Germany’s home-grown hip hop, better known as Deutschrap, has taken the national charts by storm in recent years and become a rising force in the wider European music scene. Although it is relatively little known compared to the US scene, hip hop has formed a very distinctive sound and culture in Germany. For expats and newcomers to German music in general, German rap can be something of an acquired taste, but once you have an understanding of the history and evolution of this cultural phenomenon, and come to know some of the best and brightest Deutschrap artists, you’ll quickly learn to love the music as well as the rich and diverse subculture that lies at the heart of this music scene.
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History of German rap
Origins of hip hop
Hip hop first emerged in the early 1970s within the marginalized black and Latino communities of the New York Bronx. Although most recognize hip hop primarily as a music genre, this music is really part of a larger subculture, the pillars of which are rapping (or MCing), DJing, breakdancing and graffiti art. Abandoned buildings, the physical manifestation of urban decline, became spaces for hosting parties where a new kind of music employing rum-machines and samplers, combined with rapping, developed. Although the lyrics were often joyful and celebratory of the community and party atmosphere, they were also a means to express the experiences of social injustice, economic marginalization, urban decay and police brutality facing these communities.
Beginning of German rap
Hip hop hit its golden age and went global in the mid 1980s, exemplified by acts like Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane and the Jungle Brothers. Yet German language hip hop didn’t really hit its stride until the early 1990s, as domestic hip hop scenes began to spring up among middle class urban youths. While some took the tenets of the original hip hop movement quite seriously, many quite consciously adapted the original to a German context, combining rap with more mainstream genres like pop, disco and Schlager music (a particularly chirpy genre of German Europop) and incorporating a certain self-irony in adopting the styling of American street culture.
The first Deutschrap stars
Die Fantastischen Vier, a Stuttgart-based group formed in 1989 that became the first German rappers to hit national music charts with their 1992 hit “Die da!?”, were soon joined by Fettes Brot and Tobi & das Bo. As the scene and its adherents expanded, it also became more stylistically varied. The new millennium brought a harder and more aggressive style of Deutschrap, a German interpretation of American gangsta rap, pioneered by the artist Azad, an Iranian-born rapper raised in Frankfurt.
Diversity and authenticity
The Deutschrap scene became notable for its diversity, and it became popular with young people of many different backgrounds, particularly the children of so-called Gastarbeiter (guest workers; foreign or migrant workers, mainly from S. Europe and Turkey, who were recruited to fill the labor shortage in post-war West Germany). As Deutschrap became mainstream and commercialized, there has also been much debate about cultural and musical authenticity and the issue of cultural appropriation. Nevertheless, defenders of Deutschrap argue that it has provided a space for otherwise culturally marginalized people to find a voice and that Deutschrap has become a more progressive and politically conscious genre.
Women in Deutschrap
A hostile scene for women
Although the Deutschrap scene is certainly diverse in terms of bringing together German speakers from various different backgrounds, it is no secret that it has been a male-dominated scene. Although some argue that rap music is unfairly targeted with this criticism, and that hip hop only reflects a problem that exists similarly across society, even mainstream popular artists frequently use lyrics that are degrading to women and play into misogynistic stereotypes.
Nevertheless, just as American rap has long produced influential and talented female rappers like Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, McLyte and Roxanne Shante, women have also made their own impression on the Deutschrap scene. The first woman to make a prominent impact on the German hip hop scene was Cora E. who came to fame with her single “Schlüsselkind” (Latchkey Kid) focusing on how hip hop helped her to move through the traumas of a challenging childhood. She was followed by artists like Nedda and Kitty Kat and many other talented women.
Although these women set the scene, it has only been in the last few years that a new generation of female MCs and German rap fans who have seriously critiqued and challenged the outdated patriarchal views of some male rappers. Together they have built a growing movement fighting back against a pervasive culture in which women were frequently objectified and where sexual harassment and violence was normalized. For instance, artists like Sookee and Ace T take an active stance against homophobia and sexism in German hip-hop. And in 2021, the trending hashtag #deutschrapmetoo reflected an unwillingness on the part of both female artists and fans to accept the culture of normalizing sexual harassment in the German hip-hop scene.
Entering the German hip-hop scene
A good point of introduction to German rap music for those who don’t already listen to the English language genre is the work of Cro, an artist perhaps most recognizable for the panda mask that he wears during performances. His music blurs the line between rap and pop, “raop” as he calls it. Fan favorite songs include “Easy”, “Traum” and “Einmal um die Welt”. Alongside Cro, the big-name hip hop artists of the nineties like Die Fantastischen Vier, Fettes Brot and Deichkind are good places to start.
A recent star of the German hip hop scene is Luciano, a Berlin-born rapper with big ambitions, who has become virtually a household name since his debut studio “Eiskalt” hit number four in the German charts in 2017. Other current big names worth checking out include Bushido, Bonez MC, Capital Bra and Samra. And if you find that German hip hop might really be the scene for you, consider checking out some of the major music festivals like Wireless, Splash!, Hip Hop Garden and Heroes.
That’s a rap
Music always offers a wonderful way to discover a new culture as well as learning a new language. German rap music, with its versatile use of language, clear elocution of rapid-fire lines, and its enrapturing and even poetic lyrics, is a great way to boost your store of German phrases and discover a rich and interesting subculture!
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Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.