Music & clubs

Battling for the right reasons

The month, we take stock of the current state of hip hop in Germany as well as on the other side of the pond.

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Photo by Aldo Gutierrez Chacon

The month, we take stock of the current state of hip hop in Germany as well as on the other side of the pond.

Is German hip hop in trouble? If you look at current mainstream media stories revolving around Kollegah and Farid Bang’s win at this year’s Echo, which awards Germany’s best-selling acts and albums, and the associated accusations of antisemitism, you might get that impression. TV channel WDR recently aired a documentary about the “dark side of German rap”, examining antisemitic tendencies in local scenes, and even for Bild the whole ordeal was welcoming front page fodder. German mainstream hip hop has certainly come a long way since Die Fantastischen Vier first blurted out their nonsensical “Die da?” rhymes all over MTV in the early 1990s. And with protagonists spewing misogynist, homophobic and antisemitic rhymes at their listeners, parts of the genre truly took a turn to the dark side, reinforcing outdated stereotypes presented as battle rap under the banner of artistic freedom. But given that the self-proclaimed Anti-Deutschrapper of Antilopen Gang also reigned the charts with their album Anarchie & Alltag, it seems that not all hope is lost. Or take Berlin rapper Ahzumjot, who will take the stage at Lido this month. On his latest album, he is more about Luft & Liebe than on-the-ground insult battle rap these days.

But what about the state of hip hop in the United States? In Germany, hip hop falls behind rock, pop and Schlager on the country’s “favourite genre” list, but just looking at the last Grammy Awards, hip hop clearly spearheads mainstream music culture across the pond. Seun Kuti, who follows in the footsteps of his father, afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, taking the stage at Festsaal Kreuzberg this month together with Egypt 80 and his new album Black Times, has his doubts about the genre’s developments over the years: “There’s no distinguishing line between hip hop and pop, between gangsta rap and Celine Dion, with their autotune and all that,” he said in an interview with OkayAfrica. “I loved hip hop because I thought it was the music for change. The time for saying something relevant is gone.”

That might ring true for the mainstream-y bulk, but luckily there’s more below the surface. Take Big Freedia, for instance, who made bounce music, a highly energetic hip hop subgenre, popular outside of the New Orleans city proper via a guest appearance on RuPaul’s 2013 single “Peanut Butter”. Cross the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans in a straight line and you’ll eventually hit Guatemala. There, Rebeca Lane is one of the most outspoken rappers against machismo and misogyny. In the past, the sociology graduate called out fellow MCs for misogynist raps in her song “Bandera Negra” and even offered workshops before her concerts to educate her audience about the political climate in Guatemala – talk about getting your money’s worth. And here’s a tip for all your clubbing needs: to dance away all that battle anger, don’t hesitate to check out Ratchet at St. Georg with Caramel Mafia and Shug LaSheedah – or Tasty at Schwuz with performances by Prens Emrah and Haidar Darwish, two of Berlin’s hip hop parties approaching the genre from a queer angle.

Ahzumjot May 4, 20:00 Lido, Kreuzberg | Ratchet May 5, 23:30 St. Georg, Kreuzberg | Rebeca Lane May 7, 20:00 Kantine am Berghain, Friedrichshain | Tasty May 11, 23:00 Schwuz, Neukölln | Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 May 19, 20:00 Festsaal Kreuzberg, Treptow | Big Freedia May 22, 21:00 Club Gretchen, Kreuzberg