A rapper with skinny jeans and a James Dean coif? Muso is redefining the German rap scene with a fresh look, a crossover sound and texts that squeeze the irony out of the language of poets and thinkers.
He's definitely not your typical rapper. That's because Muso is one of a new class of German rappers who are reinventing the genre by meshing indie, electronic and pop influences, schlepping their intellectual lyrics out of the gutter, and daring to omit the once omnipresent and requisite "diss."
Muso spoke with DW about finding the perfect word play, the quirks of the German language, and how often he does his laundry.
DW: Your website states that you're the "antithesis." What are you against?
Muso: My approach is a bit different. I grew up with hip hop, but then I sort of lost my love for it because there was so much hate in the scene for a while, and it didn't bring much fresh material from like 2009 to 2011. So I kind of lost my connection and got my creative input from other kinds of music. But in 2011 I regained my love for hip hop.
Stylistically, my music can't really be categorized; you can't say it's street rap or pop rap because I didn't want to be put in a box.
Other people call me an 'antithesis,' but I never said I absolutely had to do something completely different.
How would you describe your own sound?
I would say it's rap, but also spoken word. And musically it has a lot of influences, even global beats. It has a lot of electronic influences, organic. But I really don't know - maybe I could categorize each individual song in a particular musical genre, but taken all together it's really hard.
You said the rap scene you were involved in was, in part, full of hate. Does that old scene accept your new music?
I don't think they really accepted the first things I did. But that's how it is. As an artist you have to create your own microcosms and show people all of your different facets. When the people don't yet know a lot, and have really high standards, then it's understandable that they're skeptical at first. That's how it was for me.
And then I managed to explain myself. I think the people have to be able to identify with you to some extent. And that's better now than it was in the beginning when I was kind of misunderstood and became a target and stuff.
So you're not a hipster, as some people call you?
That's a tough word. For that, I don't worry enough about my clothes; I just wear what's clean and wash once a month. I have a lot of clothes so I can always wear whatever's clean - or whatever doesn't smell that bad.
Who do you make your music for?
I try to fade that question out. You can't please everyone. As soon as you bend yourself, people see that, and then it's not real anymore. You have to do it for yourself in the first place. Otherwise it gets obvious and people would notice that in my music, and then I wouldn't be me and not real anymore. I have to be satisfied with my text and that's my first priority.
What makes a rap text good?
The right choice of words. In certain places it's important what you don't say. It has to be minimalistic, and you have to be able to interpret it in many ways. German is such a tough language - it's not like English where there's always a lot of room between the lines. In German everything is so precise. I think a song should create good pictures, have the right word choice, and you have to be able to identify with it.
In my texts I also thought about what the moral of the story is, so to speak, but ultimately you have to have good rhymes and a clean style. I can hear it right away when a rapper has just quickly jotted down a text without putting any heart into it, and personally I don't like that.
You say the German language is very exact. Do you see that as hindering or liberating?
In English, whether it's Jay-Z or Kanye West or whatever, they write lines that don't mean anything at first glance, taken out of context. Jay-Z even wrote a book called "Decoded" to explain his lyrics - everything that's between the lines that you can't know unless you know him and his background.
In English, it's a lot more about the attitude, the swag, the gut feeling. In Germany, we come from the thinkers and poets - for us it's not so much about the swag, but more about the texts and the meaning. In German it's always more difficult to do something that has attitude or is cool without people asking, 'Hey, where's the diss in the text?'
But I'm just the opposite. I wouldn't write something like Jay-Z or Kanye West. In German, that would be really hard. If you look at the American rappers, they write texts that wouldn't work in German because they're too minimalistic: 'I'm on a boat, I'm on a boat…' Something like that just wouldn't work in German.
What's your creative process like? I've heard you write a lot in the middle of the night. Can we picture you at your kitchen table with a beer at 3:00 a.m.?
Without the beer - but I definitely prefer to write at night. Sometimes one good play on words is enough, something that's not so apparent. And when you have a good play on words you can surprise people. It could be like the punch line that no one is anticipating, but you can write the whole song around it.
Who or what helped you develop your style?
I'm a big Mike Skinner fan and of spoken word. I didn't want to do something that's bottom of the bag and then forgotten after a week. I also didn't want to be a pioneer.
[The label] Chimperator also stood behind me, and I knew they were going to release my album and totally supported it and offered a huge platform for it.
I think the bigger the pressure and the expectations get, the more my personal commitment grows and I start thinking, ok, now I'm finally being heard. I worked for so many years, and now I have the biggest possible platform that I could possibly have, and that really pushes me.
Chimperator seems to be doing something right. What's their secret?
I'd say, back to basics. They have clear channels and trust the people enough to give them something back. But, I mean, if I knew their secret exactly, then everyone else would do it just like they do, too.