STOCKHOLM – Sweden has never seen anything like Einar. A hyperactive and self-assured young artist in a place increasingly obsessed with global hip-hop, at 19 he was one of the greatest rappers the country has ever produced.
Born Nils Gronberg, Einar had the face of a puppy, the flow of an international rap connoisseur, and the puffy lyrics of a hardened gang member. He was also white and born in Sweden, a distinction loaded in a scene where most rappers are of an immigrant background.
Raised primarily by a single mom, Einar first caught the eye when he was 10, with videos of his childhood freestyles shared online regularly. Later, while living in a rebellious teenage house, he broke through with just his third song, a steel loverboy track that topped the nation’s pop charts. Soon he was a dominant force on Spotify, becoming Sweden’s most watched actor of 2019, ahead of global giants like Ed Sheeran.
But one October night, the nation’s biggest crossover star became her main warning, shot multiple times and left for dead outside her home.
“We have heard pom, pom, pomsaid Dumlee, an aspiring rapper who was with Einar that night. Dumlee, a convicted rapist affiliated with a gang called Death Patrol, said in an interview that he and Einar scattered into hiding before they went into hiding. hear more shots a few minutes later: “Bam, bam, bam, bam. “
Einar’s murder, which is still unsolved, has rocked the Swedish rap scene. His fate and the violence that swirled around him in life also gave a very Swedish face to issues that have rocked here for years, and gave new urgency to debates in mainstream politics over the rise in gun violence. , immigration and gang warfare. .
Some lawmakers, newspapers and parents have questioned the role of the music they labeled – in a throwback to the 1990s – “gangster rap.”
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Petter Hallen, a veteran rap journalist and DJ who hosts a show on Swedish public service radio station P3 Din Gata.
He compared the situation to the social conflicts that erupted in the United States around the murders of Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur in the 1990s, and more recently around the style of rap known as drill music in Europe and the United States. United.
“You’ve got the politicians involved, the media, the rap fans, celebrity culture, public service, tax dollars, influencer culture, youth culture, race – all these ripples in all directions. of Swedish society, ”Hallen added, describing the confluence of factors. which captivated this Nordic country of 10 million inhabitants.
More associated with Abba than with sharp rap, Sweden has for at least six years been battling a wave of gang violence that has contributed to its transition from one of the safest countries in the world to one of the most violent from Europe. Last year there were at least 342 shootings that left 46 dead (compared to 25 shootings in 2015), as well as dozens of bombings.
This carnage has long been seen as a problem confined to the ethnically diverse outer “suburbs”, where the poorest dwellings feel dislocated from the glittering wealth of the country’s largely white inner cities.
But Einar’s death – in an affluent part of Stockholm, rather than a suburb – has widened the debate and the accusations, with some saying rap has become a convenient bogeyman, especially with elections slated for this year. .
Shortly after the shooting, Mikael Damberg, then Swedish Home Secretary, told reporters that the culture around music could lead people to gangs. Hanif Bali, a member of the Moderate Conservative Party, who complained last year that a music grand prize was awarded to a criminally convicted rapper, said in an interview with the Swedish parliament that radio stations should stop playing music by anyone convicted of gang crime. .
Many Swedish rappers, especially Einar’s peers from neighborhoods like Rinkeby at the end of Stockholm’s metro lines, feel like they are being used to distract from politicians fighting crime.
“How many famous rappers are there in Sweden? It’s like 20, “said Sebastian Stakset, artist known as Sebbe Staxx, a member of the country’s leading gangster-rap group, Kartellen.” How many armed children are there in the surroundings? Thousands. “
“They are just a reflection of a much bigger problem,” he said.
For decades in the United States, rap has been linked to moral panics and blamed for urban violence. Europe too has recently experienced growing concern over its exercise scenes, where deep basslines combine with harsh, hyperlocal descriptions of life, feuds and death in troubled neighborhoods.
Sweden’s growing problems with crime make it perhaps more likely to be gender preoccupied. When Magdalena Andersson became the country’s first female prime minister at the end of November, she used her first political speech to attack gangs.
In December, Dagens Nyheter, the leading Swedish newspaper, published an analysis of all those arrested or prosecuted for gun-related offenses since 2017. About 85% were foreign-born or had at least one parent who was. Some 71 percent were from the lowest income group in the country. Most of the country’s top rappers come from these backgrounds.
