February / 2017 / Amsterdam / Netherlands

Pepijn Lanen is one-fourth of De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig, a hip-hop ensemble from Amsterdam. On stage Pepijn, better known as Faberyayo, is joined by Freddie, Ollie and Bas their producer. Together they create a world of electronic beats and unconventional rhymes. They shot to fame as their first single 'Watskeburt?!' reached number one on Dutch national charts. Five albums and almost eleven years later, the boys are still turning the Dutch language upside down and inside out.

Pepijn took us for a walk to his regular coffee spot to explain the highs and lows of playing with words and how writing one book just isn't enough.

If I’m feeling politically correct, I call myself a writer. I do a lot of different things but the connection between them is that I turn phrases and words into something. The thing I’m best at is writing songs. I could also just say I’m a rapper, that would be true as well. It’s all about using words to my advantage.

I was 5 or 6 when I first got into rap. My brother had a ‘Fight The Power’ 12 inch and a camo jacket with the Public Enemy logo on it. I was entranced by that logo and by how the record looked. Then he put it on and the music blew my mind as well. After that, I’d watch MTV on Saturday mornings to find new stuff, like Wu-Tang and Nas.

I started writing rhymes when I was 14. At that time, no one would have thought about becoming a rapper. It was a fairytale. So I didn’t take it seriously until much later on.

When I moved to Amsterdam to study I started hanging out with Bas weekly, if not daily. Slowly the plan for us to record an album came together. It wasn’t certain who would rap until I met Freddie and it clicked into place. We became a group because of circumstances aligning - it wasn’t a conscious decision. The motivation was there but it was one of those times when everything falls into place.

When we were recording the first album, we all felt in the shadow of the producer. Like three guys that he was doing a big favour for. But then the interviews came out and the songs became big and all of a sudden we became these characters and rappers. We’d never really considered that.

We’d never played live before releasing our first album. Our management made it clear if we wanted to make money we’d have to perform. So we gave it a go and it was a completely different way of using your voice and being in the music. I ran into a lot of snags but learned about vocal performance, breath control, technique. I realised I shouldn’t rap fast because it comes out slurred. By the time the second album came around, we’d put in 100+ hours of live shows. That took us to the next level when we started recording again.

I’ve always wanted to write a book. It started with a bunch of short stories I’d written. I didn’t know what to do with them. Then my friend Parra did a few covers and introduced me to his publishers. It took me forever to get organised and write enough stories to make the book. And then when it came out I felt like it didn’t count. I had to write a novel because otherwise, I’ll just be the guy that wrote a collection of short stories.

Writing a book is expansive while writing a song is condensed. The hardest thing is staying focused. There is an immense freedom that comes with writing a book. A song is dictated by the musical structure, so you know going in it has to be so long. This is when the beat drops or the sentence has to stop. All these rules make it easier to write lyrics for a song. When you write a book, that all has to come from you.

My writing is constantly in motion. If I write a verse and the sentences that don’t contain anything special then it doesn’t get used. It doesn’t need to be every sentence, you have to give people room to breathe so they can pick up what you want to say. You can do a sloppy verse but kill it with the last line because it stands out.

I want to focus on writing more. I want to write a movie. I want to write another book. Because otherwise I’ll just be that guy that wrote some short stories and one book.

Tokyo is a city you can get absorbed in. It’s so big and busy. You can almost disappear as a person and just pick up on the small things. The city has this contrast between old and new: the Meguro River runs under high-tech bridges, sci-movie buildings tower above white cherry blossom everywhere. It puts me in a state of mind where I want to create rather than consume.

What I love doing most is recording music. There was a time when I figured maybe I should stop rapping. But as I grow older, stuff comes up where it still works for me. I’ve come to realise it doesn’t have to stop for a long time.