Looptroop Rockers have been making music together for two decades. Their first live show had them rapping over instrumentals by Black Sheep, a group that rocked hi-tops, stone-washed jeans and colourful shirts, and called it quits in 1995. Looptroop, on the other hand, are showing no signs of slowing up.
We’re midway through 2002, and Looptroop just recorded what they feel is their best song to date.
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The group has spent the summer in a hot studioâ€””so hot I’m in the mic-booth in nuttin’ but my boxers”, Promoe, one of four members in the group, would exclaim on one recordingâ€”and the long sessions have taken their toll.
But now, after defying hip-hop orthodoxy by recording a sung chorus for the first time, the pressure of perfectionism is ebbing, and Looptroop are dousing ‘Last Song’ in all kinds of goodness.
“That was the first time we worked with a singer,” recalls the group’s producer Embee. “So for that song, we wanted to incorporate everything; all the harmonies we could fit, for instance, to the point that we drowned out the original chorus and melody. We squeezed everything in there thinking, ‘This will be such a good song.’”
That the recording sessions for The Struggle Continues had been tense is significant. Looptroop’s first album, A Modern Day City Symphony from 2000, was the culmination of seven years’ worth of bedroom recordings fueled by passion, and crates of beer in exchange for live performances.
Their debut album brought about a few well-earned perksâ€”foreign tours, a professional studio, even actual money for live performancesâ€”but a more important effect was what Looptroop were feeling during that summer of 2002: the need to top an anticipated debut album with a better second.
Expectations were high, and while they had come a long way as a group, creative differences could still cause arguments. Things were, at times, tense.
“Creative differences can improve the process of making an album as a whole. But if they turn into something negative it can really take its toll on the creative process,” says Supreme.
On The Struggle Continues, Looptroop’s punk steez remainedâ€”especially on tracks like ‘Musical Stampede’, ‘Get Ready’, and ‘Who Want It’â€”but it was the decision to delve deeper into personal emotions that made their celebrated second album a starting point rather than the career apex.
Timbuktu, a close friend of the group and now a majorly successful artist in Sweden, singled out Looptroop’s first love song, ‘Fly Away’, as their best work to date; for Looptroop, the pick was probably their already mentioned ode to life, ‘Last Song’.
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“We were really happy about ‘Fly Away’. It’s like opening a door and realizing ‘shit… we can be in this country, too.’ That’s when you start daring a bit more,” says Supreme, before hinting at the reason for his group’s longevity:
“The safest alternative would have been to remain in the angriest version of Looptroop from the first album, because that was working. But our mentality has always been to develop our sound and try new things. And it’s also about getting older; we’re searching for new outlets.”
And there you have it. Experimentation, for better or for worse, has let rural Sweden’s hip-hop pioneersâ€”around the time dial-up modems were still valued commodities, a disgruntled Stockholm elite dubbed Looptroop ‘hip-hop peasants’â€”develop theirÂ teen dream into a profession.
Five group albums and six solo ventures down the road, Looptroop have taken it there on a number of occasions. They’ve conquered extremes, including a fast-paced indie sound (‘The Building’ off Good Things), bonkers boom-bap (‘Chana Masala’ off Fort Europa and ‘Do’ from Professional Dreamers), andÂ electro-house (‘Naive’ off Good Things).
On his Swedish solo album, KrÃ¥ksÃ¥ngen, Promoe went the distance and found himself rapping over euro-disco. For any group steeped in such an orthodox sub-culture as underground hip-hop, the list of conventions to defy runs long.Â And by now, it’s fair to say that they’ve mastered things such as the hip-hop love song.
“Embee put a stop to that for a while. ‘No more love’â€”haha! ‘No more singing, it’s time to make a real hip-hop track,” says Cosmic.
“I just wanted one song with a rap chorus,” replies Embee, speaking of ‘Any Day’, one of the more obvious boom-bap songs on their latest album, Professional Dreamers.
