Finnish hip hop has a long history and is an ever-evolving scene. In Turku at least, the community continues to grow and give birth to new collaborations and groups. With a big night of local hip hop coming up at Bar Ö in October, I caught up with emerging group Nimi Muutettu to hear about how they work together, their creative process and latest single.
Could you introduce yourselves and your group? When and how did Nimi Muutettu come about?
Johnny: “Nimi Muutettu are MCs Iso-Larski and Masaman, along with DJ Johnny D. We’ve all been making music for some time in different projects. Masa is a veteran of Turku hip hop: an MC, a producer and a sound engineer. Larski and I have been making music together for a few years now, as a group called Kahen Keikka. Larski also has some other non-hip hop musical projects and I make my own instrumental music and beats for other MCs and groups. We formed Nimi Muutettu in 2017.”
Larski: “I’ve been into hip hop and rapping ever since I bought my first real hip hop album, De La Soul Is Dead, back in 1991. I screwed around with emceeing in the early 2000s, but really got into writing rhymes seriously when Janne and I decided to finally start making music together and formed our duo Kahen Keikka. Janne (Johnny) and I come from the same city, Mikkeli, and also used to be roommates when I was still living in Turku. Nowadays I live in Tampere. Before we met Masa I had been thinking that it would be nice to share the mic with someone else. He told us that if we wanted to do a collaboration then we should just give him a holler. So, one day, I did. Musically speaking, we all come from pretty much the ‘same place’, and our material more or less bows down to the Golden Years of hip hop.”
Masa: “I’ve listened to rap music since the early 90s and started writing raps circa 2000. I used to write my rhymes to instrumentals on the b-sides of rap singles from the likes of Gangstarr and Ice Cube. I met Lauri (Larski) and Janne in 2016 at Friends of Asema, an annual support gig for the record store / hip hop cultural spot Asema, which is run by our friend and the godfather of Turku hip hop, Chyde. We liked each others’ music and recorded one song together, Kahen Keikka’s single ‘Isot Liskot‘, which featured myself and k!RBy from the group Ronskibiitti.”
Johnny: “We recorded Masa’s verse for ‘Isot Liskot‘ and tested some other ideas during the session, too. Afterwards we felt that it would be interesting to do a full-size project together since our musical ideas and influences were somewhat the same.”
Masa: “I guess all of us wanted to try something new and decided to form a group with two MCs and a DJ.”
Where do you find inspiration for your music?
Masa: “This is a hard one to put down in words. I’ve noticed that from time to time I just get kind of restless and the only way to get that feeling out of my head is to sit down and pick up a pen. When the text is on the paper, I know what’s been bothering me. On the other hand, I sometimes just have an ‘MC feeling’- a need to write something that gets people going or laughing.”
Larski: “I usually write two kinds of rhymes. On the one hand, I write classic, battle-rap lyrics where I usually focus on the technical side, because I believe that MCing has a lot to do with skills, the flow and playing on words. Basically the message is: I’m a better rapper than you (even though I happily admit that I’m not the best out there). The art of MCing is becoming more and more obsolete nowadays, so these mumbling fools need to be dissed. On the other hand, I write lyrics that are quite political. For me, hip hop has always been political, and I intend to keep it that way in my lyrics. When I write rhymes that are meaningful in content, I ease up on the technical side because it’s no longer the point. To answer your question… I get inspired by musical wackness, social injustice and other types of wrongdoing.”
Johnny: “Beat wise, the inspiration usually comes from old records and music in general. You might hear something really nice on an old Sci-Fi soundtrack or a killer bassline from a 60-year-old Jazz-Funk LP which just makes you move. Vintage music gear inspires me a lot, too. It’s really nice to just sit in front of all types of samplers and synthesizers and experiment with different things. Old devices usually have their limitations as well, which can have a positive effect on your creativity. When I combine the old equipment with the modern music production tools, it’s the best of both worlds. The late, great Spede Pasanen is also an endless source of inspiration.”
Could you explain your process for developing new tracks?
Masa: “Well, with Nimi Muutettu, the song-making process always kind of follows the same route. First Janne gives us a few new fat beats, and either Lauri or I have an idea for the subject matter. We tend to write more bars than is needed, and then we cherry-pick the best ones and start building our puzzle.”
Johnny: “We do our tracks 99% session style. Since we’re not living in the same city, working on a new song mainly happens in dedicated recording sessions. We usually spend a weekend in the studio, listening to records and my demo beats. If a particular beat hits the spot, we start putting together a rough sketch and the dudes start writing the lyrics. Sometimes there might be a sample idea or some reference song with the right kind of mood that we would like to follow. So usually on day one we create some kind of a rough sketch for the track, and on day two we record the vocals.”
Larski: “Often hungover.”
