In a time where the Swedish hip hop scene thrives with young, innovative rappers, Adam Kanyama stands out with his singular talent and social engagement. With a new EP just released, we spoke with the young rapper about social injustices, Tupac, and soul searching.
He started rapping at the age of eleven and had his first break through five years later. Merging impeccable rap skills with lyrics about social injustices and references to Malcolm X, Adam Kanyama was hailed as the new Swedish hip hop star. After two years of soul searching and songwriting, he’s now ready to step back into the limelight, slightly older, significantly wiser, and lot more mature. Last week saw the unveiling of his brand new four-track EP Jag mot världen, and we met with the young rapper to learn more.
When did you discover hip hop?
– I think it was through Eminem and 50 Cent, who were the big ones when I grew up. But it was Tupac who really got me hooked on hip hop. I was maybe ten or eleven years old. I even remember what song it was, it was his song Changes. I wasn’t very fond of the hard Tupac; I was more into the Tupac who wanted to make a difference in society. I’ve always been thoughtful and passionate when it comes to social injustices. When I heard this Tupac song, I felt that hip hop was a medium where I could express myself, my thoughts, and my views.
You began rapping when you were eleven. What were you writing about then?
– I used to write about my friends and me, about the place where we lived, and the things we did. That we were cool. Later on I became influenced by the whole American civil rights movement, so I wrote a lot about that. Since then, I think it has been a mix of that and the more bragging type of rap.
Many people have described you as a natural talent. Did it feel natural for you to rap?
– It did, as a matter of fact. I didn’t have that many black friends when I was a kid, and when I saw that most rappers were black it just felt right. I think that’s where it all started, that I thought rappers were cool, since they had something to say.
You’re very talented with words. Do you have a good ear for languages?
– My English has always been good, I think because my parents speak English with each other. I know Swahili, too. I’ve always had a gift for languages, which isn’t true for other subjects in school. I’ve always been creative with words. I’m creative in general, but more so when it comes to words.
What is it that you want to say with your music?
– I don’t have a need to brag or boast about myself or how talented I am. What I want to do is to rap about things that I care about, things that I think about or muse over. My music might be political, but it will never be preaching. I want to rap about me and my generation, what we think and what we feel. I’m more into those kinds of subjects, than this trend where rappers only talk about the thug life in the projects. Many of the rappers who sing about that, sing about a life they haven’t lived. They are just pretending, trying to maintain some kind of image.
My music might be political,
but it will never be preaching
– Many of these rappers are also critical against the Swedish Democrats and racism, but what are they really doing to improve the situation? Is it better to attack them than trying to understand them, and understand where their hate is rooted? If I don’t try to understand you, and talk to you nicely, you won’t understand what it is that I’m trying to say. You will feel attacked, and your natural response will be to hit back. That’s how it works. I want to bring us all together, the Swedish nation, the whole world. I want to show the big picture. I think it can be hard to put these things into words, but in my music everything comes out crystal clear.
What do you hope to bring to the people who listen to your music?
– I want people to recognize themselves in what I sing about, and I think that a lot of people will.
The hip hop genre is cluttered with clichés about money, violence, drugs, and sex. How do you relate to that as a rapper?
– I think that you, unconsciously, are affected by the more established hip hop acts within the scene. Especially when you’re younger. But sure, if you feel that those stereotypes are true to who you are and the life you live, that’s what you should write about. But you shouldn’t do it just because of the hype. Not if it’s fake. You should be honest and talk about the life you really live. The hip hop culture is saturated with fake rappers talking about a life they don’t live.
You had a major break through with your song The Golden Child at the age of sixteen. Did the success entail any downsides?
– When I got into this hip hop thing, well, you could say that I grew up too quickly. There were a lot of things happening at a rapid pace, and I noticed how I outgrew my friends, friends that I had known since I was a child. I did a lot of things that I felt had nothing to do with who I really was, like moving in the wrong circles, doing a lot of bad stuff.
So how did you get out of that?
– You have to find yourself, sort of. Do things that make you feel good, and not listen to what others are saying. There are a lot of people pushing you in different directions, wanting you to do this and that. Then you have to go back to those who really care about you, and that is your family, your mum and dad, your siblings, your best friends. Though you should also stay open to new ideas.
Now you’ve been away from the limelight for a while. What have you been up to?
– I’ve been trying to find myself. Soul searching. In various ways.
– I hadn’t been living that healthily, but now I’ve become a vegetarian, and I’ve started to read books. I want to fill my head with knowledge, and try to stick to the right track. By changing myself, I hope to change the world.
Tell me about your new EP, Jag mot världen.
– The record label wanted me to wait and make a whole album, but I wanted to make this EP. It had been such a long time since I last did something, and I had a lot of things that I wanted to say. Things that I needed to give vent to. I’m not that satisfied with my previous productions, but with this EP I stand behind each and every word. I’ve been involved in every step of the process. There hasn’t been some businessman in a suit telling me what to do. This is me, to a hundred percent.
By changing myself,
I hope to change the world
Where does the title come from? It’s rather defiant.
– It’s not defiant, it’s reflecting. It’s inspired by Tupac’s album Me Against the World. That’s how I can feel from time to time, that it’s me against the world. That no one understands me, and that I only have myself to rely on.
You’ve been rapping in both Swedish and English. Which are you most comfortable with?
– Both. There’s no difference. I’ve been rapping on Swahili, too. I just got back from a month’s visit to Tanzania, where I made some songs that I hope to release soon.
What does the Tanzanian hip hop scene look like?
– It’s thriving. There’s a big market in Africa, and there is both money to be made and changes to be done.
So what happens next?
– I will release an album as soon as it’s finished. Hopefully this summer. Then I will continue to make music in English and Swahili. I will do whatever crosses my mind.
Listen to Adam Kanyama’s Jag mot världen EP here.
Photography by Victoria Stillwell.
Thanks to artist Matthias van Arkel for letting us use his studio for the shoot.