“There are certain things Embee’s been requesting that we never deliver on,” says Supreme. “‘More space in the verses’â€”he’s been saying that for years but it’s something we’ve never been able to do.”
Looptroop may exchange feedback more freely than ever, but it is Embee who, 18 years after betting his shorts that the loud kid in the lunch line (Promoe) couldn’t rap to save his life, pulls the strings.
“The idea was to create a dreamlike sound,” Embee says of Professional Dreamers. “But not dreamlike in a beautiful way; a bit more like nightmares. That’s how most of the songs started out. But many of those original songs never made the final cut.”
“It felt like you had the clearest vision. It’s almost always like that,” replies Supreme. They’re talking about an album on which Promoe lets us know that “Embee already [knew] what the album’s supposed to sound like” on second single ‘Magic’.
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Supreme continues: “That was one of the first songs we recorded for the album. We had just had that talk; Embee had just said that he knew, roughly, how the album would sound. But that’s how it is: as our producer, he’s responsible for how the music sounds. We still have our opinions, and try to push certain ideas, and stop other ones. But Embee is the boss.
“Although I think we’re more involved in all parts of the creative process these days. Embee is more involved in the writing, and we are more involved in the music, especially when it comes to arranging the songs. It’s never like I have an idea for the kick drum. That’s where his expertise lies.”
Embee’s wizardry permeates Looptroop’s albums. All five contain at least one song that ends in a suspenseful transition that takes everything one step further. The transition between ‘Sweep Me Away’ and ‘Blow Me Away’ is one example.”
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“That usually happens when I’ve been working on the same song for a long time, arranging it and so on. That’s when I find new things in the track, and often it becomes an entirely different song,” says the producer, who made his solo debut with a fine jazz-influenced EP, Embeetious Art, in 2000.
“It’s fair to say [that I get bored of the original song. I think those little bridges reward the listener. And that's what happens when you sit with the same music for a long, intensive work period."
That these guys now talk about their musicâ€”or at least aspects of itâ€”as work work goes some way to explain the title Professional Dreamers. Looptroop have born both the freedom and responsibilities that come with venturing as long-haul independents.
Depending on which song off the latest album you consult, Looptroop carry the weight of their work with gratitude ('Professional Dreamers', 'Business & Pleasure'), a loss for words ('Joseph') or the tears of a sad clown ('Late Nights Early Mornings' or Promoe's 'Blood Sugar').
"I think I'm more reminded of [our music being a job] when we’re not touring. Because then, ahead of a release, it feels like a regular office job. I’m in front of a computer emailing and calling people,” says Supreme.
Embee: “For me, all aspects of creating a new album amount to long work periods. First, you’re creating the songs, which can be done over two or three years’ time. At that time you’re not even thinking about the final product, you just choose the ones you want to keep in the end.
“And then the work begins; first you complete the songs, and then comes arranging and mixingâ€”the really tough part; those become 16- to 18-hour work days. Very hardcore. Then you can chill, briefly, during the mastering, but after that comes the interview and PR-stuff. And this time around, that’s taken a lot of time.”
Cosmic interjects: “If you look at the amount of time you’re actually on stage working, or in the studio creating music, you’ll see that it’s a fraction of the time we put into our music. Traveling is work, tooâ€”just getting from A to B to do the next show.”
Some routines may have settled, but Looptroopâ€”who go by Looptroop Rockers since 2008, by the wayâ€”are steadily pushing their creative horizons.
They had come far the summer they employed a singer for the first time. But they still had a long way to go to pen the closing track on Professional Dreamers, a song about when music is not so much a routine as a matter of life and death.
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“I don’t know if we’ve discovered that many new things,” says Supreme. “But I do feel like we’ve refined the recipe. ‘Joseph’ is a song that was very hard to write. We had wanted to do it, but it took a quite a few years before we were able to.”
Here’s to a few more.
* Unfortunately Cosmic, Looptroop Rockers’ fourth member, couldn’t make the photo shoot