Outsider rhymes - women in German rap | Music | DW | 18.07.2014
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Outsider rhymes - women in German rap

Germany's hip-hop scene is not the only one dominated by men - including rappers with openly chauvinistic lyrics about women. DW reviews some of the female outsiders who have made the genre their own.

Sookee on stage

Rapper Sookee

There are at least two sides to Berlin rapper Nora Hantzsch, alias Sookee. On the one hand, her tough persona suggests she's not one to be pushed around. But there's a self-deprecating element to her lyrics, too - a nod to her role as one of only a handful of women rapping in German. In one song, her lyrics translate to, "Yeah, I know - you think I'm weird / A tick on the mic who won't get your respect / But you all have no idea what I'm about / Crazy - I'll help clear that up like a kick in the ass."

Sookee started writing rap lyrics in 2003. Then, in 2006, she launched a solo career in a German genre in which misogynist and homophobic lyrics are common among local chart-toppers such as Bushido and Sido - or the so-called "porno rapper" King Orgasmus One. The words to his song "Du nichts, ich Mann" (You're Nothing, I'm a Man) read like a bad caricature of rap chauvinism. They translate to, "Shut your mouth, woman, you're annoying the hell out of me / Make me something to eat, and then you'll go clean / Just like you're supposed to."

Sookee has struck back against lines like these. The popularity of her 2010 anthem "Pro Homo," for example, landed her in German talk shows to discuss homophobia and sexism. She's also shared the stage with Alice Schwarzer, arguably Germany's most prominent feminist writer and critic.


Sookee isn't alone in staking a claim to the male-dominated genre. Cora E. from Heidelberg first took the stage in 1988 before her 1993 debut album, "Könnt Ihr mich hör'n" (Can You Hear Me). Four years later, people beyond the hip-hop scene took notice.

Sabrina Setlur

Sabrina Setlur started her career as Schwester S.

Her song "Schlüsselkind" (Latchkey Kid) takes up an often silenced problem. The lyrics, in translation, go: "Just 12 when I tried my first beer / And even the best mom won't notice her kid smelling like booze / When she's drinking herself."

Cora E. has since pulled back from performing on stage. These days, she gives rap workshops for children and young people.

Another groundbreaking female artist is Sabrina Setlur. She started out with male counterparts Thomas Haas and Moses Pelham, both of whom have had careers in hip-hop, before going solo. As the daughter of a middle-class Indian immigrant family, she's further proof that a ghetto background isn't required for rap success.

Formerly known by her stage name Schwester S., Setlur's songs about love, anger and loyalty struck a nerve with fans, as did her knack for dissing other rappers. That kind of self-confident bravado coming from a female hip-hop artist stood out and helped her sell more than two million albums as well as earn two Echo Awards - Germany's answer to the Grammy's.

Around the same time Schwester S. made it big, a fellow female hip-hopper with Turkish roots emerged from Berlin, mixing heavy beats with sounds from her family's home country. Aziza rapped occasionally in Turkish, switching between it and German.

"Aziza-A does what she thinks is right / Even if she gets kicked out of the family / And nobody counts her as an obedient wife," reads one set of lyrics in translation.

Her sarcastic wordplay took up the situation of young Turks in Germany and skewered clichés about Turkish women. It's little wonder that a Turkish club once called off her gig after reading the lyrics more closely. In response, she called the incident an affirmation of her skills.

Tic Tac Toe

Tic Tac Toe - a race up the charts before the group crashed and burned

Up and comers

In the mid-90s, hip-hop trio Tic Tac Toe topped the charts with a song about just how dumb they found macho guys - going platinum with the track. But infighting in the band led to their breakup before more success could follow.

The next generation of female acts was ready to take their places, though. It includes Fiva from Munich, who has taken audiences by storm at the massive Rock am Ring festival, as well as Pyranja from Rostock, who tried to rap her way on to the Eurovision Song Contest. Still new on the scene is Denitza Todorowa, alias DENA, who already took the stage in 2013 at the South by Southwest festival - one of the world's premiere events for discovering new artists.

DENA started getting attention with her YouTube video "Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools," before releasing her debut album "Flash" that features R&B, hip-hop beats and an unmistakable accent behind the English lyrics. She's less about political provocation, zeroing in on everyday problems instead.

Thanks to contributions from DENA and many others, Germany's hip-hop landscape now includes more events for, and by, women.

Looking westward

Next door in France - particularly in the run-down suburbs of Paris - hip-hop has stayed close to the way it developed in the US: a generation's outcry against social problems and disadvantages. That's true of rebellious star Diam's, whose clever lyrics and striking voice regularly send her up the charts.

Nicki Minaj on stage in Los Angeles

Nicki Minaj knows how to steal the show

Across the Atlantic, female rappers like Angel Haze and Azealia Banks have become household names. 22-year-old New Yorker Angel Haze raps about being an outsider and takes on tough issues like child abuse. Banks doesn't shy away from Twitter battles with the likes of Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus, and is open about her bisexuality. Then there's Nicki Minaj, whose alter egos and ghetto chic style have catapulted her into the charts around the world.

Minaj has sold millions of albums since her breakthrough five years ago, and is among the richest entertainers in the US with her estimated $15 million (11 million euros) in annual intake. Like many of her fellow female hip-hoppers, she likes to mix the style with pop.

It remains to be seen whether Germany's rap scene can produce a female rapper with the international chart-topping power of her counterparts in the Anglo world.

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