Posted on January 9, 2022

After a Star’s Killing, Sweden Struggles With ‘Gangster Rap’

Alex Marshall and Joe Coscarelli, New York Times, January 7, 2022

Sweden had never seen anything like Einar. A hyperactive and self-assured young artist in a place increasingly obsessed with global hip-hop, by 19 he was one of the biggest rappers the country had ever produced.

Born Nils Gronberg, Einar had the face of a puppy dog, the flow of an international rap connoisseur and the chest-puffed lyrics of a hardened gang member. He was also white and born in Sweden, a loaded distinction in a scene where most rappers come from immigrant backgrounds.

Raised mostly by a single mother, Einar was noticed by age 10, with videos of his childhood freestyles shared regularly online. Later, while living in a home for wayward teenagers, he broke through with only his third song, a steely lover-boy track that topped the country’s pop charts. Soon, he was a dominant force on Spotify, becoming Sweden’s most-listened-to act in 2019, ahead of global giants like Ed Sheeran.

But one night in October, the country’s biggest crossover star became its foremost cautionary tale, shot multiple times and left to die outside his home.

“We heard pom, pom, pom,” said Dumlee, an aspiring rapper who was with Einar that night. Dumlee, a convicted rapist affiliated with a gang called Death Patrol, said in an interview that he and Einar scattered to hide before he heard more shots minutes later {snip}

Einar’s killing, which remains unsolved, has rocked Sweden’s rap scene. His fate and the violence that swirled around him in life have also put a very Swedish face on issues that have for years been roiling beneath the surface here, and given fresh urgency to debates in the political mainstream about rising gun violence, immigration and gang warfare.

Some lawmakers, newspapers and parents have been left questioning the role of the music they have labeled — in a 1990s throwback — “gangster rap.”

“We have never seen something like this before,” said Petter Hallen, a veteran rap journalist and D.J. who hosts a show on the Swedish public service radio station P3 Din Gata.


“You have the politicians involved, the media, the rap fans, celebrity culture, public service, taxpayer money, influencer culture, youth culture, race — all these ripples in all directions of Swedish society,” Hallen added, describing the confluence of factors that have captivated this Nordic country of 10 million people.

More associated with Abba than with sharp-edged rap, Sweden has for at least six years been struggling with a tide of gang violence that has contributed to its shift from one of the safest countries in the world to among Europe’s most violent. Last year, there were at least 342 shootings resulting in 46 deaths (up from 25 shootings in 2015), along with dozens of bombings.

That carnage had long been seen as an issue confined to ethnically diverse outer “suburbs,” where poorer housing feels dislocated from the gleaming wealth of the country’s largely white city centers.

But Einar’s death — in a rich part of Stockholm, rather than a suburb — has broadened the debate and finger-pointing, with some saying rap has become a convenient boogeyman, especially with elections scheduled for this year.

Shortly after the shooting, Mikael Damberg, Sweden’s interior minister at the time, told reporters that the culture around the music could drive people toward gangs. Hanif Bali, a member of the conservative Moderate Party, who last year complained about a major music award going to a rapper with a criminal conviction, said in an interview at Sweden’s parliament that radio stations should stop playing music by anyone found guilty of gang crime.


For decades in the United States, rap has been tied to moral panics and blamed for urban violence. Europe, too, has recently seen swelling concern regarding its drill scenes, where deep bass lines combine with stark, hyperlocal descriptions of living, feuding and dying in struggling neighborhoods.

Sweden’s growing problems with crime perhaps make it more susceptible to concern about the genre. When Magdalena Andersson became the country’s first female prime minister at the end of November, she used her first policy speech to assail gangs.

In December, Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s newspaper of record, published an analysis of everyone arrested or prosecuted for gun offenses since 2017. About 85 percent were people born abroad, or had at least one parent who was. Some 71 percent belonged to the country’s lowest income group. Most of the country’s highest-profile rappers come from such backgrounds.


With increased fan focus, political pressure and law-enforcement scrutiny now on Sweden’s rappers, many in the country are debating whether the still-young genre can change — or if it should even have to.

More than a dozen local rappers and their associates approached for this article declined to be interviewed, citing fears of being stereotyped or drawing unwanted attention.

But those who did speak freely said they didn’t feel any need to change what they rapped about, and not just because it reflected reality. “That’s what’s selling right now,” said the artist known as Moewgli, who collaborated with Einar on several hit singles and served prison time for robbery. “If something sells, I’m going to do it,” he said. “I’m all about the money.”