One of Sweden’s most prominent rappers is called Adam Tensta. The music video for his track “Lights At Bay” is exclusively being premiered worldwide over at Noisey today. Adam, who was born in Tensta, a Stockholm suburb where he still lives and that he relates to a lot (his name is even the same) released his first album, It’s a Tensta Thing, in 2007. It made him huge. He supported mega superstars such as Jay-Z and Rihanna and grew to the point that he one day found himself sitting in the very same sofa that guys such as Tupac, Dr Dre and Eminem had previously been, staring at a massive record deal. According to some US record company bosses, he was going to make it big in America. At the time, Adam was pretty much the only up-and-coming Scandinavian rapper who mastered English (most rappers in Sweden, rap in Swedish), making heavy tunes with euro-dance inspired electro beats. But Adam chose not to grab the good old “chance of a life time.”
And why was that?
Because he didn't want to be part of some giant machinery, duh.
Anyway, the other day when the Grammy Awards were on in Sweden, I went over to Adam’s Tensta flat (he's not a big fan of music competitions) because his second album, Scared of the Dark, which was released in Scandinavia in 2011, is currently taking over the German speaking countries in Europe. We had a chit-chat over some pan pizza about "Lights At Bay", which features David Sandström of Sweden’s biggest rock band of all times, Refused. If that’s a band you’ve never heard of, I suggest you get that google-ing going. Now.
VICE: Tell me about “Lights At Bay.”
Adam Tensta: It’s one of the last songs to come out from my latest record. It's a tune that I've done together with David Sandström from Refused. The song was created while we were at different places, a bit in his studio, a bit here at my place, a bit on the road, probably in some car somewhere. The song was pretty tough to write, because it's about parts of my relationship with my dad. I find some things difficult to talk about with people face to face. So it's a bit like being “safe” from my side. It's easier to talk about these kinds of stuff through my music.
Don't you ever feel like crying when you perform or record that type of emotional track?
Of course, but that's kind of the point. It's good to remind yourself about the past and how you used to feel about certain stuff. To bring people with you on an emotional journey, or whatever journey it could be. To me, that's the essence of music.
So you're behind the lyrics in “Lights At Bay”?
Yep. As with everything else I do. But David has definitely contributed.
The video is slightly different from other videos that you've made.
Yeah, my videos have always been pretty damn conceptual. There's one video in which I'm a monkey, one where I'm in space, and there’s one video when I travelled to Nigeria and shot some Nollywood/African sci-fi thing. So this video feels pretty stripped down in comparison, which feels good, because the tune is so honest in a way. The video was shot in my bedroom. It was a last minute kind of thing, but it turned out cool.
How come you began collaborating with David?
He's been playing with me during my last tour. So we grabbed the moment and made a track as well.
Do you have a previous relationship with Refused, I mean are you a fan?
I've been working a lot in Umeå [where Refused are from] and loads of my colleagues that worked with me on that album and the album before that are all from Umeå. Thomas Hedlund, the other drummer during my tour apart from David, is also from Umeå. He plays in bands such as Phoenix, Cult of Luna and Deportees. And Addeboy vs. Cliff that I've been working with are from Umeå too. Being surrounded by all these people from there, it ended up being David and me. That Refused did a comeback after 14 years of silence and dominated the world was just a lot of fun. The energy that David kicks on stage is unique. I feel privileged to have had him around me at all.
I guess there are a lot of people who are jealous with you since David is pretty much a legend.
He has such a great amount of knowledge, so it's amazing to just talk to him.
Considering that you hung out at lots different places while making “Lights At Bay”, is this a song that has been through a lot of different stages?
Despite the traveling, I managed to write it pretty fast because I was inside the right mindset for that record. Before writing this song, it had taken three years to make the album. Not that I was working with it all the time, but I was on tour and I lacked the experience of knowing how to tour at the same time as being in the studio recording. So it was towards the end of the recording process that I got things to go pretty smooth. The title track, “Scared of the Dark”, was the second-to-last tune that I made. It was kind of the hub of that record. "Lights At Bay", “On His Mind” and the one I made together with Kleerup, “For Last”, are the tunes that I value most on this record.
Scared of the Dark was released in Scandinavia almost two years ago, how come this video hasn't been released until now?
Because we wanted to do something special for the new release in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. We kinda put some tracks on the album on hold. It feels great that this tune gets to live a little longer, because “Lights At Bay” is part of a mixtape that I will release next month, called The Undeniable Tape. So that's kind of the thing. It's going to be fun. It's a small mixtape with six tracks and a few collaborations with some enthralling Swedish musicians.
There are a lot of collaborations around you.
Not really on my records, but between the records, yes.
Is making music between the records something you consider as hobby projects or is that just work for you?
Some times it's just for fun. But on The Undeniable Tape for instance, there are tracks that don't have any relationship to each other. Whilst on my records, the tracks are related to each other. There's a thought behind them. This mixtape is just a tribute to musicians that I find awesome, such as Eboi, Elliphant, Duvchi, Chords, Adam Kanyama, and of course David Sandström.
What's up with your hashtag #BeUndeniable that's been circling around social media lately?
It's about being as good as you can be. If you let your qualities come out, then there isn't anything that can deny you anything. Even if you don't like me as a person, you should still recognise me, you know. It's not only about music, it's about being here and now. People who can take this to their hearts and start believing more in themselves, will understand that they can only do things and succeed with them if they really believe in them and think it's fun. I know it sounds a lot like a cliché, like, "What's your advice to young people," you know, but that's the way it is. If you do things with enough passion, then nothing can stop you and no one can tell you anything different.
I totally get what you’re saying. I’m looking forward to your mixtape, and thanks, Adam!
Check out "Lights At Bay" over at Noisey. For more on Adam Tensta, check out his website where you'll find lots of free music to download, you can follow him on Twitter, too: @Adamtensta