Things have been moving fast for Sammy and Johnny Bennett. In 2016 they released their first song on Youtube, then they won a Swedish Grammy Award for the debut EP Hundra80, played at festivals like Way Out West and Skankaloss, dropped more celebrated music, were nominated at the P3 Guld Gala, received a hip hop award from the Swedish musical institution Manifest, and this year they visited Boston and Copenhagen in collaboration with IKEA.
We meet up with the twin brothers in their studio on a roof in the industrial area Högsbo in southwestern Gothenburg. It is one of those nights when summer seems to have second thoughts about leaving, and the sun glitters on the tin roof where Peter, the photographer, walks around looking for good angles. While we're waiting for Sammy to turn up, Johnny shows us around the studio and plays a few of his favourite artists right now. But we need to handle the coffee maker ourselves.
– It’s going to taste a lot better, I promise, he says and laughs.
Music by Clairo and Blood Orange flow from the studio’s speakers, and then an unreleased track with the working title FantaZe.
– Do you like it?
Interviewing Sammy and Johnny is a bit like talking to newly found friends. They are curious, spontaneous and ask me just as many questions as I ask them. The interaction between the brothers reminds me of seeing them on stage, they complete each other’s sentences or – perhaps even more often – challenge and tease each other. Like when Sammy starts to explain that they always had an interest in music and the culture around it, kept themselves posted about beefs between different artists and …
– Speak for yourself, man, Johnny interrupts.
– Alright alright, I’ll speak for myself then, Sammy continues, but I am always up to date on what’s happening in the culture and I’ve always been curious. The plan was never to make music myself, but I have always, always, always loved it and fucked with the culture. Not just hip hop but like soul, r’n’b … I listen to jazz sometimes too. A lot of black culture music.
In 2013, Johnny lived in London and Sammy in Malmö, and they started to rap separately – two different towns, two different languages. But it wasn't until 2016 that the world was allowed to listen.
Sammy: – I was at the gym one day and listened to a song by Stormzy and Chipmunk and thought “fuck this is lit” because they were rapping over the top of each other. It was totally sick and the beat was so uptempo, and I thought it would be nice if me and Johnny could do something similar.
On Youtube they found the instrumental to Chipmunks (now Chip, red.) Hear Dis, the song from the gym, which became the base for Hör5de. When they released the video, the brothers instantly caught the Swedish hip hop community’s attention who saw they had something unique, something new. Their attitude towards the success that followed seems to be pretty relaxed, even if they couldn't have imagined such an impact.
Johnny: – Well, I think everything is earned, but then if I could have expected it? I couldn’t have expected to rap even, so no. But there is so much more that we want to accomplish, so I don’t see it as our best days are behind us. I’m just hungry for more.
This spring, the duo took their first steps on the international stage when IKEA presented them, together with artists like Cherrie and Jaqe, to the US audience at the Boston Calling Festival. They performed three days in a row, and even if there weren't that many listeners the first day, word about the explosive Swedes spread fast.
Johnny: – The third day was maxed out, I think it’s one of our best gigs ever.
Sammy: – The most fun to do, at least.
Johnny: – Definitely the most fun to do. We caught the audience’s attention and they got involved. Even if they didn’t know the words we taught them and then they sang along, they weren’t shy at all.
So, rapping in Swedish in an English speaking country was apparently not a problem.
Sammy: – Take the song Bevis for instance, “oh why why why” … it’s easy to follow. I think that Swedish music, or I can speak for Swedish hip hop at least, with all the rhythms and flows and all of that … it’s all universal. You don’t need a language to understand that “ouff this strikes, this flows”.
"Melodies go across borders, they come before language"
Johnny: – I believe that, with time, the Swedish hip hop scene will expand even more. The artists are experimenting more and are playing with melodies and stuff, and melodies specifically is something that goes across borders. That comes before language.
They still do their writing separately, at least in an early phase, in order not to disturb each other too much.
Johnny: – You need to get your thought out there, you know. It doesn’t matter if it’s my brother, when someone comes in too early in the creative process it just fucks you up. So you need to build it up a little before anyone, anyone at all, can come in and say …
Sammy: – … say no or …
Johnny: – … say “what if you think like this?” – it just kills the mood.
