projects as Yemi? So are you that kind of person that likes to work on lots of different things at once?

I think so yeah. I like to work with people whose work I enjoy. And people are doing music all the time, so a lot of the time those projects intertwine or overlap. I think it’s necessary to be able to have several projects going on at the same time.

So you’re not the kind of artist that would bunker down and work on the same thing for months or years?

In some ways I might be that artist. My personal projects are always my main focus, but taking detours and working with other people can be a nice change and not that distracting from the main project.

It’s another source of creative energy.

Right.

When you were interviewed by Pigeons and Planes last year, you said that ‘Rap in Sweden isn’t really built on any long rooted Swedish culture, unlike rap in America’. So do you think that, as an artist who broadly operates in Swedish rap, that can be a liberating thing, that you don’t have all these big cultural ideas and cultural institutions of what rap should be here, you can do your own thing?

Yeah, I think for me it is. I think it should be for most hip hop artists in Sweden, but it feels like people are limiting themselves maybe more than they need to. Maybe because they feel that they have to sound some way, or make a certain type or music. But for me, I don’t feel bound to any type of sound or influence.

Yeah, because you said in another interview that you didn’t want to be seen as part of the Swedish hip hop scene? You wanted to be independent of it.

Yes, because I feel like Swedish hip hop is its own genre, and it’s not a genre that I listen to that much. I feel like I make hip hop in Sweden, but I’m not part of the Swedish hop hop genre.

So do you feel more comfortable as your own actor, outside of any scene or genre?

I guess so. I feel like I belong to a scene, or some scenes. With Europagang, or Fili, DJ Haydn, Gud, all the people I work with and get influenced by, and that I influence as well. AmberValent, Ozzy and Guleed in Malmö. I feel like we [all] belong to the same scene, because we all have a similar mindset about making music.

And then so to wrap it up, what’s happening over the next few months with Yemi? You’ve got the two projects in development.

Hopefully there’ll be more songs out during the summer, and some shows as well this summer. And I’ll keep working on my projects. I want to have them out by the end of the year. I’m doing Emmaboda festival in the middle of July, I did a show last year there as well and I think that was probably the highpoint of last year for me, showwise, so I’m really looking forward to that.

 

‘Jag Är Vrickad’ is out now. Yemi plays Emmaboda festival in July.

Words: Austin Maloney