Hey, You’re Cool! Rebstar
“The music business is like a small high school—I’m the foreign exchange student who’s making his way”
Rebstar sits in New York City, grappling with what seems to be a major life decision: to board his plane back home to Sweden the following day or stay in the Big Apple. After barely any deliberation, he takes a stand. “I’m not getting on that plane,” he says indefinitely, gazing into the New York skyline. “This is the most inspiring view in the world. Don’t tell Trump, but I’ll be staying for a while.”
This isn’t the first time the artist (born Rebin Shah) has firmly touched down on American soil. In 2009, his T-Minus produced track “Without You” (featuring the inventor of sex himself, Mr. Trey Songz) made a sizable buzz stateside, becoming his meal ticket in Sweden as the third most requested song on Swedish radio. Since then, Rebstar has solidified his name in Europe, while still holding ties across the pond. Finally, the time seems right for for the Malmö-bred artist to ignite his own Swedish invasion. In chopping it up with Rebstar, he details his work ethic, his self-built label Today Is Vintage, his new album don’t stress Me, and his really great hair.
In preparing for this next step in your career—coming to the States after kind of conquering Europe—does it feel like starting over?
I don’t necessarily feel that way because my first big record [“Without You”] features Trey [Songz]. So I’ve always been working with people from the States anyway. I think the music business—especially here in the States—is kind of like a small high school. Everyone knows everyone. I’m kind of like the foreign exchange student who’s making his way and finally hanging with a couple of cool cats, and I get to be a part of whatever movement they have going on.
Is it hard managing your own career and having your Today Is Vintage label?
It’s challenging. It gets overwhelming from time to time, but we’re actually about to hire our first full-time position very soon.
Can I submit my résumé?
I would love you to! [laughs] But I can be very, very difficult to work with. Ask anyone who’s even met me for longer than an hour… I can be very difficult. But I also feel like that’s just how you have to be. I’m not doing stuff to fucking impress anyone. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about making fucking history and making something you can be proud of.
Well, you have a vision, and not everyone can always see it. It’s kind of like how every parent thinks their child is the cutest.
But, my child is the cutest!
See? But I’m sure your child is the cutest.
I appreciate that.
I read the lyrics to your song “365.” Talk to me about that fateful year.
[Laughs] It was… I don’t know, I just had a lot going on. I don’t feel like a song sums it up, obviously. It’s just one of those things where when you’re in it and you’re going through it, you don’t really necessarily get a moment to let it sink in. And you’re going through all these emotions and reacting in real time as far as what’s going on around you. But then a year later, when you’re looking back, it’s somewhat bittersweet. It was a learning experience for me.
The whole “hindsight is 20/20” theory.
Yeah, it was a punch in the face, forreal. “365” and “My Little Sister” are probably the most important songs I’ve ever written thus far. Those are the two most defining songs of my life.
So when you walk through the streets of Stockholm, do people attack you?
No, people in Stockholm are really nice!
I mean lovingly attack you as fans. Not come at you with a broken bottle.
[Laughs] I’ll tell you what: I used to do a lot of shows in Eastern Europe a few years ago and we had a couple hits there. I remember in Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania it was so weird because over there they have this whole “people can be super fans and artists are superstars and larger than life.” I remember we were in the mall or something and people were just looking and not saying anything; they don’t really speak any English. The first person asked for a photo or like an autograph—which was weird because people ask for selfies now—and then people started lining up. I think it’s a really cool feeling, but it’s interesting how it took that first person to get everyone to say “fuck it.” Like, “I have no shame.” That’s how I got to know the actor Michael K. Williams. I saw him in Atlanta a couple years ago. He saw me looking and said, “Wassup.” I went up to him. I don’t really get starstruck, but I’m such a fan [of his]. I don’t give a fuck, but there are moments where you don’t do that. Like I was at this SNL after party a few weeks ago, and Hov was surrounded by a lot of people so it wasn’t the most appropriate time to go up to him but if I saw Jay-Z walking past my apartment… 100 percent.
Tell me about the new album.
