International Insights: An exploration of Norwegian grime music

Pictured is Norwegian artist J-Zino, wearing a red and white jacket and blowing smoke out of his mouth
Pictured: J-Zino
The following is a look into the small assortment of artists repping grime music over in Norway. It features comments from local artists DJ Shokk, Olja Beats, and J-Zino, of which the commentary and insights made this possible. For those interested in digging a little deeper, you may wish to follow our Norwegian grime playlist on YouTube or Spotify.

Beginnings

Once a country largely disconnected from the developments of British urban music, Norway - like much of Europe - has seen the dissemination of UK drill music, afroswing, and grime music within recent years. Grime soared through the mainstream during the mid-2010s and helped firmly plant British urban music on the map, spreading the awareness of the genre across Europe and, indeed, Norway. Grime's resurgence during the mid-2010s took the genre to heights that it had never been, but hidden away to the average Norwegian listener was a small, yet intriguing history of the genre's journey into the country.

See, grime found its way into Norway much, much earlier. A small hint of this can be seen in 2003 when Dizzee Rascal released the now-recognisable classic "Jus' A Rascal". This song, and the 2004 release "Learn" from the album Showtime, both feature production credits from Norwegian beatmaker Vanguard Vardoen. 


Vanguard's contributions to grime music appear to simmer out there, but others from Norway would later pick up the mantle. As the 2000s drew to a close and grime's momentum slowed down in the UK, the genre managed to disseminate across Europe and left behind seedlings for underground scenes across the continent.

DJ Shokk

Pictured is Norwegian producer and DJ, Shokk. Wearing a red and orange jacket.
Pictured: DJ Shokk
I'm from Oslo and in my late 20's. I'm really just a normal guy with a normal job, but I have had the love of grime music since it's early days, and UK urban music in general. So musically that's what I'm about. Ever since I heard Dizzee and Wiley as a teenager I was completely on it. I'm a grime DJ, producer, not to mention a listener and a big fan of the scene. - DJ Shokk

In Norway, this was first spearheaded by DJ Shokk, who at 13-14 years old discovered both Wiley, via his album Treddin' On Thin Ice, and Dizzee Rascal, via his album Boy In Da Corner, in 2004. The production on both projects, he tells me, was a 'mind-blowing experience', and soon after Shokk was experimenting with producing grime music on Fruity Loops. Although Oslo was far, far away from the epicenter of the genre in London (about 1000 miles away to be exact), Shokk delved into the genre as much as was possible from afar - downloading and buying mixtapes, while throwing his early grime productions onto the world of MySpace.

Some years later, Shokk discovered his love for DJ'ing, and in 2008 he founded the first radio show in Norway that played grime music:

Shokk: "I got into DJing around 2008. I quickly realised that was my true calling and something I was much better at, and ever since then I have considered myself a DJ first and then a producer. A year after that I got a radio show on Radio Nova, which is a proper FM radio station in Oslo. The show was called 'Get to Know Grime' and it was my way of pushing grime music to the Norwegian audience. You have to understand, no one around me understood what the hell I was listening to in those days... Practically no one over here listened to grime, just American hip hop. Like they actually did not understand at all. I felt like I had discovered this gem of a music genre that obviously everyone would enjoy, especially those already attuned to hip hop. But it was just not coming across. So the radio show was me saying "this is grime, and you should get to know it". My thing was just "if I can get just 1 more person to listen to this my job is done". And even though some of my friends still might not even understand grime to this day, I was surprised to see how well received the radio show was"

The Norwegian rap scene was a relatively small place at the time, so creating his own show allowed him to connect with various artists from within the Norwegian hip hop scene. Two of them in particular, OG Ruben and Pete Shinobi (the latter was from Norwegian rap-group, Vågsbygd Handy, which was well established in the scene at the time), also caught an interest in grime music, and on 26 October 2009, they would collectively create the first-ever live grime radio set from Norway, hosted on DJ Shokk's Get To Know Grime radio show.



The following year, DJ Shokk and Ruben joined together once more in 2010 with the first Norwegian grime project, DJ Shokk Presenterer: Ruben - Radio Bars. The project is a collection of pre-recorded tunes and freestyles by Ruben. This was followed on 20 December by the second grime project released out of Norway, Undervannsmusikk by Vågsbygd Handy ('Vågsbygd' is an area of Kristiansand, a city in southern Norway). Unlike Shokk's project, it was not entirely grime, but tunes such as "U.F.O.", "Fatwa", "U.L.V." represent some early quality releases from the country. The mixtape saw official collaborations from British producers Maniman, Mr. Mitch, and kiwi grime producer DJ Myrikal.




Some four or so years later, grime would explode in popularity in the UK. This resurgence hit Norway too, and for the first time, the average hip-hop listener in Norway was starting to become in-tune with at least some of what was coming out of the UK. For Shokk, it was something he knew would happen eventually:


Shokk: "I was just surprised it happened so late. But I'll be honest and say it also made me a bit wary of it just being a cool trend, like dubstep a couple of years before. I was 6 years into making grime radio and even longer listening to it, and now I'm having friends telling me 'Yo have you heard Skepta?'... I didn't want to be 'that guy', but of course it's tempting to say 'well.... It's 2015 and I have been trying to tell you about Skepta for 10 years now'. But in the end you obviously can't fault them for it - I love that it's more understood now."



