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Photo: Gage Skidmore

Lyrical References to Iceland (From W.H. Auden to MF Doom)

Catch a throatful /
Fom the fire vocal /
With ash and molten glass /
Like Eyjafjallajökull /
The volcano out of Iceland …

So go the opening lines of the song Guv’nor, which American rapper MF Doom released in 2012. Indeed, Doom may be the only English-speaking wordsmith to predicate a rhyme scheme on the unwieldy Eyjafjalljökull – the Icelandic volcano that thwarted the travel plans of countless travelers in 2010.

MF Doom is not, however, the only foreign rapper to have made reference to Iceland in his lyrics. Last summer, the undersigned spent an inordinate amount of time poring over lyrics on, where he discovered many a queer allusion.

I’ve listened Wu-Tang Clan’s Reunited over a thousand times, but never before registered RZA’s mumbled reference to Björk:

Wu-Tang Incorp. /
Take your brain on spacewarp /
Talk strange like Björk /
Great hero: Jim Thorpe /

RZA will hardly be remembered for his lyrical fluidity (or “flow” in rap parlance) and his decision to craft a rhyme from a name as awkward as Björk has not served to further his standing.

And there are other Björk fans in rap. In Aminé’s Reel It In¸ which was released in 2018, the American rapper makes a sly reference to the Icelandic songstress (the song’s video has garnered 30 million views on  Youtube):

She Italiana /
She a sort a kind a /
She Björk cute
She she really fine-a /

In the context of rap music, it’s also worth mentioning Eminem’s Murder, from the album The Slim Shady EP released in 1997. In the lyric, Iceland serves as a post-homicidal place of refuge:

F$%k a peace plan if a citizen bystands /
This sh$t is in my hands, here’s your lifespan /

And for what your life’s worth, this money is twice than /
Grab a couple grand and lay up in Iceland /

Lyrically, not one of Em’s finest moments, but the reference is interesting.

Of those who have alluded to Iceland, the English-American poet W.H. Auden is probably among the few who have actually been. In 1937, Auden published Letters from Iceland, in collaboration with Louis MacNiece. If the below excerpt is to be trusted, the two authors weren’t partial to Reyjavík, even though the country itself was not without its charm:

I’ve learnt to ride, at least to ride a pony /
Take a lot of healthy exercise /
On barren mountains and in valleys stony /
I’ve tasted a hot spring (a taste was wise) /
And foods a man remembers till he dies /
All things considered, I consider Iceland /
Apart from Reykjavík, a very nice land /

Although, if memory serves the American duo Run the Jewels visited Iceland in 2015 to perform at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. That year, Run the Jewels remixed Miike Snow’s Heart Is Full, wherein the rapper-cum-political-activist Killer Mike boasts of his cosmopolitanism:

Iced out in Iceland in the blue lagoon, dead winter /
Stop listenin’ to your loser family, come f$3k with a winner /

If I had to choose my favourite reference, the one that American rapper Wax makes on the song Dispensary Girl is up there (mostly because of its eccentricity). In the song, which is found on the album Scrublife, Wax alludes to Icelandic band Sigur Rós, but his American accent makes it sound like “Sugar Ross”:

I smelled kush in the air and heard /
Some weird music like Sigur Rós /

Oh, yes, and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song was written about Iceland. Ahhhhh, ah!

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