Cell 7 – “Is Anybody Listening?” (2019)

Ragna Kjartansdóttir has been part of the Icelandic hip hop scene since its earliest days. In 1996 she joined the Subterranean crew and rapid-fired rhymes on their seminal Central Magnetizm the following year, one of the first hip hop albums to come out of island enclave. It’s an album that has held up remarkably well – classic beats, MCs jumping in and out with precision, and Kjartansdóttir’s female vocals offering a not only a reprieve from the testosterone but showing that she can more than hold her own. Give a listen to “My Style Is Phreaky” and ” It’s tha Subta” and just try to call me a liar. I dare you. And that’s how the world got its first taste of Cell 7.

Another 16 years would pass before Ragna released her first solo album as Cell 7, 2013s CellF. We caught her that same year at Iceland Airwaves, performing an impressive live set at Lucky Records, and we’ve kept tabs on her ever since. The following year she was a guest MC at an awesome show by the reggae/hip hop RVK Soundsystem (below), owning the stage and making it clear she still had game. Needless to say, when I heard she had a new album coming out in 2019, and even better she was crowdfunding a vinyl release, I signed up immediately. And I’m glad I did, because not only is the record and packaging awesome, so too is the music.

Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane

RVK On Stage just published an in depth interview with Cell 7 HERE. You should definitely check it out if you have any interest at all in the early hip hop scene in Iceland. As for the review, I thought about writing something new about Is Anybody Listening? for the blog, but when I went back and re-read what I wrote for RVK On Stage I liked what I saw… so that review follows below.

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I’m independent / I don’t have a crew, Cell7 tells us on “Don’t Care”. And she clearly doesn’t need a crew these days, two decades on from her hip hop debut as part of the group Subterranean. She was young then. Today she’s a woman with adult responsibilities and children. And she won’t put up with any nonsense. Don’t be fuckin’ with my income / I don’t play / I don’t care.

Is Anybody Listening? is Ragna Kjartansdóttir’s second solo album as Cell7, a blend of R&B drenched beats and grooves overlaid with in-your-face lyrics. Ragna’s delivery is perfectly suited to the music, less youthful braggadocio and more mature confidence, with even her disses spit with a matter-of-factness that brokers no disagreement. I got powermoves / You don’t get to tell me what I’m supposed to do. She means it, too. Sometimes bellicose, sometimes smooth as silk, but always poised and bold, Cell7 has been in the rap game since before many of the up-and-comers were even born, and she’s not going to let them forget that fact.

The album opens with an aggressive stance, the first four tracks establishing Cell 7’s bona fides, making it very clear that she’s not to be messed with and culminating with the super-fast and intricate rhymes of “City Lights”. The next four songs slow things down a bit, embracing the R&B elements and giving Ragna the opportunity to show some vocal diversity, her velvet-like half-rapped-half-sung lyrics perfect for late evening chilling, the slowed down time when the main party is winding down and just a few friends are left hanging out in small, intimate groups. Most notable is the female anthem “Peachy”, an empowering celebration of self-confidence (I’m feelin’ myself / Bullshit free / A hundred percent / Organically me). The album closes with “Powermoves”, a track that blends her earlier vocal conviction with the later viscous beats, a perfect way to bring everything full circle.

Released digitally in February 2019, Ragna took to the web to crowdfund a two-color, limited edition vinyl pressing of Is Anybody Listening? If you’re a vinyl junkie like me, this one will be a must-have with its beautiful cover art and the included poster. But you don’t need fancy packaging and formats to enjoy Is Anybody Listening?, just get yourself a download or stream it, put your earbuds in, and groove.

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