24 February 2011

Finishing Music Week: German Rap

Guys, I never did my East German rap post, which is a MUST.  How can I not do it?  I must.

So, you'll have to rewind to Polish Rap to get a sense of where I'm going with this.  You really do.  (Not a ploy to increase page views)

So why do I find rap to be so compelling in the East vs West dialectic?  While rap has its roots in the racial segregation in America, it has worldwide ramifications.  I will certainly not argue that the aesthetic (baggy t-shirts, chains, certain labels, baseball hats, even gestures) changes throughout the rap scene because it's obviously present.  Besides the surface look, rap is an attitude and a message.  While rap has branched out beyond its political message of subversion, it's still a very strong theme today.  I would say especially abroad, but I don't know the international world of rap well enough to make such a bold assertion.  Certainly, the theme carries weight in the ECE region.  East Germany especially clings to this theme in popular rap and it all carries back to the early years of reunification.

East Germans were psyched to no longer be socialist.  Everyone in the world knows that.  The story gets more complicated as soon as the concrete dust settled.  Merging the western and eastern halves was not a simple handshake or bargain deal.  Because the East Germans were so restless to overthrow the system, they completely undermined their politicians' ability to negotiate with West Germany.  The polls overwhelming chose Köln (Cologne) over Berlin.  The quick overthrow of their old government unfortunately led to East Germans very suddenly losing the comforts they were accustomed to.  The social safety net Communism provided was gone overnight.  There was also prejudice that could not be erased.  I remember a particular academic study of German journalists between 1990-1995 and East Germans remarked that western journalists did not trust their judgment because they were "communist trained".  The training of good comrades was hopelessly outdated and perceived as inadequate.  Even in universities, teachers and professors who had joined the party for security reasons (to prevent being perceived as dissidents and getting fired) were kicked out because it was assumed that party membership meant party sympathy.  I suppose West Germans didn't want lingering socialists after dealing with lingering Nazis in universities. 

The differences went beyond that.  People began to realize that they grew up in two very different cultures and had different points of view.  This is famously referred to as "the wall in our heads".  They were still German, but westerners began to regard easterners as the lesser German.  They were backwards with misplaced priorities and values.  History began demeaning the DDR and the people who had rejoiced at its demise began to balk at the poor treatment.  This turnabout meant that East Germans slowed their conspicuous consumption of western goods and began purchasing the relics of a not-so-distant past.  They were asserting their identity through products, which is ironically a very capitalistic thing to do.  Identity has roots in place, time, and values and the products of yore embodied all three of those.  They valued practicality, security, and their time in the sun.  They conspicuously embodied the DDR to proudly assert their identity as equal and not lesser; they took pride in being different from the "Besserwessis" (a pun on "know it all" (Besserwisser) and "westerners" (Wessis)).  Today there are many jokes about East Germans and West Germans and there are still differences between the two parts of Germany.  I do not mean to emphasize the division within Germany, but there is a tug of war over the meaning of the DDR in the pages of history and how it affects the survivors of that nation.  It's a theme that all too many people know in a world of shifting borders and political power.

Rap fits in this scheme because East Germans assert their identity through rap much like African Americans do in the United States.  I'm drawing parallels and not equating the two struggles.  There is a commonly felt anger over marginalization and the feeling of lost power.  The two rappers I find most applicable to this theme is Dissziplin and Joe Rilla.  They are part of the Ostmob (East Mob) and are the voice of the proud East German.  Joe Rilla is a gangster rap artist while Dissziplin is a wordsmith.  Massiv is another fascinating figure because he is clearly not of German descent.  He represents a new generation of Germans that are not privy to the "ethnic" inheritance of Germany, but the cultural inheritance.  These Germans have to assert their identity as German patriots while also embracing their heritage, a new phenomenon that I highlighted in the Hungarian pop post.  I love this new face of Europe because I am a diversity loving American; I own up to that fact.

The first video is "Plattenbauten" by Dissziplin. Plattenbauten is the name for the socialist pre-fab apartment complexes. I can't translate the amazing craft of his word play and rhyme scheme, so even if you get a translator, it doesn't fully capture it. But let me tell you, as someone who actually knows what he's saying, it's so FRIGGIN' GOOD.

The second video "Die Osten Rollt" by Joe Rilla.  This is a very different style of rap in East Germany.  Dissziplin is word play and smooth vocals, but Joe Rilla is gangster rap with heavy percussionist loops and strongly accentuated vocal rhythm.  I love the bold assertion of gangster East German culture and, as an American, it makes me giggle a little.

I'm going to throw in a Dissziplin and Joe Rila collaborative track, "Hörst du Sie?" (Do you hear them?) which is a great combination of Joe Rilla's loops and Dissziplin's socially conscious lyrics.  It's a great collaboration and I hope there's more of it!

The final video I'm featuring is of Massiv.  He's rather controversial because he raps about pretty controversial topics.  He pulls publicity out just like Eminem, but as this video shows, he has social awareness.  I liked this one best, but his style is much closer to Joe Rilla than Dissziplin.  If you want the lyrics, look here.

If you want to find more German rappers, visit the extensive list on Wiki.