Hip Hop’s status in the music world today is so massive and its presence is so pervasive, that it can be hard to separate it from mainstream culture. This isn’t only true in the US, where Hip Hop overtook Rock for the first time in 2017 as the country’s biggest music genre. All across Europe, variations of American-influenced Hip Hop has permeated youth scenes and established a presence.
There’s Grime in England, there’s Afro-Trap in France, and as I’ve written about before, a heavily Americanized sound coming out of the Trap scene in Italy. And as one of the biggest economic and cultural powers in the world, Germany is also in the mix with a distinct rap scene cultivated over the last 20-30 years.
Wheres inner city suburbs like Marzahn traditionally housed predominantly white Germans. Much of the Berlin rap scene originates from Kreuzberg, a district in Berlin with many immigrant groups. In fact, much of the early adoption of Hip Hop happened in the 90s with Turkish and Arab immigrants leading the way. Many of the Turks and Arabs were German-born, with parents who’d come to the country as labourers with plans to return to their countries of birth before plans changed.
Above: On the streets. Some original Spike Lee street art in Kreuzberg by the artist MTO.
Of these second generation Germans, many were visible minorities, with darker skin and hair and many also came from Muslim families. These differences with the predominately fair-skinned Christian Germans had many of these immigrants feeling as though they were constantly an ‘other’. Not quite from here and not quite from their mother or fatherlands either.
Around this time, American Hip Hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy were in the limelight. They rapped with high energy about the experience of black people in America, who faced a history of slavery, redlining, voter suppression, and police brutality. The black American’s experience as being unvalued and seen with suspicion by their white countrymen who held all the political power and capital was instantly relatable to the children of Arabs and Turks.
“Hip-Hop culture gave a voice to people in the society who weren’t otherwise represented,” music journalist, hip-hop artist, and record label owner Falk Schacht, told Quartz.
Today, Hip Hop in the country is more varied. Whereas some rappers still take time to address issues like fervently racist political groups and racism, the space has opened up as topics also include typical cliches of the genre like popping bottles and partying. As is the case throughout the history of American hip hop, some critics have criticized certain rappers for misogynist language. Others have made accusations of anti-Semitism – a rising problem in German society among youth who weren’t raised under the shadow of World War II.
Much of the space is still dominated by Arabs and Turks who have built their own German style of gangsta rap, but others, including a prominent Jewish rapper recently covered by the New York Times, have also found success. Hip Hop artists have also been portrayed in popular culture, and more are getting in on the act and taking it mainstream, just as has happened in the American music scene.
But one of the most interesting impacts of Hip Hop’s growth in Germany has been it’s export to another major country – Turkey. After Turkish-Germans came up in the scene, a lot of the music was exported to Istanbul and beyond and new homegrown hip hop scene is now flourishing on the shores of the Bosphorus.
Above: Vladislav Balovatsky aka Capital Bra is one of the most celebrated artists to recently come out of the Berlin Gansta rap scene.
Prominent artists from the Berlin Gangsta Rap scene include the likes of Capital Bra and King Khalil with YouTube views in their tens of millions. The unique sound mixes modern trap and rap beats with Middle East influences and German rhymes about Gucci, Nike Air Max, drugs and, gangsters. Capital Bra @capital_bra also recently reached number 1 on the German singles charts with ‘Benzema’ taken from his 6th studio album ‘CB6’.
This is all just a testament to the power of the music genre. Hip Hop has gone from a sub category to the music of the people all around the world including Berlin’s flourishing Gangsta rap scene.