Tommy Tee has had a glittering career in Norway. Both promoting and producing beats as well as across the pond in the States, many consider him to be the ‘godfather of Norwegian hip-hop’.
Tommy grew up in Oslo, and when the culture came over as a phenomenon to Norway in the mid-80s through artists such as Grandmaster Flash and films like BeatStreet, it was something he was immediately drawn to.
“Everything I wanted to do was kind of within the culture because the culture also had so much stuff in common with what made sense to me, with where I was trying to go with life and stuff even at a young age.”
He first got into the culture early through graffiti and breakdancing before getting into the music side of things which he always considered to be his ‘dream’.
When he was 16 or 17-years-old, using enough money to buy a sampler, Tommy produced his first song alongside his friends and mentors that was similar to Pump Up the Volume by M/A/R/R/S.
Also on an album around this time, he produced his first solo song called The Crazy Minister which is considered to be the first hip-hop song produced in Norway.
However, the hype from the Bronx slowly died from Scandinavia and increasingly became more of an underground scene.
“The first death of the hip-hop culture came at a really bad time for me as I had just got into it seriously and really got bitten by the book.
“But with no Norwegian fundamentals in the culture, it had to kind of die commercially to get re-birthed somehow by some of us who kept it going.”
As a way of re-birthing the culture, Tommy created Norway’s first hip-hop magazine ‘Fat Cap’ in 1989 that was distributed internationally. On top of that, he was organising big hip-hop gigs in his home of Oslo.
“We were interested in communicating nationally as that was a problem at the time. So that was one of the ways we went about that and it developed people’s interest as there was such a big demand in underground and graffiti magazines.
“Me, my mentors and my friends saw the need to do this shit in terms of getting artists over here, doing a magazine or doing a radio show. Some of these things you do because it’s needed while others you do because you really like it.”
The crazy minister further pioneered this hip-hop scene in the form of a National Rap Show on NRK that influenced many to discover and get involved in what the culture is today.
“To me, it was perfect because I could reach a lot more people and also get paid for the first time in my life in anything.”
“I didn’t see the consequence of this until a generation later – maybe 10 years later – when people confronted me with it and said that they grew up with it as was one of their main channels and platforms where they could get all that music.”
Even after doing so much to promote hip-hop in Norway, Tommy is still very humble about it but did admit that “it was many waves and the main wave came from the United States, but I was one of the main curators without a doubt.”
For him, promoting the music was one of his missions and producing music was his other – that had always been his dream. And in 1995, he set up his own independent hip-hop label called Tee Productions.
“For me, producing was my dream that grew and grew and when I had self-esteem enough to do it, I collected some people and did it.
“It was a very different as the National Rap Show was supposed to be for everyone and was a different mission as this was for me.”
With Tee Productions, he flew over to New York round this time and started producing music at the legendary D&D Records.
“MOP was just hanging about and Guru, rest in peace, running about the studio. It was just crazy and felt like this was my milestone in my career.
“They couldn’t believe a little kid from Norway could pull up beats like I did which was great for my confidence.”
From this, Tommy released his debut album ‘Bonds, Beats & Beliefs’ in 1998 with the track Takin Ova being a hit in both the US and Norway.
Yet, he never liked to be the centre of attention and would rather just produce the art in the form of his beats.
“It was never my plan to be an artist as I wanted to be a producer but was pushed to do my own album.
“I’m still a guy that likes to be in the background but, although now after so many years, I’m a public figure here so it’s different.”
Even though he is proud of his Norwegian heritage, it wasn’t until 2013 that he started rapping in Norsk.
“Until the early 2000s, I saw rapping in Norwegian as super corny and not what I wanted to hear. The reason was that we were looking so much to the States and two that people here felt angry that hip-hop culture wasn’t take seriously at at all by anybody. They either hated it or laughed at it.”
“It was corny until people started doing it from Sweden and we were like ‘oh shit, we got to re-think our strategy’ and then people started rapping in Norwegian.”
Even with Tommy’s 30-year career in the industry, he still believes he is at the top of his game and wants to continue to pioneer the culture further.
“In regard to the music and production, I’m hungry and I’m trying to get out there and that’s why my heart has been in the last couple of years with local and national artists.
“I made more beats last year more than I have ever done and I still feel like I’m not done and now I feel even more so that my perspective definitely has its own place in the culture.”
“Developing artists is a big thing for me and investment which sometimes you don’t get any payback from so it’s a risky business but I do a lot of that.”
He has currently been working with Norwegian artist Oscar Blesson for the last four years and has an album due later this year with Swedish rapper Abidaz that he said “will be a classic album if not the best album he’s ever produced.”
Check out our EXPLORE: Norway article here to discover what hip-hop has come from Tommy Tee’s influence.
[Featured Picture: Noah L Williams]