Interview: Jontti & Shaka

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Travelling through Finland and talking with the people about local Hip Hop, the names of Jontti & Shaka came up right away. The first time we saw Shaka live on stage with his band Koivuniemen Herrat, was in the Flowers of Life festival in the middle of a forest. We couldn’t understand any of the Finnish lyrics but he stuck out as one of the funkiest, best sounding MCs of the evening (together with Laineen Kasperi) and we spoke to him backstage and agreed to meet again in Helsinki, and do an interview with him and Jontti, two big names in the Finnish Hip Hop scene.
They came over to the house of a mutual friend and we had a very interesting talk about life, Hip Hop, conspiracies and consciousness.

Could you introduce yourself? 

Shaka: I’m Shaka, from Helsinki, Finland. I have been doing this rap thing for quite a few years now, and I’ve been doing it with my friend Jontti. 
Jontti: I guess we got into doing this stuff from graffiti, you could say that. I remember my first solo show, it was like one song and some beats, and I didn’t have any rhymes to rap, I’m not really a freestyle guy, but you just came from out of the crowd and did a verse. 
I am Jontti. I’ve been rapping since around ‘99, I started to do some English stuff from ‘99. I used to have a metal band but my hearing got fucked up, so I couldn’t continue with that. My friend Petos was always at my place and he was like, you have to rap.
We started doing Finnish stuff and we did a record with Petos called Pimeä Puoli. This is Kallio underground, a group of me, Petos and DJ R2 and Shaka was actually rapping in Finnish. That could have even been your first Finnish rap. 
Shaka: Yea that was my first Finnish verse, on that album. 
Jontti: in 2004. 

Was that Petos’ album?

Jontti: Kallio Underground, that was Petos and me. Before that Petos had already done two releases and I was involved in both. Petos kind of invented this genre that we were known for. Petos was very much into gangsta rap, very dark beats, slow type, very much influenced by this Texas, Houston gangsta type of thing. What he raps about is more like fuck the system, graffiti style. This developed in this kind of genre. Its funny to see it has been growing, this kind of stuff. When we started to do this is was actually pretty small, it was more like a joke for friends, not that big, it was kinda strange. Now a lot of time has passed and it is like a music genre, pretty popular. I never thought it would get this big. 
Shaka: When we were writing this, we thought this would be for friends and for people who know what we were talking about, who understand it is more like a joke. Now these new guys are doing that type of music, eighteen year olds, we never thought that our music would reach that type of kids.

I guess you can’t control where your music ends up. 

Jontti: The point is that there are some moral implications, when I think about the stuff I wrote back then. I’m not the person that I was then. It was really personal stuff, and I‘m not that proud, haha! Doing shows is a kind of bizarre experience. To be there, seeing people yell those lyrics, and I’m like, my god. 20 year old unemployed alcoholics and being proud of it. That’s not so nice.
Shaka his new album is actually pretty different. 

How did you get into the culture of Hip Hop? What are the first records you heard? 

Shaka: A Public Enemy cassette, I think that was the first one. Way back, when I was 13 or 14 years old I got it from a friend who had an older brother who was into Hip Hop.
The graffiti thing, that’s been the bigger thing for me for a long time, it has just recently changed and I got more interested in the music thing, and music in general. 
Jontti: For me the first thing I remember is the Beastie Boys, my brother would play that to me and show me his spraying art books. I was always into heavy metal, my brother used to listen to rap a lot and I would only like some like Ice T, more hardcore stuff. I’ve never been into rap, as music, I don’t know so much about artists or rap flows. Now that I make music myself I start to get it a little bit, anyway for me it’s all about graffiti. Graffiti is the thing for me, that’s what I understand about Hip Hop. I can’t dance or DJ but I can write graffiti. 

When did you start to rap? 

Jontti: I think 1999, before that I had a heavy metal group, we did a demo tape and that was around 1996. 

That was when 3rd Rail started? 

Jontti: Oh no, that was actually around 2004, and it goes back to the times we talked about before, when this started to get more popular here, and then we made one record with Petos. The guys from 3rd Rail planned to start a record label and they asked us to participate. Our collaboration was just by accident. We were supposed to do some shows in Finnish, so we wrote some songs for the shows. I remember I was so happy that nobody was going to ever understand anything we said, and now it’s on the albums. 
Shaka: That first release, we wrote those songs real quick, for a show that was gonna be in two weeks. We would just sit down with beer and food and shit and write these songs. 
Jontti: Yea, and then we thought, good, we have these songs, lets make a CD, then we had some songs left and the record label guys told us to do an album. That became Rata-Äänite, which we are known for, this record. It’s a good record, I’m pretty proud of it.  

