Promoe Interview /// 2005

1. You have a fanbase over the world nowadays but originated from Sweden, how is the hip-hop scene in Sweden and how did you begin being involved in the culture of it?

I got into hiphop around ‘86 when a Swedish hiphop scene was still very small. I was also very young at the time, so I had no idea if there was a scene. It’s not until around ‘91 that I started looking to what other Swedish people were doing in hiphop (up till then I had only heard and seen small glimpses of the American scene – very distorted when it finally reached my childhood bedroom – with the exception of some Swedish graffiti). Around this time I heard of ADL, Swing-Fly and the Time bomb collective. This is also the year that I met Embee and recorded our first track.

A lot has happened since then. Sweden’s rap scene (I would say – rather than hiphop scene) saw a big commercial breakthrough around ‘01 when rapping in Swedish was made very successful. Most major labels signed one or two rappers spitting in our native tongue, but after a few years the interest died out and most got dropped. Nowadays media and majors are still looking for that act that will save Swedish hiphop and take it out of the slump.

We/I have always been a bit outside of this whole circus for various reasons. We rap in English, we’re not from Stockholm, we’re political and we’ve rejected going along with majors and with the media. We’ve also built a steadier fan base like you say. The answers to why we’ve been blessed with that are many and I’m not really sure, but it is a fact, and I’m really happy for it.

2. While on the mic you prove every time to be a true MC, aesthetically with your wild beard and hairstyle and tie-dye singlets you hardly look the part – are you as untamed as your appearance and do you care to fit

into a hip-hop quota?

I will never fit into that hiphop stereotype no matter how hard I try (and I stopped trying years ago), but at the same time one could argue that hiphop can look very different. And that that is the very essence of hiphop. But I do this cus I love music and not to live up to somebody else’s standards of what hiphop should look like, and I really don’t care.

3. Your rhymes seem to have a strong political message, to what extent does politics come into your mind when writing a track?

I write about politics and love with very few exceptions. The term politics, to me, embodies peoples’ struggle for freedom, life, justice and so on. These are things that I think about a lot and when I let the music carry me away I often find myself writing about this.

4. What is your opinion on the current state of the world, and in particular events such as the massacre in Beslan? What stirs up anger or emotion in your heart at the present moment?

I’m writing this when the death count after the earthquake and flooding of South Asia is still rising to enormous heights, which makes it a bit hard to think about other disasters. I get angrier, however, with manmade disasters and wars. Nature has its way. It’s when we tamper with it, causing floods and so on because of our destructive way of life that fucks me up. We’re so obsessed with this way of life that we refuse to see the connections between it and the disasters that are killing us. We will learn the hard way I guess.

5. From tracks such as ‘Spraycan Stories’ to ‘Adrenaline Rush’ and ‘Freedom Fighters’, whether as apart of Looptroop or as a solo artist, one topic that comes up frequently is graffiti. What is your history with graffiti and why do you have such a passion for it?

Graffiti was my way into hiphop and has made me to a large extent into the person I am today. The independence one gets from being an outsider (or an outlaw) has made me strong and made me believe in myself. It has also made it hard for me to relate to “mainstream society”, which – believe it or not – can be very destructive at times.

Today I’m not a big writer (I never was, but now I’m bordering towards not being a writer at all), but I still see the world through the same eyes more or less. I see a lot of young people trying to understand the world around them and expressing it to themselves and others through graffiti. On the other hand I see the older generation, the people in power, being afraid of what their kids are telling them about the world, or about their perception of the world. I see them washing it away instead of learning from it. I see the generation gap widening.

6. You dedicated the song ‘These Walls Don’t Lie’ to late Australian graff writer Bingo, what was your relationship with him and thus why did you chose to dedicate the song to his memory?

One of his friends wrote me an e-mail after his passing. It inspired me to writing the song because it made me think about all the times we were in the yards in my youth, and how we never thought it could be dangerous. I remember how my mom was telling me it could be, but I only thought about the risk of getting caught – never of getting hit by a train.

I made the song not to discourage young writers, but to be aware of the dangers of writing. I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails and love from Bingo’s friends and family, which has made me feel sure that it was the right thing to do (in Sweden – where the song was a big commercial hit – I’ve gotten some criticism because of the poppy hook, but it’s more important for me what people like Bingo’s family and friends think).

7. Do you still graff much yourself or have you given it up to an extent? It seems that you and Supreme do some walls every now and then

I probably don’t make more than one or two walls a year nowadays, but I write tags wherever I can, and I believe I’ll always be a writer.

8. How does your music as a solo artist differ to the music you make with Looptroop?

When I make solo material it’s about the connection between me and the one who makes the music, but most of the songs content is up to me (unless I work with another rapper/singer). With Looptroop the four of us work together to create the track. It definitely puts a certain feel to it. Embee’s special style is always present in the Looptroop sound. Solo I can work with anyone for the music. Lyrically the topics are the almost the same, but the way of writing is naturally different.

9. With the knowledge you seem to have you must research and read a lot of books, are you an avid reader and do you keep up with the news?

No, not really. I know a little of what’s going on around me, but mostly it feels like it’s about being critical towards the news and information we’re being bombarded with. I don’t think knowledge must come from books. Knowledge could be within us – what we need to practice is how to get in contact with it.

10. In the past Swedish language songs such as ‘Jak Skot Palme’ were banned from radio due to their content and you commented that you didn’t care and that the content had to be said, so how much these days does radio and commercial appeal come into making a song for you?