Johnny: “After that we listen to and discuss the track: what’s good and what’s not, and throw some ideas around. I might adjust the beat and the guys continue working on the lyrics if needed. Then, hopefully, the track will be finished in the next session if everything goes as planned. Having a proper session- instead of just sending files back and forth, recording in different locations- is a must for us. It’s more fun that way and you can get the creative flow going because you sort of feed off of each other. It’s important to be physically in the same room in order to create the right kind of mood for a particular song. Even though we are definitely not a throwback hip hop group, certain things just need to be done in the ‘right’ or ‘old school’ way.”
Any favourite moments as a group so far?
Masa: “The couple of gigs we’ve done have been awesome. I personally really enjoy being on stage with these guys. The energy is good. But I also like the moments when we get together to make new songs. I guess we all share the same sense of humour, though we can also talk about more serious issues. Maybe it all comes down to this feeling of brotherhood.”
Larski: “I completely agree. We share the same values and sense of humour and, also, we don’t take this thing too seriously. We’re not in a hurry anymore. The older you get, the more you appreciate the finer things in life. Quality over quantity! The fame train has already left the station so we can just concentrate on making good music. We all have our day jobs so we don’t gig that often, but the ones we’ve done have been great. Also, I like the fact that I can share the limelight with someone else and not have everyone’s eyes on me. Making new tracks together is great- throwing around ideas and making them work. My favourite moments are probably those when we’ve just finished recording a song and listen to the (almost) finished product: a result of a healthy and fruitful collaboration.”
Johnny: “My favourite moments are the recording sessions. Making music is just great fun!”
You recently released a music video for your new single, ‘Mutetettu‘. Tell us a bit about the idea behind this track and its visual element.
Johnny: “The concept of ‘Mutetettu‘ is pretty simple: it’s straight up ‘in-your-face’ battle rhyme hip hop, but with a slightly chilled-out beat. These kind of tracks were the shit back in the 90s, especially if it was some new artist that had just come out. It’s basically an ‘I-am-a-better-rapper-than-you’ track. There is also a sort of dialogue going on between the MCs, which is a thing that is missing from the modern rap stuff. That is also one reason why we like to record our tracks in sessions where we’re all present: we dig that back-to-back style and it’s very hard to do that kind of stuff any other way.”
Larski: “Janne had this fat mid-90s-style beat that nobody had used for some reason, and we thought it was perfect for this project of ours. To tell you the truth, I had some ‘surplus lyrics’ that had been written for Kahen Keikka earlier but for one reason or another had been ditched. I really wanted to use them, so I rearranged them and wrote some new stuff in our first session as well. If I recall correctly, Masa came and wrote his lyrics on the spot. It’s a very classic track: three times 16 bars with scratch hooks. That’s all you need.”
Johnny: “When it comes to the video, it’s kind of a counterweight to the lyrics. It’s a bit of an overkill hip hop video. Our friends at Visual Works, Markus Malvisalo and Vessi Hämäläinen, who also shot the video for Kahen Keikka’s debut single Astalo, came up with the idea that the video should be really saturated and kind of a goofy take on the stereotypical rap video. The dudes worked hard on their vision, came through and nailed it!”
Larski: “I used to drive that car in the video. We called it Rainer. It’s a kick-ass 30-year-old Benz that is nowadays back with its rightful owner, my father-in-law. It was fun shooting the video in front of the green screen, but obviously it was even more fun to see the video once they had added all the crazy stuff in post-production. We’re all very pleased with the end result. The guys pretty much did the whole thing pro bono, which we appreciate very much.”
Masa: “On the night before the video shoot, we kind of celebrated the anniversary of me meeting these guys and we were performing at Friends of Asema once again. I didn’t get much sleep that night because we had to drive to Helsinki for the shoot early next morning. I had a huge hangover and I looked like a homeless person. And, my God, it was cold at the location!”
Larski: “Yeah, it was in December and it was at the docks in Hernesaari, Helsinki. The wind was quite chilly!”
For anyone wanting to catch you guys live, what can they expect at your Bar Ö gig next month?
Masa: “Our set at Ö consists of songs from our Nimi Muutettu project, but also from Kahen Keikka and Isimasa (the name I use when I rap solo).”
Johnny: “The gig is going to be a hip hop extravaganza! All in all, there will be three acts rocking the stage: a local beatmaker / all-around music dude Jansolo with his instrumental hip hop project, us and the Finnish hip hop legend Juhani (aka Juhani Saksikäsi)!”
Larski: “I promise you will hear one brand-new, never-before-heard-live Nimi Muutettu song. Plus, me and Masa are probably going to hop on stage to feature on one of Jansolo’s jams. Our set is going to be all about the MCing and DJing, as usual. See you there! Peace!”