Was it released on vinyl too? 

Jontti: No, vinyl is kind of a problem, because people are not gonna sell enough to get the money back. You have to sell at least 300 or 500, you never really know. It would be nice to have vinyls, so lets hope it could happen.
3rd Rail is really a small independent label, I hope its gonna evolve, its nice people who run it, there is one guy who’s making rap called OG Ikonen, which is a new guy, new signing, and he’s working for the label, lets hope they make something out of it. 

Is there any international rap you listen to, apart from American music? Maybe some other Scandanavian rap, like Looptroop? 

Shaka: Looptroop, I used to listen to them a lot. Maybe because of the shoplifting and the graffiti that they are talking about we could relate much better to that then the American stuff, you know, selling crack and uzis. 

And you were talking about English rap before.

Jontti: Yea, Hijack was one of my favourites. Blade, Mark B, yea, English rap! 

Are there any artists that you look up to, that used to be your examples? 

Jontti: I have always liked Ice T, he is still my hero, I just read his book. And Hijack.. 
Shaka: One artist I really think to look out for is Gill Scott Heron. We made a cover of his song on our latest album, I’ve been listening to that for a long time, trying to get into that type of creative spin that’s he’s been in. Its not really rap, but almost. It’s a part of what gave birth to rap, and it influenced especially the political side. 

Are there any artists you would like to work with? 

Jontti: I would like to work with this rap metal group from America; Downset, they are like Rage Against The Machine. Very similar, but more underground. That’s one thing I would like to do, because I’m a fan, I used to listen a lot of that stuff.
We have actually worked with Nutso, who is one of Tupac’s Outlaws. 
Shaka: And Destro. Oakland rappers. They had a show here in Finland, and they recorded some stuff with us and with Petos. 
Jontti: Its kind of ironic, because these guys are like mega gangster, but it came out nice. 

What do you think of the Hip Hop scene in Finland? You must have seen it grow and evolve and change. 

Jontti: It’s hard to say, because we have seen a lot of bad stuff, at least from my perspective, our scene is very different. There is also more the commercial side, the breakdance scene, and also in the underground scene you have the more arty style, these guys don’t go to our shows. It’s been very separated, now it gets more into different artist doing shows together. At first it was like our stuff was really definitive, and I can see why people wouldn’t come, because it used to be a lot of trouble at the shows, sometimes they would have to stop because a bouncer would have his ass kicked. Now it’s getting nicer.
In one Finnish music magazine there was actually an article that one big club here doesn’t want to do any more Finnish rap shows, because its this new type of hooliganism. I think it has settled down a bit now, which is a good thing. 
Shaka: I think the Finnish rap thing is doing great, because there are so many people doing their own thing, I haven’t heard that being done here or anywhere else, they are inventing new ways of making music, new types of Hip Hop, like Laineen Kasperi or Asa, they come with really personal stuff, and really different from each other also. People are experimenting, that’s nice. 

Do you collect music, do you collect vinyl? 

Shaka: I buy vinyls, but I can’t say I collect. When I buy records, I buy vinyls, not so many CD’s, but now I’ve been mostly buying food. 

How do you see the effect of the downloading on the vinyl sales, or record sales in general? 

Shaka: I think it effects a lot, but I don’t know how to fix that. I’ve never heard a smart answer to the problem.
It’s something that people are used to. We have Spotify now so you don’t even have to break the law to listen to any record you like. I don’t know, maybe the question is how a musician can make a living in a world where we can listen to any type of music for free anywhere and anytime we want. 
Jontti: It’s a dilemma. 
Shaka: And if people can’t live just making music, will the music still progress, if people have to work for a living and make music in the evenings and the weekend, what kind of music will it be? 
Jontti: One thing that came to mind about the Finnish Hip Hop in general is that its really alcohol related. We were talking about it one day, you would have a lot of different subjects, but for some reason a lot of these raps are drinking songs. It’s also this genre that is often more respected, even if it’s not that well made. People like it if you forget your lyrics in the shows. A lot of punk people also like that stuff, we do shows in the punk-rock clubs and people dig it, and also the political leftists, we are always in their demonstrations. 
The thing about Hip Hop culture is that its a global thing now, there is rap and graffiti everywhere in the world now.

How do you see the effect of Hip Hop on the outside world, like politics or street life? 

