Rap music and the far right: Germany goes gangsta
A new wave of rap music is sweeping Germany: sexist, violent, often racist - and adored by neo-Nazis. Ruth Elkins reports on the alarming advance of the shock troops of popular culture
Wednesday 17 August 2005
"If it doesn't work out with hip hop," shrugs Bushido, Germany's most notorious rap star, "then I'll just sell drugs."
It probably won't come to that. The 26-year-old half Tunisian Berliner is turning the world of German hip hop upside down. The child of a German mother and an immigrant father is attracting, against all normal logic, a massive audience of neo-Nazis who love his hard-edged, racist and nationalistic lyrics.
There has never been any doubting Bushido's bad boy credentials. He is currently, and not for the first time, in an Austrian jail, waiting to see if he must stand trial on GBH charges. Earlier this month, an unfortunate 20-year-old Austrian man made the mistake of wandering too close to Bushido's pimped-up 7 Series BMW. It is alleged the rapper and his two bodyguards suspected the man had punctured the tyres, and beat him senseless. Bushido could face 10 years in jail.
Bushido's latest brush with the law was par for the course for a true gangsta rapper. 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg: all the American rap stars worth their platinum discs and pimped-out Hummers have had run-ins with the law or spent time behind bars. But there is something different about Bushido, a beefy man with five tattoos. He has sparked a huge debate in Germany, a country still new to gangsta rap, about how racist and offensive song lyrics can be before they become outright neo-Nazi propaganda.
The police and the German equivalent of special branch have monitored the ultra-right rock scene for years. They have secretly recorded concerts of groups such as Kraftschlag, Ayran Duo and Reichsfront, banned their CDS and raided distributors. These kind of bands, who offer up songs called " White and Full of Hate" have lyrics such as: "We are clansmen, of white race and clean blood; we are clansmen, watch out black man, be on your guard" and are seen as dangerous propaganda tools in the hands of Germany's neo-Nazis as they attempt to reach out to teenagers and school children.
Bushido, though, is different. Gangsta rap has at last become a home-grown German product. Tame German rap has been popular here for years: groups such as Die Ärtze released non-controversial hits like: "Claudia's Got an Alsatian", but it was the kind of music that made 12-year-olds giggle. Until very recently, true gangsta rap had been strictly an American import. Spotty German teenagers would don baseball caps and baggy jeans and listen to the likes of Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent rap about things that seemed to come from a different world - the streets of the American inner city ghettos. They were pretty offensive, of course, their songs laced with profoundly sexist content: all men were pimps; all women were bitches. Now Germany has its own gangsta rappers. A country, which until recently was renowned for its affluent, stable economy and inclusive welfare net, (something those who came from the ghettos such as Compton and South Central just didn't have) is hearing about a new harsh German reality.
Bushido is to the fore, joined by his foul-mouthed colleagues: Fler, Sido, B-Tight, Kool Savas, Eko Fresh, Brainless Wankers and a collective calling themselves Der Frauenartzt (the Gynaecologist.)
In the past year, these rappers who once could only dream of minor fame on the fringes of the Germany's parochial music industry have made it to the mainstream. Their CDs regularly top the charts, their loves lives are followed by the tabloids, their concerts are sold out. Yet they are declaring open warfare on Germany's safe and comfortable consensus society.
The new wave of German gangsta rap, says Aggro Berlin, the most successful and notorious of the Berlin independent record labels representing German rap stars, is simply reflective of the hard times in Germany, a country whose economy continues to dip in and out of recession and where unemployment nudges 5 million.
But Germany does not have ghettos or race riots, it is, say panicked politicians, in no way comparable with US culture. Germany's new found gangsta rap is glamorising a fantasy of American ghetto life which should be banned, not encouraged. Still, the likes of Bushido seem to want to polarise society. Even the titles of his raps are upsetting the authorities.
"Gang Bang" is a nauseating account of violent group sex. " Dreckstück" (Piece of Dirt) is entirely misogynistic and features the lyrics: "Just because you're a woman, doesn't mean I won't beat you till you're blue." Again and again the lyrics of Bushido and his gangsta rapper homies openly flirt with fascism. "Salutiert, steht stramm, Ich bin der Leader wie A," (Salute, stand to attention, I am the leader like 'A'), raps Bushido. The 'A', of course, stands for Adolf. A rap collective called Mor were heavily criticised for rapping lyrics where "Wack MCs" were sent to the "gas showers" and "children to the concentration camps."
Fler, 24, another Berlin bad boy went one further. His latest hit, " Neue Deutsche Welle" (New German Wave) which went gold within two weeks of its release, features the ultra nationalistic lyrics: "That is black, red, gold, hard and proud, you might not see it in me, but believe me, my mom (sic) is German". The CD was advertised with an adapted pre-Polish invasion Adolf Hitler quote: "From May 1st, we will shoot back". His name on the CD cover was written in Third Reich style gothic print. The video to "Neue Deutsche Welle", constantly played on Germany's rolling music channels is set in a deprived high-rise East Berlin estate and features German flag waving, a complete taboo, as well as the ultimate Nazi symbol, an eagle, landing on the rapper's shoulder. The video's director said he would have liked to have lots of skinheads march through the estate with Fler, but worried, "that it might have pushed us into a bit of a corner." But Fler wasn't done with his neo-Nazi antics. Rumours flew recently that he had called his producer, DJ Ilan a "money grabbing Jewish pig." Germany's newspapers were outraged, but Fler didn't bother to deny it. Germany's far-right party, The NPD has even recommended "Neue Deutsche Welle" to party members.
