German-language Rap and Social Criticism



Activism & Resistance Media & Culture

The influence of US hip-hop culture makes its presence felt in the popular music landscape of early 1990s Germany. Experiences of racism and exclusion come to the fore thematically in German hip-hop, a scene nonetheless overwhelmingly comprised of male artists.

In 1984, the films Wild Style and Beat Street were released in both West and East Germany. They provided a glimpse into a burgeoning American hip-hop culture and triggered a wave of euphoria amongst European youth. Shortly following their release, youth affected by experiences of racism and from socially disadvantaged communities began to organize events in which they could network and exchange ideas alongside graffiti, DJ, and rapping contests. While rapping was at first only done in English, there soon developed a genre of German-language rap, which especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall became an important medium for criticizing the racism then on the rise in reunited Germany.

Among the groups that formed were Fresh Familiees (Ratingen), Advanced Chemistry (Heidelberg), Silo Nation (Ruhrgebiet), Mongo-Clique (Hamburg) and Die Kolchose (Stuttgart). Their lyrics dealt with everyday experiences and reflected on political events, criticizing openly practices of social exclusion such as racism. These artists distanced themselves from other acts such as Die Fantastischen Vier, who enjoyed major commercial success but whose lyrics hardly took up the task of social criticism, and who were comprised of white youths who had not grown up with the experience of racism. Among the most influential songs of this period was “Fremd im eigenen Land (Foreign in my own Country)” by Advanced Chemistry, who, ten years later, formed part of the Brothers Keepers collective founded by Adé Bantu.

The mid-1990s saw a transformation in German hip-hop. New bands such as Der Tobi and Das Bo, Absolute Beginner, Fettes Brot, and Massive Töne made it on to the major radio charts. During this veritable hip-hop boom in Germany, spurred especially by the television stations VIVA and MTV, so-called old-school hip-hop, with its ideal of social criticism, was increasingly displaced by the new-school style.

The ascendancy of the new-school also saw growing success for female rappers. While women had been a part of the culture of rap since its emergence, they were often driven into the margins by the dominance of male artists and a machismo ethos that tended to pervade the scene, an issue seldom thematized. That a band named Tic Tac Toe stands nonetheless as the commercially most successful German rap group, with three million records sold, remains often overlooked. Other female artists were also able to make their voices heard in the 1990s. Among the most important and influential German female rappers are Meli from Skillz en Masse, Schwester S. (Sabrina Setlur), member of Frankfurt’s Rödelheim Hartreim project, and the Berliner Aziza-A (Alev Azize Yıldırım).