There they are again. The lines that blaze between the brothers like passes on a football field. Johnny admits that he is probably the one with more opinions. Maybe that comes natural to an older brother, even if the age difference between the twins is a mere minute.
Sammy: – I don’t think it has to do with any of us being better than the other, it’s just because Johnny is more fussy than I am, in general.
Johnny: – I’m better than him too, he knows that.
Sammy: – Yeah, he’s sharp.
Johnny: – We’re talking about lyrics now. I seldom have opinions about melodies and those kind of things, but sometimes we meddle with each other’s bars. That is more and more rare as well though, I think people are stepping up.
Sammy: – “People”?
“People” is Sammy?
– Yeah, “people” is Sammy, Johnny says and laughs.
They find inspiration in their own lives, other people’s behaviour, or films. Anything that creates a certain mood, be it from the inside or the outside.
Johnny: – We had this discussion the other day, because I have felt sometimes lately that I have trouble finding my creativity. But then we talked about the importance of writing all the time, even if the result is crap it’s always good to stay active.
"I think you can pound your way out of a writer’s block."
Sammy: – I’ve always been like that, even when I’m not inspired by anything I write as much as I can. Or just hum or whatever, so that I don’t lose it. I think you can pound your way out of a writer’s block. Or when you’re not creative, that you can just struggle your way through it.
The songs are not created in a special place, the ideas can come anywhere.
Sammy: – My favourite place is the laundry room.
Johnny: – I like to be in a hurry when I’m writing. When I know that I need to catch the bus in like ten minutes, I have my best thoughts. Or when I’m on the tram and knows that I’m going to see someone in three stops.
Sammy: – In bed, when I wake up.
Johnny: – In the shower, though that’s not a good thing, really. I think I fucked up my voice memo because there is no sound on my snaps anymore, I think it’s moisture damaged or something.
Sammy: – Wet bars, haha.
They like their hometown, where both are now living again. A lot of their work is done in Stockholm though, a fact that might make them move away.
Johnny: – But as a city I love Gothenburg. It’s a mix of a big city and a small town, that has everything. Also, I’m from here and feel at home. So I wouldn’t leave this place except if I was moving abroad. What about you?
Sammy: – Yeah, it’s probably that. I do like Stockholm a lot too though, but then I would probably move to a nice little suburb and had my chill out area there. And then sometimes, when I felt like it, I could go visit the hot spots in the centre.
We discuss the hip hop scene in Gothenburg, which according to the brothers has grown a lot during the past few years. They mention Aden & Asme, Parham, Skander and Bojou among artists who have gained a following outside the city limits.
Sammy: – There are many people who make good stuff here. It might not be such a great hype in the media, but I think Gothenburg will be more visible in the future. We know people who have good things coming up, and you’ll hear more of them shortly. So I’m very positive about the development and I think it’s nice to be from here and make music. Instead of being from places where everything happens and where everyone’s looking, it’s more fun to be the underdog.
They want to hold off a debut album a while longer, but not because of a lack of material. No, rather as an adjustment to today’s music world, where singles and EPs have begun ro replace the classic full-length format. This spring they dropped the double single Be för dem / 40/40 (with Henok Achido) and in August Chans with their artist friend Parham.
Sammy: – A single gets to live a life of its own. When you release a project, an album, there is a risk a few songs go missing and I want people to listen. So singles feels like a nice thing right now. We might do something else later on, but we’re gonna take it day by day.
Johnny: – I also think that we’re moving towards a time, or we’re already there, when people’s attention spans have totally crashed. You need to be aware of that and make sure you give your music the best possibilities.
So, we can look forward to more Sammy & Johnny drops this year, and hopefully during a long time ahead.
"I’m not sure I will always rap, but I will always make music"
Johnny: – I’m not sure I will always rap, but I will always make music, I think. It’s something that I discovered late in life but it’s wicked fun to express yourself through music. Not just in words, but also through instruments and so on. I would like to develop that part in the future, and also move into production.
Sammy: – It will always be there, from now on at least. Music is nice. There is nothing better than finishing a fat tune, it’s the best sensation ever! Usually I don’t listen to songs over and over, but when you made a cold track yourself … I have no problems playing it 20 times in a row. On repeat.
Johnny: – It’s like scoring a goal in football.
Sammy: – Or even better than that, because with music it lives on forever. A goal I don’t know … unless you scored in the World Cup final, of course.