This period saw the emergence of new artists within Norway that were experimenting with grime, most notably MC J-Zino, based out of Oslo, and producer Olja Beats. Meanwhile, Vågsbygd Handy members Tor Even Terror and Pete Shinobi joined up with Son of Light, a notable Norwegian hip hop artist in his own right, to form Hemmelig Sekt.

Hemmelig Sekt is currently, as of 2020, the only "grime group" in Norway (other than the newly formed PapaSierraTango). Their 2018 album Skyggen Av Skyggen features a variety of quality grime tunes, such as the Zeph Ellis - Acid Bomb vocal titled "Cobra Kai". A more recent single from last year, titled "Rømme Avsted", sees gritty grime production mix with R&B-esque singing on the hooks.

J-Zino

Pictured is J-Zino, wearing a black/grey jacket and standing in a store.
Pictured: J-Zino

J-Zino first entered the Norwegian rap scene around 2009. His first forays into music were firmly within the realms of hip-hop, but J-Zino was already aware of grime music by this point:

J-Zino: "I discovered grime music through MTV Base (around 2008), they used to play Dizzee Rascal a lot. There was one song from him called 'Stand Up Tall', when I first heard that song it blew my mind. I didn’t know that type of music was called grime back then, because I was very young still. But I became more interested so I kept watching more videos on MTV Base, until one day they played Lethal Bizzle 'Pow' right after Kano's 'Typical Me'. I was falling in love with the sound, so I decided to do some research and I came across Skepta on YouTube, and More Fire Crew 'Oi'.


However, it wasn't until 2014 that J-Zino really fell in love with grime music. As grime was surging upwards in popularity, J-Zino released his first-ever grime song (sadly, it has since been removed): a remix of "That's Not Me" by Skepta.


J-Zino: "I like to rap fast, and I felt like grime would fit my style much better, although I wasn't fully committed to grime yet. When Skepta released 'That's Not Me', I loved that beat so much I decided to record a freestyle on the same beat, I was very proud of the results I posted on my twitter and linked Skepta with it. Without expecting an answer from him, I was surprised when he replied to me very quick saying 'SICK'"


The crisp production, music videos, references to British grime, and lyrics littered with elements of London slang in songs such as "Man Don't Play" and "Roads" aren't that far removed from grime being made in the UK. Listening to J-Zino is often like listening to a Londoner misplaced in Norway. In 2019, a new UK-Norway link-up occurred with "Skillz N Barz", featuring London grime MC Snowy Danger (the song even got radio play in Norway).



Olja Beats

Pictured is Norwegian producer Olja Beats.
Pictured: Olja Beats

In 2015-16 a guy from London that I worked with showed me some Grime on the way to Amsterdam, and from then I was hooked! - Olja Beats

I discovered Olja a year or so ago due to his productions for British grime MC Mischief - Olja produced the entirety of Mischief's mixtape Grime Kid, Vol. 1 and various other releases from Mischief, such as "Check Mate" or his Creso SMG freestyle. To my surprise, Olja is not British, but Norwegian. The two artists linked up together in Norway in 2019 at a grime event in Oslo hosted by Olja Beats to promote the EP.

Olja Beats: "Mischief hollered me after a radio set where he shelled over some of my instrumentals. We found a good tone from the start and his workrate is off charts. I loved his workrate and his style, so we just started right away and made a lot of tunes."

Olja Beats originally hails from Bosnia & Herzegovina but lived and grew up in Norway (although, he is now based in Denmark). Olja originally entered the scene around 2012-2013 producing 90s hip hop instrumentals, but through a British associate, he became familiar with grime music. 


The Future
If I sit next to a younger person on the subway/metro on my way home, 9/10 times I will hear drill, UK rap or afro swing coming out of their headphones. - DJ Shokk
Grime music is obviously still small in Norway - as it always has been, but the potential is there for it to grow further, and with genres such as UK drill introducing a new generation of Norwegians to British urban music, some of that success may introduce more people from the country to grime as well. The near future appears to hold future releases from the country, with Olja Beats producing the forthcoming Grime Kid Vol 2 project for Mischief, although a release date is currently unknown, and a forthcoming single on the way from J-Zino, titled "Round And Round", set to be released 6 March 2020.

While DJ Shokk's radio show came to an end after around 8-9 years, his plans to push grime music in Norway haven't quite stopped there. He is of course, still producing - most recently he dropped the instrumental "Wuhan Riddim". He also produced a tune for 3-man crew PapaSierraTango (Skjult Caleb, Snikende Sønn, and OG Ruben) titled "Stor Stamina" in February.





PapaSierraTango, or simply "PST", DJ Shokk, and filipgold, another Norwegian artist who has dabbled in grime, also have plans to hold consistent pure grime music nights in Oslo.


Shokk: "Me, PST, Filip +++ are going to put on consistent nights in Oslo with just grime sets and nothing else, for anyone who is interested and understands the culture. I really wanted to do that a long time ago, but it's about being the right people at the right time, and I feel like that's what happened now. Also, for me it hasn't been easy finding somewhere in Oslo you can play with absolutely no compromise and connecting with the right people to do that, and I've never been interested in making compromises.. The sound is probably somewhat better understood now as well, than it was let's say 10 years ago."



DJ Shokk: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
PapaSierraTango: Instagram
J-Zino: Twitter / Facebook
Olja Beats: Twitter / Facebook

Pictured left-to-right: Mischief on the mic, Snikende Sønn (PST) right behind, DJ Shokk on the decks, filipgold, and Skjult Caleb (PST)