Interview: Swedish MC Adam Tensta Talks Break-Ups, Street Fighter & #BlackLivesMatter
Adam Tensta is a complex individual. This indie hip-hop artist hails from the great land of Sweden. In his own backyard, he’s had a slew of hit songs. Not to mention, a couple of his songs have been featured in popular video game franchises NBA 2K and Street Fighter. In 2008, he won a Grammis (Swedish Grammy) for Best Hip-Hop/Soul Album for his debut It’s A Tensta Thing. Despite his successful career, he’s remained humble and dedicated to his craft. After releasing his critically acclaimed sophomore album The Empty, he has been nominated for Album of the Year at this year’s Grammis. We got a chance to chat a bit with Adam while he’s still recording new music:
How did you get your start in the music industry?
I met Babak in an apartment in Jordbro around 2001. We started working via a collective of rappers and aspiring artists. It wasn’t until 2006 we’d acquired enough momentum to independently release my first single ‘Bangin’ On the System’, and the following year, my debut album It’s a Tensta Thing. We came in independent, and we still are.
Who did you idolize as a teenager?
I idolized my big brother. [He’s] 4 years older than me and everything I wanted to be. He put me on to Hip-Hop, playing Mobb Deep and NAS in the system. Also I listened to Bob Marley a lot, but not to the point I would say that I idolized them, at least not in the same manner as I did my brother.
Who inspires you musically?
There’s good music all around us. I’m not a one genre type of dude; I listen to everything from Phil Collins to [the] new Erik Lundin EP. I think I have a thing for uncomfortable creators who’d rather push limits, than to conform to what’s working at the moment, as I do with all art I consume.
I know you’re a fan of the Street Fighter franchise. Your song Knock You Out was featured in the Street Fighter 3: Third Strike Online Edition that got released a few years ago. How did that come about and how did you feel having your music featured in the game?
That was by far the best moment of my career. I still have MAJOR feels for the moment where I first saw the song synced with the official trailer. It came about when the songs producer Simon Wiklund reached out to me, guess he’d heard that I was a gaming fanatic.
The Empty has gotten rave reviews. Can you tell us a little bit about the album and how it all came together?
I started working on some songs after a break up that I had just went through. I kind of let the moment take me in that direction. So it ended up being about the time spent after that break up, that particular experience, the girls I kicked it with that time after, my flaws, what I could have done better and coming to terms with my new situation. The whole process made feel like I had grown 5 feet.
The Empty was nominated for Album of the Year at this year’s Grammis. How did it feel to be nominated for such a huge award? Did you ever think when you first started that you’d be nominated in that category?
I do feel that it’s the Album of the Year, but I honestly didn’t think it would get that nomination when I sat down and started working on it. Especially since it’s my first time producing.
There was a situation that happened last year in your home country of Sweden when you walked out of an interview during a live broadcast. Some media outlets have said that it was racially driven. Could you tell us about that situation and how it got to that point?
It was a protest aimed towards the whole TV4 network. I wanted to hold them accountable for their own slogan #NollRasism, translated: #ZeroRacism. To put it in simple terms, they had f$*ked up one too many times regarding this specific matter, and I wanted to let them know that I wouldn’t let it slip again.
In America, a lot of people think that the rest of the world has much better race relations than we do here in the States. Right now in America, we are very racially sensitive given all that’s occurred in the last few years. Could you tell us about how Black people are treated in Sweden and other parts of Europe?
This is of course a serious matter, as it should be in all societies. It is also a diverse matter that I do not know all the perspectives of, so I cannot make a comparison between the U.S and Sweden, nor should I in this instance be the representative for all the black/colored or Afro-Swedish people in Sweden. What I can tell you is this: My personal experiences of structural racism have been life-long. This structure of course manifests itself in different ways. For me it has done so in school, when seeking healthcare, when applying for a job and when dealing with law enforcement. Many people share my experience but don’t have the platform to speak up about it, so I’ve made that one of my missions, to speak up on the inequalities many of us live through.
Do you think that the #BlackLivesMatter moment needs to become more of an international movement instead of just in the States?
I think there are things to be learned from all social movements of today. #BlackLivesMatter is definitely one of them. The struggle for equality for all is one that is worldwide.
What are your plans for 2016? Do you have any plans to enter the US Market this year?
I’m working on new material, as always. I definitely want to come out to the U.S. sometime soon to give you the live experience. If I can find dope people to work with who actually have a physical presence in the U.S that would be dope. If you know of any good managers, send them my way.