NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- On a recent afternoon, the nine faces of the Icelandic feminist rap collective Daughters of Reykjavik were arranged in a grid on Zoom for a group interview. One of the rappers nursed a 15-day-old baby. The bands founder stood up to show her pregnancy bump. Another member sat in the home of her 82-year-old grandmother, who wandered into view now and then.
The rappers had gotten used to this scenario in lockdown. After the pandemic pressed pause on promoting their second album, Soft Spot, they boosted their morale by making a video for the single Thirsty Hoes, featuring a synchronized routine recorded by each rapper in her bedroom. As it plays out in another Zoom-like grid, raucousness occasionally erupts: one member dances on her bed; a bare-chested man writhes around behind another; a third swigs from a bottle of Champagne.
Yet while such scripted organized chaos, which mirrors the choreography of the groups live shows, has won over audiences around Europe, the group has been divisive at home.
Weve been a big controversy in Iceland, basically, said Thuridur Blaer Valsdottir, the groups founder, who directed the Thirsty Hoes video which, as the group member Ragnhildur Holm said, is their first that doesnt have any negative comments on YouTube.
So its not surprising that the band whose Soft Spot was released Friday now has aspirations beyond Icelands tiny hip-hop scene.
The rappers met in the early 2010s at a women-only open-mic night that one of the members, Thura Stina Johannsdottir, had helped put on. And when they got together as a group, there was a lot of ugly sexism, Johannsdottir said.
Critics said they looked good but trashed their music.
One of the rappers, Steiney Skuladottir, acknowledged that in the groups early days, when everyone was welcome and the group had an unruly 21 members, they werent very good. But even now that the collective is more professional, the idea that they are bad musicians still haunts them, she said. Thats just our brand in Iceland.
At the time of their founding, in 2013, homegrown hip-hop was becoming popular in Iceland. Many young, mostly male MCs were emerging, adopting the distinctive hi-hat percussion and skittering snares of the popular American trap sound but rapping in Icelandic.
The arrival of an all-woman troupe with a clear feminist agenda stirred things up.
The group then called Reykjavikurdaetur immediately gained its reputation for scandal when it landed a spot on a national TV show and Johannsdottir performed a profanity-laden rap about Icelands prime minister at the time.
It wasnt her negative attitude toward him that viewers found shocking, she said, but rather that a woman was being vulgar. People said of the group, Theyre much ruder than all the boy rappers, Johannsdottir said.
But we are not, she added. Were exactly as rude as them.
It wasnt just the news media that made disparaging comments about the group. Other Icelandic musicians joined in on social media.
Emmsje Gauti, a prominent male rapper, said on Twitter that he thought they lacked talent: This is not a matter of gender, he wrote. Bad music is bad music. His comments, said Salka Valsdottir, the producer of the groups beats, got so many retweets that it became kind of acceptable to be very negative and disrespectful towards us.
Iceland is a small nation of just over 350,000 people, and its music industry is close knit. So Gautis comments were wounding especially because, for someone in the group, hes family.
Hes my step-cousin, Johannsdottir said. Weve spent Christmas together its really awkward. But she said she didnt let it get her down for long. I gave him a Reykjavikurdaetur T-shirt with my signature on it as a present.
One of the few other women in Icelandic rap is Ragna Kjartansdottir, who performs as Cell7 and has been active since the 90s. She said in an interview that the local rap scene was split over the collective, which last year changed its name to Daughters of Reykjavik something easier for foreigners to say and cut its numbers to the current nine.
Some people think its great, Kjartansdottir said of the group, but others think theyre less about the music and more about creating a spectacle.
Events came to a head when the group performed its song Disgusting on a talk show in 2016. Skuladottir said in the interview that there was nothing extraordinary about the performance that night although one member was wearing a strap-on sex toy.
Another guest on the program, singer Agusta Eva Erlendsdottir, was appalled and walked offset. Afterward, in an interview with the website Nutiminn, Erlendsdottir likened the experience of sharing a stage with the collective to being raped on live television.
The internet was soon ablaze with hate for the group, Skuladottir said. When I got home and I looked on the computer, people were like, Oh my God, they are disgusting! They are the worst thing thats happened to Iceland.
It was then, she said, that they decided to concentrate on breaking through abroad.
Wed been scared of making music because anything wed do, we would get so much hate, Skuladottir said. But after we shifted our focus, weve been a lot more free.
Katrin Helga Andresdottir, another member, said that now, outside Iceland, the band was way bigger than any of the male rappers.
Valsdottir has since moved to Berlin, and the other Daughters traveled there last year to record Soft Spot over 10 days.
Working in such a large group can be challenging, Johannsdottir said. When Daughters of Reykjavik had more than 20 members, they would all would write their own verses separately. Now, with fewer, its a more collaborative process.
At one point we were anarchic every voice had to be heard, and everybody had very strong opinions about everything, said Steinunn Jonsdottir, a member. Now, she said, We know who is the strongest in one aspect of their work and who is the strongest in another, so we dont fight each other.
To promote the album, the band recorded a podcast that explores themes from the album, such as online abuse, toxic masculinity and body image. Episode 1 uses the song Sweets as a springboard for a discussion among the groups members about female sexuality.
One song on the album, the Eminem-inspired track A Song to Kill Boys To, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the hate that we got, Johannsdottir said. But otherwise, the Daughters said their music was about empowerment and positivity.
Its important that women perceive us as lifting each other up, Valsdottir said, and to see that amateurs just having a go can find success.
They all started rapping to have fun, Skuladottir said. After all that theyve been through, she added, thats still what drives them.
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