Once again I find this column taking me up to the frozen reaches of Scandinavia. Whether it’s their attractive women, their wild dancing, or their smooth and catchy hip-hop beats, Northern Sweden draws me in. I’ve said variously that Swedish hip-hop is surprisingly diverse and well-developed, and this week’s column only adds to that argument. This week I’m spotlighting the inimitable Zacke.
I was probably listening to Zacke for quite a while before I realized who he was. The young Stockholm-based rapper has a longstanding friendship with the fantastic Northern Swedish hip-hop/swing trio Movits (Click this link to read what I wrote about them back in February), and the two artists frequently collaborate. Zacke has delivered verses on tracks from both of Movits’ albums and supported the group during their first full American tour. I’ve been following Movits’ activity for a few years, and upon learning of their protege’s debut album I began looking a little more into this dark-haired young man wearing a shirt emblazoned with a parody of the L.A. Dodgers logo.
Though he currently lives in Stockholm, Zacke (born Zakarias Lekberg) has roots up North in Luleå, thus explaining his connection to Movits and their highly musical swing-influenced brand of hip-hop. Zacke himself doesn’t take his instrumentals or his style choices so directly from the 1920s, but does incorporate a wide array of musical styles and instrumental arrangements in his songs. Zacke has toured relentlessly both in Europe and worldwide with his compatriots in Movits, released one full-length album (2010’s Visst är det Vackert) and a few scattered singles, and tried his hand at directing music videos. The man is active.
Zacke’s music is interesting to listen to in no small part because of the myriad musical influences that can go into any one song, let alone a full album. Smooth jazz, blues, funk, rock, folk, and electronic music all have a part in the rapper’s tracks, leading to grooves that are as enjoyable during instrumental breaks as during the breakneck lines delivered in verses and hooks. This is a trait that Zacke’s music does share with Movits: live instruments are prioritized just as high as synthesizers and drum machines in the arrangements, leading to tunes with an 808 beat with a jazz flute solo recorded over it. Banjos, piano, Rhodes organ, accordion, horns, and percussion all appear on Visst är det Vackert, giving the album an organic feel. Coupled with Zacke’s instantly recognizable voice and cheeky delivery, this is a rap album that feels cool. There is a definite attitude to the rapper’s voice, and with every drawn-out syllable and rising inflection the general sentiment of the track is evident even to listeners with no understanding of the Swedish. It may be that this is just a language particularly apt to be interpreted this way, but Zacke’s rapping style fits in seamlessly with his backing tracks.
The songs of Visst är det Vackert do sweep over a vast range of feels, genres, and tempos. From lazy backbeats like on the album-opening “Flaskpost från Utopia” and the banjo-driven “Men Nanting!” to upbeat tracks like the country-esque romp “Ser det Kommer“, the album takes the listener in every direction a rap album could musically go with Zacke’s staccato verses and singalong hooks serving as guides. The album leads off with blues, funk, and a club-banging dance track featuring Movits’ Johan Rensfeldt that is actually an ironic send-up of modern pop music in “Spela Mig På Radion” (“Play Me on the Radio”). The album does turn reflective in its second half, however, with legitimate ballads and understated layered grooves on tracks such as “Förlorad Generation“, “Öppet Idag“, and “Båtdrinkar“. Lyrically, Visst är det Vackertcovers topics from the artist’s jet-setting life and the difficulty of maintaining relationships to the cultural melting pot that modern Sweden has become; and the artist’s voice proves to be versatile at conveying abrasive bravado in one moment and a calm pensiveness in another.
Since his first album, Zacke has appeared all over the world of Swedish hip-hop, guesting verses on Movits’ new album and the anthem for their American tour (“Först tar vi Manhattan” or “First we take Manhattan”, an aggressively synth-heavy tune about how “they say that hip-hop was born in the Bronx, but the Bronx was born in Sweden“). Zacke can also be found on the brilliant Swedish hip-hop sampler Evolution; on a Mighty Boosh-sampling track from Swedish producer Academics’ second album; and on his own terms with his new single “Mammas nye Kille” (Mom’s New Boyfriend”), a loud track with bouncing drums and a healthy amount of electric guitar shredding.
Zacke isn’t currently touring, but a second full-length album appears to be in the works. For the meantime, the young Zacke is only widening his profile, popping up on hip-hop mixtapes and compilations across Sweden. The artist doesn’t appear to have a presence on twitter (other than his mentions from his friends in Movits), but can be tracked down at his official website and on facebook. Nobody is listening to Zacke right now, but the rapper’s unique delivery and carefully orchestrated tracks single him out as one of the best of a burgeoning Swedish hip-hop scene that desperately needs more exposure.