“Do you have a lighter? Or matches? I want to light this candle.” Silvana Imam is rummaging around the east Stockholm music studio for something to get her scented candle going. It’s late fall and as the afternoon transforms into evening the streets outside the window are quickly turning pitch black. The studio is dimly lit, and even though it’s sparsely furnished it’s hard to find things in here. Silvana finally spots a lighter next to a speaker. She lights the candle and smiles. “There. It’s way nicer like this, right?” Silvana Imam is the rapper on every Swede’s lips right now, and one of the brightest shining stars of the RMH Management roster. With a recent hard-hitting EP proclaiming the rise of Silvana and her “power pussies” plus an outspoken anti-racism agenda she has become the epicenter of a new movement toward love, feminism and openness – in a country that, the last five to six years, has seen a political climate that is quickly turning about as cold as the Scandinavian winter. “I never intended to be that voice. But there was no one taking that spot, and it needed to be taken. And so I took it.” Silvana’s first steps to becoming an MC started when she was seven years old and borrowed her neighbor’s copy of the Fugees The Score. After a few months they realized that she had no intention of giving it back, so they bought Silvana a copy of her own for Christmas that year. Getting deeper into hip hop – from learning the lyrics to Jay-Z songs by heart to yearning for Xzibit’s Helly Hansen jacket in the video for his ’96 anthem Paparazzi – she started to write rhymes herself. Already into poetry and concerned about injustices, Silvana strove to find her own sound early on. But it was not until meeting Babak Azarmi and RMH that it became as elaborted and pure as it is today.
“A mutual friend told me to call him because she felt we shared a similar vision of art and music. And so we hung out a few times, and I soon realized that we weren’t really talking about music anymore. We were talking about feelings, struggles and what we wanted in life. We were talking about something bigger.” Fifteen years earlier a gang of eight boys – with big sweaters saying “Respect My Hustle” in capital letters and t-shirts wrapped around their heads – are turning heads on lunchtime shoppers on Drottninggatan in central Stockholm. One of them is rapper Adam Tensta – who is yet to blow up – another is young Babak Azarmi. “We were pushing our mixtapes and wanted to conquer the world. But we weren’t very focused. What really fueled us though was that nobody wanted to give us a shot. Instead they closed the doors of opportunities on us. One night, after one of these incidents, I went home really frustrated. And I came up with the name Respect My Hustle. After that night, we came out much harder. That’s when it all began.” Babak Azarmi is sitting in RMH's head office, called The Box. This is the creative hub for a lot of the brand's work. Babak works here, sleeps here and hustles here. RMH as a brand has been active since 2006 when Babak decided to do it full-time. By that time there was only three of the original members left – Babak, Nils Svennem Lundberg and Adam Tensta. Babak did administration, Nils was the producer and Adam (then called Adm) was the rapper. When the opportunity arose to open for Promoe – of the spray can-toting rap crew Looptroop – they didn't hesitate to say yes. “I was making a living putting up posters on street corners.
To finance the tour I worked day and night all over the city. It was crazy.” With only one officially released single, Bangin’ On The System, and no real experience doing live shows, Adam and Babak headed out. When they came back home the two felt a need to take their work to the next level. “We sat at home killing MySpace with our music every day. We pushed Bangin’ On The System and got plays in LA, the Bahamas and all kinds of places. We also decided for Adam to change his name to Adam Tensta. Then everybody who googled ‘Tensta’ (a Stockholm suburb) would come across Adam's music. And Tensta would get a positive connotation with the help of Adam. It was all planned.” Adam Tensta released two more singles, They Wanna Know and My Cool that got high rotation on MTV and took him on tours around Sweden and on big producer meetings in the USA. “It was everything we had ever dreamed of. Me and Adam had meetings with Jimmy Iovine (Interscope) and hung out at Bad Boy Records. We also did a seven-hour studio session with Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. But when we got back to the hotel room we threw the CD-R with beats in the garbage. They later turned out to be huge hits for Will.I.Am, but Adam was like: ‘Why should I rap on something that we do better?’ He has always had a really strong sense of integrity.”