meet gkr, the young talent on a mission to take icelandic rap global
Your best internet friend opens up both studio door and heart as he shares his colorful music.
Trust us when we tell you that you'd really want to be friends with Gaukur Gretuson. He's completely lovely, simultaneously both super chill yet very animated, and really, really funny. Raised by his photographer mother in Vesturbær, Reykjavik, he never enjoyed school; it was only when he went to art college and was encouraged to take up music that he began to flourish the fuck up. More commonly known as GKR, he's friends with the 101 Boys and a familiar face in Iceland (his tall stature and floppy Aaron Carter hair make him very recognizable) thanks to his colorful 2015 music video for Purpdogg-produced "Morgunmatur." Literally translating as breakfast, the self-directed video sees him dance through a high contrast world at a local swimming pool after hours. Listeners typically took the track at face value, a fun ode to cereal, when instead it was written with full sincerity during a time of depression. In it, he reflects on the importance of doing what you love in life in order to wake up happy.
The 22 year old talent picks us up in his mom's car, and we chat as he drives around the city before heading down to the docks, where he shares a studio full of weird instruments with friends. There's no internet there right now and he's absolute proof that you don't need it to be inspired. He's currently crafting a follow-up to his breakout single which, if what we heard in the studio is anything to go by, will involve him baring his soul Kendrick-style over a funky instrumental. His lyrics are a conversation with himself and a promise to come to the rescue of people that need it — fucked up people, those with a lot of emotions, awkward people, people like him. He hopes that listeners experience his future releases by themselves, like he does with Kid Cudi, and feel like they're in a music video. He understands. His biggest aim is for his music to connect and bring people together. We're all weird really so LET'S JUST HAVE FUN!
Where are we right now?
This is the street where I spent most of my time growing up. It's called Vesturgata and in the winter, it's very beautiful because there's snow in the trees and it feels very narrow. My mother is traveling a lot so she rents our family apartment out, so now I'm renting a place in 107, which is just across this street. It's kind of the core of Vesturbær which is known for its swimming pool, Vesturbæjarlaug, which is really nice and cosy. I went swimming with Bjork there last week, actually. Well, not with her but she was in the hot tub and I waved bye to her when I left and she thought it was funny. It's not cool for an Icelandic guy to do that shit. You're supposed to be super low-key about this kind of thing. But I thought it was fun.
Was she wearing a swan swimsuit?
Yeah, and it was like it was from Transformers or something, with rocket launchers. And she wasn't actually swimming, she was testing out a water jetpack.
Is that the swimming pool from your "Morgunmatur" video?
No, that's Laugardalslaug which is near Secret Solstice. It's different vibes, you know? There are way more tourists in that one because it's got one of the biggest slides in Iceland. In the one round here you meet a lot of people that you know... no big waterslides or anything, but big hearts. Now we're in 107 and this is where my grandma lives. I stayed with her for one year when I was finishing Reykjavik School of Visual Arts and it helped me a lot because she was so ambitious for me. She would wake me up and make oatmeal for me and put raisins in it. It's very good with raisins. I got a lot of support from her in my final year.
And that's what the track is about, right?
Yeah, but that was from a bit more depressed time. I wrote it before I went to art school; it was from when I was in this basic school where you're supposed to do everything like everyone else — it's just stuff that I didn't relate to. It sucks for a lot of people to just get stuck in something that they don't want to do, and I know a lot of people who are scared of taking the jump to another thing.
And that's where you started making music more seriously?
Well I'm a very sincere guy and I have a lot of feelings. Most of the time when I say something I really mean it, but I didn't have the outlet to do it the way I wanted to do. Because the other school, it didn't bring any of that out of me. It's really hard for me to drive and speak in English by the way… I have so much ADHD that we're just lucky to be alive right now.
This is where I'm renting now, a flat on the first floor. Anyway, going to an art school helped me out a lot because there were more people that understood what I wanted to do and they helped to bring it out of me. When you study art it opens doors to ideas. But sometimes that can mess up your mind too if you know too much — like Edward Snowden or something. I think his mind must be a little bit fucked.
Do you read a lot of books then?
No! I fucking suck when it comes to reading. I tried reading The Art of Rap and I was like, yeah, I'm gonna fucking study this shit and I'm gonna be the best. I started and read two pages and then just forgot it instantly.
Which artists do you look up to?