No wonder the German ultra right is so enthralled.
"Though I think it is wrong to over-exaggerate the problem, the far right are definitely getting more interested in German hip hop, more so since the genre become so popular in mainstream culture," says Hannes Loh, 34, a former anti-fascist rapper and co-author of the book, Kanak Planet: Hip Hop Between World Culture and Nazi Rap.
As early as 2001, the far-right rock magazine, Rocknord published an article headlined: "Hip Hop Is Going White Faster Than You Think". The neo-Nazi readership responded with hungry interest. "National Socialism always based itself around the masses," commented one reader. "If the masses are listening to hip hop, then why not?" Another said: " I hate hip hop like the plague, but I'd welcome it, if the raps went along with 'right' way of thinking." And no wonder so much of Germany's new brand of gangsta rap is being banned. Bushido's 2001 album, King of Kingz, and his more recent releases, Electric Ghetto and Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline are all on the banned Index produced by Germany's Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young People, mostly it says: "because they discriminate about women and advocate violence". Similarly, Aggro Berlin composition sampler albums Ansage Nr.2 And Ansage Nr.3 which feature titles by Fler, Bushido and Sido such as: "call-a-Nigger", " Pussy" and "Oh Shit!" have also been banned. Although it does not prevent them being sold to those over the age of 18, they cannot be advertised and once they are on the Index, most large record stores don't bother to stock them.
Bushido and his colleagues say they don't know what the fuss is all about. "I've always distanced myself from this far-right rubbish," Bushido said recently of the neo-Nazi fans who beg him to autograph their skinheads. "There is no trying to understand Nazis, but what are you going to do? If that guy is cool with me during the hour in which I'm giving my concert and respects the other people, then I think I've done a good job." Mor, the rap collective, were outraged at accusations they were right wing. " We're No Nazis and have no intention of promoting nationalistic German rap," it wrote, incensed, on its website. "In fact, there is no such thing as German nationalistic hip hop!"
Perhaps just as worrying, is German gangsta rapper's similarly laissez faire attitude towards the violence and sexism their lyrics promote. "That's just how group sex is, you know," shrugged Bushido when one journalist accused him of misogyny regarding his song "Gang Bang". Bushido has a young daughter and maintains he only hits people who insult his mother, but does not think his rap promotes violence.
"I say to the kids, when you press 'play' and listen to my CD, then you spend 70 minutes in my life. When you press 'stop', then you're back in your life, with your parents, your teachers and the police who will arrest you if you make trouble." Many arts commentators agree that Germany's new gangsta rap is nothing to worry about. "Fler is no Nazi," says Dennis Kraus of hip hop magazine, Backspin. "He's just unbelievably stupid." Even the ultra-conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says German rap's newfound offensive, nationalist tone is merely a ploy to sell records. "Fler just got what was left in Aggro Berlin's bag of tricks to get it noticed," it sniffed last month. "The 'crass nigger' character role was given to B-Tight, Sido got to wear the silver death mask. The only thing that was left for Fler which would cause any kind of outrage was the German flag."
"German gangsta rap is easy to deconstruct," says Hannes Loh, who runs seminars for school children to educate them about the genre. " Usually within about 10 minutes of discussion, you can get them thinking objectively." He, too, is not overly worried. "Ok, you could say this rap music is affecting children at a sensitive age; most fans are between 12 and 16 years old. But the truth is it's not really like that." He pauses for a while, then sighs. "The thing is, this kind of music is mostly listened to by white, middle-class kids who just want shock their parents. By the time they're 16, they've lost interest." German gangsta rap, he says, is just a phase. "It'll pass in time. Then maybe some of the really good stuff will replace it."
Top ten German rockers
The German robot-pop legends were the forerunner to today's techno and industrial music, setting the agenda with albums such as Autobahn and " The Man-Machine.
"99 red balloons" made Nena an icon of German new wave music in the 1980s. She has just had a successful comeback, with her new singles shooting to no. 1 in the German charts all over again.
Groenemeyer became famous in the 1980s through songs such as "Maenner" (Men) and "Bochum". He also starred in "Das Boot" (The Boat).
A hat, dark sunglasses and a throaty voice were the trademarks. Lindenberg was also the first West German rock star to play a concert in communist East Germany.
Germany's enfant terrible during the 1970s and 1980s; also known as " the mother of punk". Distinctive make-up and dark lyrics.
Die Phantastischen Vier
The four boys from Stuttgart were the first to rap in German and to get away with it. In the early 1990s they were Germany's answer to Run DMC and the Beastie Boys.
This German punk band reached its peak in the late 1980s shortly after it was banned by the German government. Still touring today.
Die Toten Hosen
"The Dead Trousers" formed as part of Germany's punk movement in the early 1980s. Their political-minded punk rock is known beyond Germany through songs such as "10 little Jaegermeisters".
Germany's most successful disco-pop duo split after three years of roaring success. Their hit "You're my heart, you're my soul" went straight in to the top 10 in 35 countries.
Famous for their pyrotechnic stage shows. Even though the lyrics are almost exclusively in German this "dance metal" band is popular abroad and recently became one of the most successful German-language bands ever.
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