Shaka: One thing I think that Hip Hop has done is free Finnish youth from racism, that’s something that maybe would have happened without Hip Hop, but I think Hip Hop had a big part to play in that. In the 90’s still there was a trouble making youth, like rock n roll type of guys, and they were really racist for the most part, in all the cities in Finland, and of course there were also skinheads. After Hip Hop became the culture that kids related to, that type of thing couldn’t happen anymore, because of course its black music. 
Jontti: For a long time there wasn’t any big skinhead activity. It used to be much more, in my youth there were skinheads. Hip Hop guys and skinheads would fight, but I think now everybody is just listening to rap. 

So what about the history of Hip Hop, you think its important for the kids and the upcoming artists to know where Hip Hop came from, to know the roots? 

Jontti: I think it would be important, right now you have this mega commercial stuff like 50 cent and Jay Z, so I hope that people don’t only think of that when they think of Hip Hop. I don’t follow so much what’s going on at the international scale, but I think it’s important. We should make a song about the evolution of Finnish Hip Hop, where it came from.
I guess the message is also important for me. From the beginning I used to talk about stuff that I was researching. I got into the conspiracy stuff, like the work of David Icke and all that, already a long time ago and it’s always been a part of my lyrics. It’s been obvious for me that the communication aspect is important. It’s also been successful, because I don’t want to communicate stuff that I’m not sure about, but at least is has worked out pretty well to raise some questions. People in the shows come to talk about those things to me, and I’ve sold a lot of books. One guy made a nice book on 9/11 and I sold like 40 books in the shows. That’s what I’m actually pretty proud of, that we were able to help him out in that way. It’s a small thing, marginal journalism. The media is a joke here, as everywhere.  

So you do have an underlying message in your music?

Jontti: I guess, but I don’t really know myself what it is when I write. It’s evolving with the time, but its definitely about things like politics, the global elite, challenging the official versions on happenings and perceptions of reality. 
Shaka: For me, earlier there was a little bit of politics in there, but now its mostly just analyzing why people in are in this state where everyone has enough or too much of everything and all is fine and at the same time people are killing themselves with drugs and alcohol. That is something that I talk about a lot. No so much world politics. I think that is one thing that Hip Hop culture has also done for the young people of Finland; the interest in politics. It makes them see what’s going on at higher levels of decision making. That’s something that rock and roll doesn’t really have. The radical ideas about politics, that’s a big part of Hip Hop. 
Jontti: I would say that your new record is political in that sense, it takes a strong stance in the things you talk about. 
Shaka: It’s not saying there would be someone oppressing us, but more like we are oppressing ourselves, we are doing this to ourselves. 
Jontti: In the end that interlocks with your personal state, like where you come from, why are you acting that way, all that. The point is that I can’t write songs without this aspect of communication. Its not supposed to be preachy, but I say to myself; ‘my rapping career is maybe now half way through or something like that. When I’ve done it all and I have nothing to say then I quit.’
I don’t make records just for the sake of it, for the flows or whatever. If I don’t have anything more to say, then I’m satisfied that it’s done. 

Are there any more Finnish rappers with a similar message, political and more conscious? 

Jontti: I think Asa is from a more leftist background. He calls himself leftist and he is known as a conscious artist. Even Petos is getting a bit political. And Yuma Henri, he is very political. 
Shaka: Hannibal, his new album is very political, very angry. 
Jontti: A lot of stuff about the Bilderbergs and that. There is this guy called Steen1, he used to be called Steen Christensen, after this guy who shot some police officers. He is a political candidate, he tried to run for politics and got almost 2000 votes. He is talking about the same things we talk about all the time.
Actually if you would look at all these artists that we’ve mentioned they are talking about the same things, but from different angles. We also feature a lot on each others’ records, it’s a really small circle. I was thinking that we have done a good job, the young people now would have a hard time doing it better. It’s funny to listen to their lyrics now and realize that so many young people got their worldview from rappers like us. It is a very similar way of looking at things. 

So where can people follow your movements and any future projects?
 
Shaka: Find us on myspace; http://myspace.com/jonttishaka and http://myspace.com/koivuniemenherrat, That is the band I was playing with. And the website of the label is http://www.3rdrailmusic.fi.

Any shoutouts?
 
Jontti: Everybody who buys records, who buys original records, and also everyone who goes to shows. A big shout-out to everyone who is supporting us, because to me it is a big surprise that people like it that much, feel it so strong. 


 
By: Delta9 & Krecy | For international Hip Hop: http://www.ibmcs.org
Big shout-out to Irja for making this all possible.. your place is the flyest!