Finnish hip-hop shines strong at Blockfest
In the heart of Tampere, Finland across the cobblestone Laukonsilta bridge, there rested a brand new world that could only be entered with a wristband – a modern-day The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – a world where the sun always shone, every girl wore cut-off jean shorts, Heinekens were endless and hip-hop alone could be heard blaring in all its glorious foreign excess from the speakers.
The new world was called Blockfest.
In a country overflowing with metal and classic rock fans, the two-day Finnish hip-hop festival was extraordinarily successful. Thousands came out to support their own musicians like Mikael Gabriel, Noah Kin, Gracias and Cheek, along with popular American artists Memphis Bleek, Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross.
But Finland houses its own breed of rap stars and didn’t seem to need the big names to draw a crowd. On the second day on the block, 20-year-old Noah Kin took to the lakeside stage, entertaining the endlessly growing crowd with music off his latest project, Now You See, showing international promise with English rhymes.
“It’s sort of a lonely lane,” Noah says about the choice to rap in English in a Finnish-populated sector.
“Finnish hip-hop is sort of, not to put anyone down, but the standard isn’t very high, in general. You’ll see a few meaningful acts come through. You’ll hear general hype about French artists that rap in French, for instance, but you won’t hear general hype around the world over a Finnish rapping artist. Its old-school orientated, but it’s slowly growing to be more modern.”
Noah evidently wants it all, and he proved it with his mic in hand. Artists like he and Gracias, who have been setting the tone for English-emceeing in their corner of the world, proved that they have a global goal in mind with collaboration on stage that would be accepted under any spotlight. With a live band and hit after hit, the two are Finland’s best-kept secret.
Of course, the headliners slayed too. The original top dawg, Snoop Dogg, came out puffing green in a green Tampere hockey jersey with his Lion alias imprinted on the back of it, spitting “Gin and Juice”, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “I Wanna Rock”. Tampere didn’t seem to be a big stoner city. Where at other Snoop shows the air has been thick and hazy, here crowd members held up their drinks and belted along to “Young, Wild & Free”, which echoed off of the large tent covering the stage.
And the ROC showed face. Memphis Bleek and Freeway ripped apart the second day with pyro-technics and OG stage presence; Finland’s own Mikael Gabriel welcomed them following his trap set. It was fire. Literally.
“Finnish hip-hop is sort of, not to put anyone down, but the standard isn’t very high, in general. You’ll see a few meaningful acts come through. You’ll hear general hype about French artists that rap in French, for instance, but you won’t hear general hype around the world over a Finnish rapping artist. Its old-school orientated, but it’s slowly growing to be more modern.” – Noah Kin
The high-energy experience continued with the Boss. For the first time ever in his lavish career, Ricky Rozay landed in Finland to perform for the sea of thousands. Despite the fact that he posted on Instagram and shouted out a few times that he was in Helsinki, the capital of the country, it was Tampere that surrounded him. Mr. MMG championed his hits like “Devil Is A Lie”, “Aston Martin Music”, “Hustlin” and “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit”.
Although Rick Ross is synonymous with hit after hit, it threw him off when he realized it wasn’t even him that the crowd had come to see. It was Cheek, Finland’s Drake, the blonde-haired rapper responsible for the shrieks from every girl in the audience and the sea of hands waving to “Sokka irti”, “Liekeissä” and “Timantit on ikuisia” – otherwise known as his hit songs.
The man is a star.
But there’s humbleness attached to Finnish artists despite the nation-wide pandemonium that ensues whenever they touch the stage. In Finland, a local artist can draw a tsunami of fans, creating a roar of ear-deafening applause. They can sell out stadiums.
In a corner of the world least expected, hip-hop thrives and Blockfest showcased it all in the little world across the bridge.
Words By. Samantha O’Connor + Photos By. Kennedy Owusu-Ansah