Scandinavian cool is offset by a beat-centric sensibility in the clubs of the Swedish capital - with a crew of independent women defining a new wave of Nordic hip hop.

Swedish hip hop is experiencing a golden age - taking stories from the streets and suburbs straight to rammed clubs across Stockholm. Parallel spent some time with the crew from Ladies Love Hip Hop (LLHH) - ground zero of a game-changing scene.

Sweden’s musical talent has always punched above its weight. For a nation of only 10 million people - one cast in darkness for a quarter of the year - it somehow manages to produce a steady stream of genre-defining acts. You can hear it in the songwriting precision of ABBA and master songwriter Max Martin, the metal prowess of Meshuggah and At The Gates, as well as the pop genius of Lykke Li and Robyn. Swedish hip hop is no different.

Ladies Love Hip Hop is a club night adding fuel to Sweden’s scene. Founded in 2014 by local music industry veterans Rebecca Tegegne, Nataša Marijana, Linda Napoles and Noshin Davarasl, the night offers a showcase for up-and-coming artists in front of Stockholm’s biggest hip hop fans. If it shakes with bass and drums, then LLHH will play it - be it grime from England, dancehall from Jamaica or trap from Atlanta. But the presence of homegrown hip hop is what makes it distinct.

Ladies Love Hip Hop founders [L to R]: Linda Napoles, Rebecca Tegegne, Nataša Marijana and Noshin Davarasl (Photo by Nicolina Knapp)

“Linda and Rebecca were already established DJs who wanted to do something bigger than just playing in Stockholm,” says Davarasl, explaining how it all began. “Everyone was playing the same songs; it was more like people going to a certain place to listen to music rather than an experience. So they decided to bring me and Nataša on. We started planning bigger nights and guest artists on a monthly basis at Södra Teatern [an ornate 19th century theatre]. Then it just snowballed.”

Our hostel in Stockholm hosted an LLHH night in late February in its Hilma bar. Once again, the DJ quartet served deep cut hip hop joints to a dedicated crowd. As early as an hour after opening, a hundred or so people filled the bar. Half an hour later, Hilma was at capacity.

“We wanted to do something no-one else was doing, so we thought we’d try bringing new artists out,” says Napoles, picking up the history of LLHH. “We looked around before each event, mainly for rappers who could perform live, because that was also something that had stopped for a bit in Stockholm.”

Nataša on the decks at the LLHH night, Generator Stockholm (Photo by Benjamin Haile)
From time to time, Ladies Love Hip Hop will invite international performers to experience the Stockholm scene. Los Angeles duo MIKKNA played in February to a crowd they described as their “vibe-iest, most well-dressed, most eclectic-looking” ever. Ken Nana, one half of the duo, says Sweden’s unique scene is what inspired the band to launch their international tour in Scandinavia. ”What we’ve seen in Stockholm has been really cool,” Nana says. “I know that there’s a lot of electronic and EDM music out here, and that Sweden is a really big pop country with a lot of pop writers and producers.”

Los Angeles duo MIKKNA (Photo by Nicolina Knapp)

LLHH’s Tegegne says the aim has always been to create the best experience possible. “We’ve tried to think about each night with ‘What would be our ultimate night out?’ or ‘What would we want to see?’ in mind from the very beginning.”

Diversity is key to the LLHH formula, from what music they make, to what they play and who they book. “I think that we – four different people of different ethnic backgrounds – care about diversity and being around fun people who can be themselves,” Tegegne says. “People feel relaxed and comfortable here.”
These ladies love hip hop (Photo by Nicolina Knapp)

Artistically we’ve focused primarily on unestablished artists because we’ve seen so much potential in so many and wanted to lift them up,” she adds. “We’ve always chosen artists and music we’ve wanted to see ourselves.”

What Ladies Love Hip Hop does is critical for the city of Stockholm and its musical ecosystem. An LLHH night captures the progressive and open nature of the genre, the city and its cultural institutions by pushing forward the best in Swedish hip hop.
Ladies Love Hip Hop DJ Linda Napoles ​(Photo by Benjamin Haile)

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