When people talk of Germany, the often-common topics of football, precision engineering, Angela Merkel, sausages, offbeat fashion and cheesy Europop seem to instantly come to mind.
Hip-Hop doesn’t usually spring to mind as a cultural highpoint for Germany but as is so often the case, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, a whole assortment of talented artists have come to reach the top of the German music charts, 17 this year alone.
Artists like MoTrip and the controversial outspoken Bushido (often criticized for his nationalist, misogynistic and homophobic views) are the most well-known rappers who dominate album and single sales. Parallel to the US, the scene’s underground is consistently flowing with raw authentic street poets from cities such as Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Freiburg.
The scene’s beginning has an interesting mythological tale, with US soldiers stationed in Germany said to have first planted the seed back in the mid-80s. The first rapper to ever rap in German has been the subject of much discussion, so much so a documentary has been made called Black Tape, a journey to find the mysterious Tigon (legend has it the first rapper to have held a public concert, albeit in the barracks of the US army in Heidelberg).
Sékou Neblett, who’s originally from Boston and came to study Linguistics in Freiburg in the early 90s before becoming part of the hugely influential group Freundeskreis (Circle of Friends), directed Black Tape, which follows himself and two music journalists involved within the scene back in the 90s, on the hunt to track down the allusive fable.
Sékou, along with the socially-conscious, Marx-influenced wordsmith Max Herre, brought Hip-Hop to a national audience with a solid array of albums that stuck to the jazz-infused roots of Hip-Hop back in the early 90s, just as the golden age was kicking off in the US.
Along with Freundeskreis, groups and artists such as Advanced Chemistry, Sabrina Setlur and Cora E set the scene alight with political, love-infused lyrical complexity as critics and major labels began to take serious note.
Groups such as DCS (Die Coolen Säue) and Absolute Beginner also spoke of the atrocities of right wing extremism and pollution, yet not in hard-hitting gangsta rap fashion. They saw themselves first and foremost as musicians and poets who wanted to educate the youth through soulful compositions.
Even the more dance-oriented Die Fantastischen Vier (The Fantastic Four) appealed massively to females for their respectful yet romanticized lyrics. Their single “Die Da!?!” (translated as “That One”) has an ingenious sample of the 1973 Asha Puthli masterpiece “Right Down Here” and quite simply talks of meeting a girl in a café and deciding whether to take her to the movies or for dinner.
The scene at present has, once again similar to the US, admittedly been watered down and diluted to sell to mass markets, with more mainstream commercial Hip-Hop being pumped out on the airwaves. If you look hard enough, there are still nuggets of golden age Hip-Hop gems to be found with the scene, still beating with passion and quality in abundance.
When you next think of Germany and their delicious Bratwursts and efficient engineering, make sure Hip Hop is also firmly lodged into your consciousness. It deserves to be.