When I think of my daughter, Stella, this all seems ridiculous” says Emmsjé Gauti while drawing the arrow into his bow. “In three or four years, she’ll be old enough to be speaking to her friends. She’ll ask one of her friends, ‘Oh What does your dad do?’

‘He works in an office, why? What does your father do, Stella?’

‘Oh, he’s a rapper.’”


I’ve known Emmsjé Gauti for about two years. I’ve seen him live dozens of times. He’s one of Iceland’s most successful musicians and performers. We’ve spent a few late nights together, talking about everything from movies to make-up (hey, you’re being paid to look your best). Everytime I meet Gauti–and that could be anywhere at anytime for any occasion–he’s always working on something, always busy and always late for his next appointment. He’s the White Rabbit of hip-hop in Iceland: he’s the best person to lead you into this wonderland and, once you’re in, you’ll see him everywhere.

I decided to do the interview while shooting at the “Archery Mansion”, Bogfimisetrið. Archery makes it so Gauti has something to do and the only other thing he can focus on is answering my questions. In a way, it’s the only way to unplug him for a few minutes.

“I never took rapping seriously when I was a kid,” he says while aiming. “When I was 15 or 16 I never thought of rapping as a career move. It was a hobby. That was what I was being told, constantly, by people around me. ‘You can’t be a rapper in Iceland. That’s not a career.’ Even today, because I was told that so much when I was younger, it sounds fucking ridiculous.

“You know, this is one of those things [archery] that everyone thinks they’re good at until they try it. I guess that’s like a lot of things. You aren’t really tested until you actually go for it.”

Gauti grew up around music. His father owned a studio. He would watch bands coming in and recording their albums and he would dream about one day recording his own. That was when he nine- or ten-years-old. He didn’t start writing his own rap lyrics until he was around twelve or thirteen. He recorded his first album when he was around sixteen.

“What I’m excited for,but also of afraid of, is how popular hip-hop is right now,” Gauti says while we walk down the range to retrieve our arrows. “Hip-hop got so popular in 2002 that everyone started rapping–like what’s happening now. And it became uncool. Everyone just got sick of it, ‘Ohhh this is too popular. Let’s do indie-rock now.’ It’s a bit worrying. History repeats itself.”

Gauti wheels a foam target out from around the corner. The target is in the shape of a deer. I hang a ball from a hook above the original targets. We’re both looking to show off a bit and be a little bit competitive. Gauti is constantly putting out new music videos and albums. His last music video was released, Hógvær, on the same day the Icelandic Government collapsed…”I tried calling around to get press, but apparently they had other things on their mind.”

“I’ve always felt pressure, since I started, to be constantly releasing new stuff,” he says while nodding his head in approval of his last shot, which hit the hanging target, causing the ball to swing back and forth. “I remember after my first album. We thought we were so popular, my friend Jói Dagur and me. I mean we’d sold like 50 albums and we were like, ‘Holy shit. Everybody knows us!’ After that I’ve always felt pressure. I’ll admit it. I’m not in this only to make music. I love making music and I love being in the studio, but I love attention so fucking much. I mean, of course there’s good attention and bad attention, but I remember the first time I heard some announce “Emmsje Gauti” on stage and all I could think was, ‘Fuck yeah. I could do this to my ear everyday.'”

Gauti is revered by his colleagues and contemporaries. He’s a lyricist, a musician, but first and foremost a performer. A mutual friend of ours from the rap group Rottweiler, Águst Bent, always says, “Gauti just loves being on stage. I mean, I like writing and rapping and performing, but Gauti goes on stage and just takes it all in. He feeds off of it.”

“I don’t think there is much of a possibility that Icelandic hip-hop is going to be worldwide-Katy-Perry-famous, but at least we can maybe fill up a bar or two.”

Rottweiler became the first rap group to rap in Icelandic and become really popular. They were rockstars. They managed to turn hip-hop into something people were like ‘Ok, this is possible. We can do this here,'” says Gauti as we start cleaning up our stuff at the range. “Úlfur Úlfur was the first band to bring hip-hop to the radio in like 2011 or 2012. They had this super big pop hit called ‘ég er farinn.’ At the same time as this you have this other guy, Gísli Pálmi. He was making music so fresh that people thought he was joking. Of course, Gísli was playing a bit of a character, but at the same time, he was super serious about it. He told everyone in his second song saying, “you’ll get it later.” He proved his point.”

Icelandic hip-hop has made a little blip on the international radar in last couple of years. It’s even been covered in Rolling Stones magazine. As much as I understand Gauti’s feeling about the peculiarity of being a rapper in Iceland, perhaps that’s just being narrow-minded. On the drive to archery he was joking about how well he’s doing, “I buy every iPhone. I mean everyone. All they need to do is add and S and I’ll buy that too…even if they’re exactly the same.”

This may seem meager compared to rappers in America, but Reykjavík is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Being able to afford luxuries and groceries is usually something only bankers can do and they still have to steal.

“I was able to live off performing before I became ‘famous’,” he laughs as he puts away the bow on the rack. “Because I did a lot of shows. I was working a day job at a bar and eventually I told myself, ‘I’m just going to test it. I’m going to test this idea that you can’t make a living rapping.’ I decided to quit my job and see if this would work for me. It was two years of struggle and being broke and doing any show that was offered to me. Eventually, it came to me. It was working. If you have any doubt in your mind about something you want, save that for later, go for it now.

“Two or three months ago, I did my first solo show in Germany. I’ve done international audiences before at festivals–Sonar and Airwaves and Secret Solstice–to good reviews, but I always felt a lot those people were Icelandic fanatics that came over here to say nice things about everything. This was different. We had no expectations.”

The idea of performing icelandic rap in Germany and introducing the songs in English seems too complicated to be possible. We head down the stairs from the range and hop in his nice but sensible Toyota.

“It went really well,” he says. “I mean, I told one dead baby joke. They didn’t like that. It was like a 9 out of 10 because of the dead baby joke. After that I thought, ‘Maybe I could tour Europe?’ Not for fame or for money, but for that feeling I had as a child–wanting to be a musician, playing shows and making people happy and getting attention.

“I don’t think there is much of a possibility that Icelandic hip-hop is going to be worldwide-Katy-Perry-famous, but at least we can maybe fill up a bar or two.”

If you’re in Iceland for the Airwaves Music Festival, make sure you stop by and say hi to Gauti. He’ll appreciate it.