Some of these rappers started their careers in the suburbs making amateur videos known as “freeslaktish” that require little more than a camera phone and a car, or a yard full of friends. Others have started to trace leads in youth centers set up to help young people avoid crime, said Diamant Salihu, author of a much-discussed Swedish book published last year on the ongoing battle between two gangs. , Shottaz and Death Patrol.
Salihu said Stockholm police linked some of Sweden’s biggest rap stars, including Yasin and Jaffar Byn, to Shottaz.
“As the conflict got bigger and more brutal, the rappers got more involved as they had to choose sides which made them targets,” Salihu added during a walk around Rinkeby, where he said. indicated the sites of 10 murders since 2015, including a cafe and a pizzeria.
The artists sometimes escalated tensions by referencing suspected gang members and commemorating dead or imprisoned friends in songs and videos, Salihu said. As in the United States, a thriving Swedish underground media ecosystem of YouTube pages, Instagram accounts and other social networks documents and dissects the music, personalities and conflicts of those associated with it, often starring and igniting. the oxen at the same time.
“It has all turned into a sport spectacle for rap fans,” said Hallen, “and those interested in, drawn to and fascinated by street crime. “
Salihu titled his book after a quote artist Jaffar Byn gave to authorities after an arrest. When the police asked how long the gang violence would last, he replied, “Until everyone dies. “
Threat of extortion
Beyond the intermittent badass words, Einar’s potential gang affiliations were only the subject of whispered speculation. But in March 2020, he became a target.
Authorities later said in court that the Varby Network, one of Sweden’s most notorious gangs, originally intended to kidnap the teenager after a studio session this month with Yasin, which was Einar’s only competition as the best Swedish rapper at the time.
This plot failed, but about two weeks later the group succeeded, kidnapping Einar after another studio date with artist Haval. Einar was forced to pose for pictures, bloodied, in feminine lingerie, a knife to his neck. The gang demanded 3 million Swedish kronor (approximately $ 331,000) to prevent the footage from being released.
They later attempted to plant a bomb in front of the rapper’s house to increase the pressure. Einar refused to pay.
Swedish police only discovered details of the crime after gaining access to Encrochat, an encrypted telephone network. After a high-profile trial, Yasin and Haval were sentenced for their role in the plots. The two men, whose representatives declined to comment on this story, are appealing their sentences, and Yasin was released on December 28, after serving his sentence.
Einar refused to cooperate with the trial, but his mother, Lena Nilsson, testified. In the months that followed, the young rapper spoke to his rivals even more forcefully in music and on social media, with some seeing his new tracks as subliminally goading those he held responsible for his assault. . On October 9, Einar was arrested along with two other people after being stabbed at a restaurant in Stockholm. He was not charged. Less than three weeks later, on October 21, he was dead.
A lawyer for Einar’s family did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article. But the musician’s mother recently took to the debate surrounding her son’s death on Instagram, writing, “Most rappers aren’t criminals, they’re artists. They tell a horrible reality that we have in Sweden.
“Like many mothers, I lost a son in horrific violence,” Nilsson added. “Our hearts are torn from our chests.”
“All about the money”
With increased fan attention, political pressure and law enforcement control over Swedish rappers, many across the country are questioning whether the still young genre can change – or even should.
More than a dozen local rappers and their associates approached for this story declined to be interviewed, fearing they would be stereotyped or attract unwanted attention.
But those who spoke freely said they felt no need to change what they were rapping about, and not just because it reflected reality. “That’s what’s selling right now,” said the artist known as Moewgli, who collaborated with Einar on several hit singles and served jail time for theft. “If something sells, I’ll do it,” he said. “I’m all about the money.”
Dumlee, the aspiring rapper linked to the Death Patrol gang, has said politicians will move on soon. In December, he was set to release a track called “Bunt” which included a line aimed directly at Shottaz, Death Patrol’s rivals, without caring to incite more tension.
Stakset – the Swedish hip-hop pioneer and mentor of Einar who has done several tracks with the young rapper, and now helps gang members quit crime – the government recalled. For decades, politicians of all stripes have allowed problems in the suburbs to escalate, especially with education and housing, he said.
“They tried to sweep everything under the rug,” Stakset said. But after Einar’s murder, he added, “the rug is not big enough”.
Alex Marshall reported from Stockholm and Joe Coscarelli from New York. Nicholas Ringskog Ferrada-Noli contributed reporting from Stockholm.