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Adam Tensta: Sweden’s great hip-hop hope

Sweden's rising hip-hop star Adam Tensta talks to The Local's Majsan Boström about bright musical prospects, growing up in a tough Stockholm neighbourhood, and recording in the same studio as boyhood idol Michael Jackson.

Adam Tensta: Sweden's great hip-hop hope

PHOTO GALLERY

Adam Tensta, one of Sweden’s hottest hip-hop artists, has just returned from an intense 12 days in Los Angeles, California, where he performed at legendary clubs like The Viper Room and The Roxy Theatre.

“We killed the shows,” says Tensta. He means it went great.

Things are definitely on the up and up for the 25-year-old, whose music is a pretty fast and danceable blend of socially conscious hip-hop lyrics and an electro/house sound.

Since his first single “They Wanna Know” caught national attention in 2007, he won a Grammis (Swedish Grammy) for best Dance/Hip Hop/Soul album, he has done more than 300 shows and performed in three continents. Last summer he opened for Jay-Z and performed at Allsång På Skansen, a hugely popular Swedish sing-along fest.

In September he took the stage in San Diego. In December went to Africa, including Ethiopia, Senegal and Gambia. In January, a major label, the name of which he wants to keep on the low, flew him over to LA to talk business. There he also got the chance to lay a verse on a Keri Hilson track in the very studio where Michael Jackson recorded Thriller.

That was a near-magical experience for Tensta, a child of the eighties who grew up listening to the mega-artist he calls MJ. The otherwise cool, calm and collected artist says the experience gave him goose bumps.

“I never get nervous, seldom stressed out, but that was pretty emotional,” he admits.

It wasn’t that long ago he recorded his debut album, “It’s A Tensta Thing”, in his sister’s closet. And it wasn’t very long since he and his friends stood on Drottninggatan in Stockholm hustling mix-tapes to strangers, all the while blasting their music on a boom-box that cost more in batteries than what they made on their CDs.

Growing up the son of a Swedish-Finnish single-mom and a heroin addicted and absent father from Gambia, Tensta decided to not let his life become any more stereotyped. At an early age he decided that drinking, smoking cigarettes and doing drugs were not for him. Though he doesn’t want impose his beliefs on other people, he says he’s happy if he is a role model and an inspiration to young people.

Growing up in one of Sweden’s projects might not be as tough as those in America, Tensta says, but it’s still no cake walk. His peers didn’t get brand new cars for graduation present like some teens did in the more affluent areas of Stockholm, a 17-minute metro-ride from Tensta, he says.

“I haven’t been shot nine times like 50 Cent,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean that I don’t see what’s going on.”

A few days before he travels to LA, I head out to Tensta to check out his “hood”. He took the name to honour his roots and show that good things can come out of Tensta.

We meet in the city and take the blue line out together. On the train, several people notice him. A girl sharing our four-seater booth listens in to our conversation and says,

“It’s hard to be famous in Tensta,” and laughs.

Tensta smiles and says he doesn’t think he’s that famous.

But coming up from the metro and out to Tensta square, everyone knows who he is.

“I thought you were in the USA,” says one teenage kid, obviously proud of the fact that he is in-the-know.

“Leaving on Friday,” Tensta responds and shakes the guy’s hand.

Tensta, whose full name is really Adam Momodou Eriksson Taal, shows me where he, as a teen, stood on stage for the first time, where he used to play, and where he kissed his first girl, behind the soccer field. He was eight.

“Adam Tensta? Wow!” Some little boys on bikes make big eyes.

Tensta flashes one of his great smiles. He seems to like kids.

Stepping into the apartment (the one where his mother raised him) there are traces of a remodeling-in-progress, but otherwise things are in meticulous order. In the hallway are long lines of colorful sneakers in perfect rows. In the living room, clothes are piled atop a white, Styrofoam bookshelf.

Video games are stacked in precise order in the entertainment stand. In one of the bedrooms, a brand new studio is ready to be fired up as soon as his roommate and executive producer, Nils “Ears” Svennem Lundberg, gets his new recording equipment. For some reason, the Grammis statuette is stashed in a cabinet in the sparsely equipped kitchen.

“I am on the road a lot,” he says and smiles.

We sit down on charcoal grey Styrofoam benches on the balcony, drinking in the April sun and talking about his upcoming trip to LA. Tensta, who is cool, calm and collected says this trip has a tad of anxiety to it.

“This time it feels like it’s for real, some people know who we are now,” he says, referring to the two earlier trips to the City of Angels over the course of the last eight months. “We definitely still have things to prove.”

This time around, meetings with the major label were scheduled again. Tensta, who is signed to Respect My Hustle Entertainment and Universal Publishing, is naturally tight-lipped when it comes to sharing details about contract negotiations with a giant record label.

“But if it turns out that [they] are ready to accept our demands, we’ll probably sign,” says Tensta, adding that he is not planning on jumping ship and leaving for the US forever should the deal materialize.

“They are in the clear that my music will be made here in Sweden,” Tensta says.

“It has to, otherwise it looses its edge [on the international market.]”

So what’s next?

Aside from putting the final touches on the international version of “It’s A Tensta Thing,” which will include eight to 10 new tracks along with the four hits — My Cool, Dopeboy, They Wanna Know, Before U Know It — Tensta’s schedule is pretty wide open.

“We have purposely kept the schedule open this summer to be able to book shows abroad, trips like this one,” he says.

But Tensta isn’t the only one, who has made dance floors from Sweden to Senegal to the US sizzle. His hype man, Eboi, who is featured in the single Dopeboy, and DJ Rooftop have become a well-synched trio. They are all part of Respect My Hustle, a fluid clique that also includes three talented producers, managers and other artists.

Though he has his focus on an international career, Tensta says he might end up doing three albums tops. Then he’s got another project, which he refuses to reveal, planned.

“I hope people will say something like, ‘He’s so multi-faceted this Adam Tensta guy, it’s hard to get sick of him,’” Tensta says of himself in third person. “He’s evolving, he is so much more than just a musician.”

PHOTO GALLERY

Adam Tensta – My Cool

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MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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