My main drive like four years back was Kid Cudi. He was the reason that I believed that I could do it and I think a lot of people owe that to Cudi. When I was younger than that and first getting into hip-hop, I was just listening to Wu Tang and Black Moon and old school stuff. Then I went into Kanye West and I really liked him, I related to him; but when I started listening to Cudi, I've never related to one artist so much as I did to him. Then I got really deep into Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and all of TDE. Now I'm more focused on making my craft good and dipping into different things. I really enjoy Vince Staples, Father, Clams Casino, and even bands like Tame Impala. Inspiration from all angles.
So these days, the sun never seems to set. How's that working out for you?
I think it's nice because the darkness in winter can make you very depressed — sometimes you just see like three hours of daylight and it can be super heavy on you. So I really like that it's bright, it really makes you feel lighter. It feels like a lot of people in Iceland are affected by it. You know, when Dunkin' Donuts came here, there was a line down the street the day before it opened; people were camping outside of it which is super crazy because it's just basic now. But that kind of describes the disorder; people hype things up so much and then just forget about them. I guess it happens everywhere, but in Iceland it's super up and down.
Do you feel like that happens with the music scenes too?
Yeah. I don't want to be hyped, I just want to be an artist that is overall appreciated as an artist. I feel like because I've just released "Morgunmatur" that was like a hit song and got very popular, most people in Iceland just know me by that song and probably don't know that I'm working hard on my music now. They just think it was a one time thing.
And what you're working on at the moment?
I think it's best to show you my music in the studio. We're just arriving in Grandi, the harbor area where there are a lot of mechanics and a photography school and fishing companies. The area is getting more popular because there are so many hotels and tourist shops being built Downtown so it's kind of pushing the local culture to another place, and I feel like that place is going to be Grandi. But right now it's super nice to be here because there's not a lot of people. Everyone that comes here is kind of on a mission; they either have a studio or an office space or something. There's not a lot of apartments here yet.
Is it still cheap to rent a studio space here?
No, it's not that cheap to rent anything anywhere in Reykjavik to be honest.
Who do you share this place with?
Welcome! I rent it with my best friend Marteinn who produces a lot of my tracks. We also share with Hogni Egilsson, a very famous Icelandic singer from a band called Gus Gus. And this is what happens when you share a studio with a big Icelandic singer; you get all the big instruments and it makes the studio look a lot more expensive. Before that, it was just a couch and some rugs.
What's that award you've got there?
I won 'Artist to Watch 2016' from Reykjavik Grapevine music awards. GKR… some say he's the best rapper alive. Some don't.
You must have won that surrounding the famous "Morgunmatur." Did you direct the video yourself?
Yes, and I also edited the whole thing. We shot it in a day and I had this spot in mind for the location because it has a lot of color. I love music videos, they're so important. I feel like I'm as much a visual artist as I am a musician, but I relate most to music. But when I watch movies, I just want to be a part of that scene. In fact, I want to do a record surrounding that idea. It's a sick concept I think. It's just audio but it makes you feel like being in a movie.
Are there any movies in particular?
Life of Pi. It's such a dreamy visual. Also the Arcade Fire music video for "The Suburbs." It's so crazy what art can do; it can make people feel stuff they've never felt before.
Color seems really important to you.
Yeah. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it can portray personality or feelings. It can show a lot of character and make you feel something too.
"Morganmatur" was produced by Purpdogg. That came from an online friendship, right?
Yeah — internet friendships are very weird. I have a lot of these kind of relationships with other musicians. Iceland isn't a huge country and sometimes the sound you're looking for isn't found in Iceland, so you have to check somewhere else. I was always searching for beats on SoundCloud and I found Purpdogg in 2014 and bought some beats from him. Then he got really busy and produced "We Made It" for Drake and Soulja Boy. Then Jay Z and Jay Electronica hopped on the remix. It's crazy.
You've mentioned your desire to take Icelandic rap overseas, but would you ever consider rapping in English?
I wrote something in English actually, but when I rap it feels like Chinese or something. It's funny how I can write words down and it's fine but when I hear myself saying it, I'm like, 'what the fuck is that?' I suppose I would consider doing it in English, but I want to see how far I can go in Icelandic first.
Catch GKR at Iceland Airwaves, November 2-6. More information, full line-up and tickets available here.
Text Frankie Dunn
Photography Ozzie Pullin