Rap in Berlin might be better known for its macho posturing than its political insight. Nevertheless, a few MCs have decided to take on the unrhyming rhetoric of Angie and Wowi. Luke Atcheson guides us through the juiciest politico-hip hop in the city.
Mayor Bushido? In June 2012, the tattooed Tempelhofer let Bild know he intended to found his own political party and take Klaus Wowereit’s place in 2016. The famously rightwing rapper sprang to fame via Aggro Berlin, the record label-turned-online channel, which set the tone throughout the noughties with its crew of hyper-aggressive Krawall (riot) rappers.
Bushido’s whole ethos is definitely more gangsta than political, but if you add his sudden mayoral candidacy to his ‘internship’ with the CDU last year and an upcoming co-written book in response to Thilo Sarrazin’s foreigner-bashing polemic, it might appear as if we had a genuine social critic in the making.
That was until a new track of July this year, “Stress ohne Grund”, in which he not only dropped a homophobic diss on the current mayor (comparing being in Berlin to being “fucked in the ass like Wowereit”) but threatened a Green politician with the rather peculiar ghetto-golf combination: “I’ll shoot at Claudia Roth and she’ll get holes like a golf course.”
All in all, the consensus is that the multi-platinum-selling Berliner is a mere master of the PR stunt. But with Bushido now facing legal action from Wowereit for his incendiary lyrics, there might soon be more room at the top for genuinely politically and socially conscious rappers.
Anti Turista” launches a full-frontal attack on pretty much everyone who wasn’t born in the city.
K.I.Z. are a four-man crew who are perhaps the most successful Berlin rap act that regularly deals with more weighty topics, albeit in a rather apolitical, piss-taking manner. Not only do they deconstruct many hip hop clichés with their ironic brand of music, but they’ve ridiculed everything from face-painted nationalism in the World Cup to international involvement in the Iraq war. Two of the members got quite literally involved in politics when they ran for Die Partei in a local election in 2011. Policies such as rebuilding the Berlin Wall and a campaign poster showing the candidates doing drugs off their desk proved a bit extreme, even for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.
More recently, last June they released an album with the first single titled “Ich bin Adolf Hitler“. It imagines a chubby, wife beater-wearing Führer waking up after a 70-year sleep in modern Berlin. Perhaps it isn’t the most erudite of anti-fascist critiques but there are some pretty good gags in there, and the accompanying video rightly went viral, amassing almost one million views in just two months.
From Hitler to hipster, other rappers have fixed their crosshairs on a more contemporary villain: namely, party tourists and yuppie arrivals. There is one up-and-coming Kreuzberger in particular who has emerged this year as the anti-gentrification poster boy. He’s called PTK, and his track “Anti Turista” launches a full-frontal attack on pretty much everyone who wasn’t born in the city. The music video ups the ante even further, showing a menacing gang of youths – complete with balaclavas, flares and bulletproof vests – behind the 25-year-old as he spits: “You’ve killed my neighbourhood, so now take your souvenir and fuck off.”
In person, however, the no-nonsense rapper is as nice as pie, even to a Zugezogener from Exberliner. He has genuine concerns about his area, fairly sound arguments (except for why two gay men are singled out for special attention in the first line of his song) and an awareness of the benefits that shock tactics bring: “I could make a track only against the politics but I know that it wouldn’t interest anyone. If I did it only against Wowereit, first of all, nobody would hear it and, second of all, it wouldn’t have the same impact… and when you’re pissed off, why shouldn’t you show it?”
Beneath all the aforementioned aggro and jokes and swagger, there is a slow-burning revolution brewing in Berlin’s underground hip hop scene. With the support of a social organisation called Gangway Beatz, a new generation of conscientious rappers is now gathering momentum in the city. In 2007, Olad Aden created the project in an attempt to channel the energies of hard-up youths away from street life and into making rap music. Given just a bit of encouragement, Olad says that teenagers could go from being “all gangsta, gangsta, rapping about titties and ass” to being “completely political and telling stories that had real meaning.”
As part of the programme, young men and women from Berlin produce a full studio album for release as well as making a trip over to perform live in New York. Two Gangway Beatz mentors, Chefket, whose “Identitäter” video dropped October 1, and Amewu, accompanied the first such trip in 2009; they’ve also participated in the Goethe Institute’s “Translating Hip Hop” social project in Manila and performed at a benefit for the welfare organisation Parität.
Olad believes the two of them have the potential to cross over into the mainstream, which has until recently been dominated by irreverent machismo. “There’s a very rich and talented hip hop scene here, but the amazing artists are not always so visible.”
When you’re pissed off, why shouldn’t you show it?
Another Gangway Beatz alum is Gigo Flow, a former East Berliner who grew up as one of the very few black people in that part of the city. He spent three years in Plötzensee prison for assault (he’s tight-lipped about the incident, referring to it as part of his “dark past”); upon his release in 2008, he moved to Wedding, abandoned his old social circles, and has been on the straight and narrow ever since.
He worked on the second Gangway Beatz album that came out in 2010. Towards the end of last year, the 28-year-old started Spuck auf Rechts (spit on the right), a series of anti-fascist songs from different rappers that aims to tackle the problem of racism in the city: “Some people say it doesn’t exist anymore but that’s just because it doesn’t happen to them.”
Of course, when it comes to hip hop, it’s hard to distinguish between actual political concern and self-indulgent provocation for its own sake. Yet holes in Claudia Roth aside, the trend definitely seems to be towards more intelligent, reflective lyrics.
Take the vanguard of Berlin’s new rap generation: teenage duo Hayat and Matondo, both Berliners born to immigrant parents. At just 13 and 19 years old respectively, they released an anti-racist lament, “Ausländer Raus?!”, which takes on bestselling anti-immigrant author Sarrazin and Neukölln mayor Heinz Buschkowsky without the slightest hint of violence. The duo’s been steadily gaining exposure since their video went viral last June, with a recent appearance in the Tagesspiegel newspaper. Fellow Tempelhof resident Bushido may be older than both of them put together, but it looks like he’s got some new – and more mature – rivals for Berlin rap supremacy.