To me, I’ve done a lot of records—and I hate when people say this is their greatest work so far so I’m not gonna say that—but it’s probably the record I personally enjoy listening to the most. I don’t really listen to my own stuff like that because I live with the records for so long I get numb to it. But oddly enough, just yesterday I had the album on shuffle and there are a couple of records I enjoy listening to.
What’s the title?
don’t stress Me.
Tell me why.
Well, I have a lot of grey hair. I’ve been stressed for many, many years. This was one of those learning experiences where some shit just needs to take the time it needs to take. That’s not just creatively speaking. I think you just need to make time for yourself, and that’s something I needed to do. I’ve had a tendency to let people pull me in whatever direction they so please or whatever they think is best for me. I needed to grow up or man up and say “no” and invest in myself more.
Do you think your dashing good looks have helped or hindered your career thus far?
[Laughs] I think my big mouth has gotten me in trouble, but my looks save me sometimes. It’s better when I shut my mouth.
If you and Zayn Malik had a hair competition, who would win?
Let me go on his Instagram right now and give you an honest answer. Nah, stop. That’s not even fair. I’m not gonna do that to the man. I think we already know.
Also, being from Sweden, just how neutral are you?
First of all, I’m the new face of Sweden. No! I am not neutral. I am not quiet. I don’t settle. We have a Swedish word, which has no direct translation. It’s lagom, which means “just enough.” Doesn’t need to be too much; doesn’t need to be too little. Fuck lagom! I want everything. I want to make sure everyone gets everything, and I think that’s… I’m trying to say this while being politically correct.
Why? Fuck lagom!
Fuck lagom, you’re right!
So how is IKEA around your way?
I haven’t been to IKEA in America, but I heard it’s not as appealing as the IKEA is in Sweden… which is amazing.
I mean, I guess IKEA started as something really cool here, but now it’s where furniture goes to die.
I have an IKEA bookshelf. The one where they warn you might fall on a baby. But I don’t have a baby, so I guess it’s not falling.
I don’t even go to IKEA for the furniture. I go for the food. We have fucking gourmet food at IKEA in Sweden. There used to be an IKEA in the neighborhood I grew up in, and I used to be so excited when my parents used to drive me there for a 50-cent hot dog.
I also heard at the IKEA in Sweden they have a place to leave your kids and it kind of sounded like a dog kennel.
No! It’s amazing! That was the closest thing we had to Disney World growing up. They had story time, we used to watch cartoons. It was better than kindergarten. I’m serious. It was a magical place. The entrance was so small, only kids would fit in unless a grown-ass person was trying to crawl through, so it really felt like you were with Peter Pan going into this mysterious place. It was amazing. I wouldn’t mind doing a concert at IKEA. It’s fucking huge.
So what’s up with Nicole from your first album, Girls Like Nicole?
Ay, don’t ever ask me again about Nicole!
Oh my god, I’m sorry! You only named an album after her.
[Laughs] I don’t know, I hope she’s doing well.
I mean, having a project that you name after someone—in retrospect a year later, is it almost like getting a tattoo of someone’s name on your arm?
Nah! It reminds of when I was 8 or 9 and there was this girl called Wendy who I had a huge crush on. If I’m not mistaken she was from Honduras and she was moving back. We had this school dance—I don’t know if it was for her leaving or coincidentally around the same time. Anyway, everyone around me knew I had this huge crush on her and whoever was the DJ for the night took the microphone and said, “We’d like to dedicate this song to Rebin and Wendy.” And she did not dance with me. She broke my heart on the dancefloor. So what I’m getting to is I’m used to public embarrassment. I’ll tell you this though: Not a lot of people know this but Nicole is not her actual name. There are similarities in the name though. I don’t even know if “Nicole” knows it’s really Nicole.
So what you’re saying is the album is about Nicki Minaj?
Maybe. Maybe. Whoever it is, I will tell her one day, but I will wait until it is way too late to ever ever ever doing anything about it. She’ll be heartbroken and ask herself, “Why didn’t he tell me this five years ago?”
[LE] SINNER is dropping an album very soon. Another artist I’m working with, Baby Mike [is coming out], Naked People—they’re featured on one of my records—they’re releasing their video. There’s a lot of stuff coming out. The Swedish invasion, for lack of a better term, is happening.
Fuck lagom! Tell them the new face of Sweden said that.