When we choose a single we try to make sure that it’s one that hopefully gets played. This means that it’s not too long (although we never really could make a song that’s short enough for radio). Other than that we don’t have to care about censoring curses or political content since we rap in English. People in Sweden understand it but won’t get offended by it like they do by songs like the one you mentioned.

When we make songs though we don’t think in those terms at all. We don’t have to ‘ somehow we always seem to make at least one “radio friendly” track. And if radio don’t want to play our tracks, which happened more than once, people still get a hold of it ‘ or we play it at every live show. The song you talk about is still one of our biggest hits in Sweden!

11. You chose not to rap in your native tongue from the beginning, why was that?

When we started out, like I said earlier, we had nobody to look to in Sweden – and the few we knew of rapped in English. We were only listening to American rap and that’s what got us started. The reason why we, most of the time, still rap in English is because that’s how we can spread our music outside of Sweden.

12. Even while speaking English you could have chosen to keep your accent, so why did you choose to opt for an American accent instead? Was it a case of trying to appeal to a market or just a decision you made based on your own beliefs?

For us it’s not like it is for British or Australian people who have their own English accent. The Swedish accent is something we ever from school been taught to try to get rid of. I learned English from my hiphop albums, so it’s only natural that that’s how I speak. If you listen close though you can hear the Jamaican influence too – also from the music!

13. Who are your mentors or people through history that you aspire to be like? Does your inspiration come from any, dare I say, clich’ great figures in history or just someone like a brother, sister or uncle?

Definitely my parents, but subconsciously I’m probably inspired by more people through history. I can’t come up with any names right now though’ I’ll get back on that to you later.

14. What were the factors that encouraged you and the rest of Looptroop to start up David vs. Goliath?

The name is from ‘98, but we started putting out stuff ‘95-’96. Around that time there were no major or minor labels in Sweden that could have put out our stuff (and you could argue the situation hasn’t changed that much). We had music people needed to hear (we felt) and had to take matters in our hands. I hope we can encourage more people to do the same. It’s hard, but it’s the most beautiful thing to be your own boss together with good friends.

15. Tracks such as ‘Likkle supm supm’ have a very strong reggae feel to them, what happened on your journeys to Jamaica and what initially drove you to go there?

“Likkle'” was actually recorded in Germany – the Jamaican influence is all over. What made me wanna go there was the love for the music reigning from that tiny island. Cosmic put me on to it back in ‘93 and he went with me on the trip, as well as our guide Chilly. Chilly had been to Jamaica a couple of times before which was good so we could avoid some of the first time misses.

I like traveling, and wanted to add some hot shit to my album. I rather wanted to put some Jamaicans on the album than Americans, but who knows about the next time.

About what happened there you probably heard a bunch of times. We were really lucky to hook up with Lady Saw and John John already at Heathrow, London. They let us stay at their place instead of at a hotel. This was great in a lot of ways. We got to make food in their kitchen, we got to know some great people, and had access to a lot of artists and to great studios.

16. Relating to perhaps Jamaican culture is your dreadlocks in anyway a spiritual part of you and thus maybe why you do not cut them?

Yes they are, in a very personal way I might add. I don’t wear them for the same reasons as somebody else I don’t think. They’re very political to me as well as spiritual – it’s all different sides to the same story I guess. I see them as a protest against society’s obsession of looks (although some may see them as a fashion statement – I wouldn’t agree). I don’t cut, comb or shave my head – this is how I look.

I’m inspired by rastas – that’s not hard to tell ‘ but also by my father rockin’ a long ass beard when I was growing up. I’m inspired to keep it like this by all dirty looks I get from prejudiced people, but also by the happy faces I get from other outsiders that recognize a fellow antagonist of our western world.

17. How does Promoe get the party rockin’? Are you a party animal off the stage or are you perhaps quiet and reserved?

I’m very quiet and reserved in new company. With my close friends I can be a real party animal, although I don’t drink – which is for some synonymous with partying! The first time you meet me you might think I’m a social misfit and I don’t really know all the codes. Don’t wanna know! But if we hang out for a while you’ll get to know my deeper sides, which might not be all that pleasant either.

18. Is there any one movie or any one book that has influenced you to become the person you are today and if so, what one?

I would of course want to answer a cool book like 1984 or a movie like Tarkovskij’s Stalker, but to tell the truth it’s probably more likely that I’ve been influenced by the bible. It’s hard to get away from in our society where everybody knows of it and most people can relate to it somehow whether they’re religious, atheists, searching or don’t really care. We all know the stories in it. We all know the story.

19. Is there any meaning behind your name, if so elaborate

Yes, Pro is for professional and Moe is for Morten (my name) – very intricate.

20. Looptroop toured in Australia in 2003; do you have plans of coming back anytime soon?

I tried to come back this year with my solo tour, but we couldn’t hook it up due in part to the very expensive flights. Hopefully there is more interest for the Troop as we plan to release our next album in the end of April ‘05. We would love to come back. Last time was really great. The crowds response was just like back home where we’ve had a chance to build a fan base for years.

21. How long do you intend to keep making music, what messages still need to be voiced to the people?

I always wanna make music. In this, hiphop, form however people probably don’t wanna hear it that long. It’s traditionally been a music for the young. That might change though as we all (even hiphoppers) grow old, but who knows. I think I wanna make another ten albums or so, which is probably around fifteen more years. It’s all impossible to tell though. As long as I have this feeling, as I do for music now, I’ll continue.

The message of love will always need a voice to the people, of the people and for the people. If I feel I can help voicing that I’ll continue doing so.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you too.

Muddy Johansson

Promoe’s debut album ‘Government Music’ has just been re-issued via Burning Heart/Shock and is available now.

His latest solo album ‘The Long Distance Runner’ is also out now.

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