Street Rap as Music to Distinguish Oneself
The famous rapper 3Plusss from Essen. Photo: private.
“Street rap – this ist the music which is heard most commonly,” the rapper 3Plusss claims in an interview about the music genre which he hears most frequently in car stereo systems in his hometown. Emcees like Farid Bang, Kollegah or Massiv are the most popular ones. Their genre of music is referred to gangster rap and they mostly rap about beautiful women, expensive cars, and about their version of the “American Dream” in Germany, that is to start from the bottom and work their way up. Especially in the north of Essen, in the neighborhood of Altenessen, in which 3Plusss grew up, this kind of music is the most popular one. “Many people here listen to this kind of music to push their ego,” he speculates. He describes the role of rap music in Essen as a way of to distinguish themselves from others. The music divides the people according to their educational backgrounds, but this is not applicable for everyone. But there is a tendency that people with a lower education rather listen to this kind of rap music, compared to people with higher education. The music is a way to get respect – not only as a person but also as a region. This kind of rap music represents the people in the Ruhr Area, a region which is known for its (lower) middle-class population and immigration history. Gangster rap is supposed to show people, that they can achieve their goals in life and that they can make good money and get rich, even if they are born in the Ruhr Area.
This idea is very well audible in the song “Alemania Westside” (2015) by the famous rappers Manuellsen and PA Sports. They rap about the everyday life in socially disadvantaged areas of Essen which is marked by a specific lifestyle: little money, many people from immigrant families, and suboptimal education opportunities. You can compare those neighborhoods to the Bronx. In doing so, the artists emphasize the local spirit and the important role of the Ruhr Area:
No matter where we go
we stay at home on the best side
which is westside, baby.
We travel far away still keeping our hood in our hearts
Staying on the west side, baby.
We have already seen everything but nothing is as great as NRW
At westside, baby.
This and that and that, one district.
“Alemania Westside” shows the local spirit in this area. Even if the Ruhr Area, the westside, is known as a poorer area, here are a lot of people who are extraordinary willing to work for their goals, which makes people proud. The people who are born and raised in the Ruhr Area have a strong connection to each other because the local pride is huge.
For 3Plusss, making music was just for fun: “Basically it is just a creative process to express your own personality. Hip Hop as an outlet, comparable to drawing.” The years in which he started to produce Hip Hop, 2008-2009, he describes as a dead spot for German rap music. For him, the first pioneers in rap music at this time were German artists like Marteria or Casper with their albums, Zum Glück in die Zukunft (Fortunately to Future, 2010) or XOXO (2011).
The rap artist BudMH. Photo: private.
MC and DJ BudMh describes the emcee Chaosallianz as a local Hip Hop pioneer in Essen. However, he believes that Essen was mostly a pioneer city for graffiti. In terms of music genres in Essen, both BudMH and 3Plusss agree that gangster rap is the most common rap genre in Essen. They would suggest that this is simply connected to the poverty and the education policy in NRW.
For BudMH street rap is the most popular rap genre in the Ruhr Area:
It is not only like that in Essen, but anywhere in the Ruhr Area. Street rap just experiences a real hype in Germany and Essen is not excluded from this. In my opinion, there are a lot of street rappers here in Essen.
Street rap is mostly seen as a brutal rap genre and appears to be aggressive. As the rappers use a lot of verbal insults and symbolically fight against other artists, this genre has rather negative connotations. Furthermore, the geographical background plays a big role in street rap. Street rap is often connected to the north of Essen because it is known as the “inner city” of Essen where immigrants and poorer residents live. Street rap is for them a way to reflect on and escape their social problems. This is why this kind of music appears to be most common in the north of Essen.
Hip Hop in Essen as Mainstream Culture
What else does Essen represent? I would say it stands for Ruhrpott rap, which is honest. There are all the people in the underground, that I know of, who try to embody Hip Hop and who live like this.
Essen Originale 2015. Photo: private.
One of the Hip Hop hotspots in Essen, where all the underground rappers meet, is the Hip Hop stage at the music festival in Essen Essen Original, our interviewee MC BudMH explains. The festival is located in the city and artists from every musical genre perform their music on big stages. BudMH remembers how the Hip Hop stage was the starting point for his career as an emcee for him. Likewise, 3Plusss explains that this stage was an important location for him, too.
It was the only venue where rappers in Essen met. I mean, we still didn’t talk to each other, but we were all at the same time in the same place.
Because of a violent confrontation between visitors of this stage, the Hip Hop emcees had to share the stage with metal bands in the following year. Besides the festival, there were no other local Hip Hop hotspots after that. Still, BudMH considers Hip Hop the “unchallenged youth culture number one” as it offers many topics for conversations. Nowadays rappers even receive much attention through so-called “diss tracks.” 3Plusss describes this tendency as a “beef culture.” It describes a lyrical battle between two or more rappers. This kind of verbal fight is often shown in music videos via YouTube
Throughout this seminar, we interviewed different emcees and also officials, who work for the city Essen and deal with graffiti and the Hip Hop scene in their work life. Conducting our research, we noticed that one can not picture the whole landscape of rap in Essen. Therefore we specialized on the main rap genre: street rap or gangster rap.
The rap music in Essen seems to be dominated by street rap. Famous emcees like Sinan G, Favorite or KC Rebell dominate the local rap scene. The North of Essen serves as the center of Hip Hop culture in Essen. This is most likely related to the social background of this area as the poorer population might relate to this kind of music more easily, because they are experiencing the same living conditions as the rappers.
I am ghetto and I saw this shit.
Essens Number 1, Essen, Essens Number 1
(Sinan G “Essens Nr.1”)
In his lyrics you can see how emcee Sinan G describes Essen as a ghetto and that he went through all the bad things like poverty and crime. But now he made it and became famous by making music. Sinan G’s lyrics underline how Hip Hop in Essen functions mostly as a medium of identification which embodies the solidarity of a district, a milieu or even a whole area, The Ruhr Area in this case.
Our interview group also learned that rap music in Essen does not necessarily interact with other disciplines of Hip Hop culture, like graffiti or beatboxing, anymore. There is no tendency of rappers’, who are at the same time DJ’s, sprayers or breakdancer, so the different elements of Hip Hop culture are not overlapping anymore.
I never breakdanced or DJ’ed
and other than Welle and Axe I never sprayed
quite fake, I never owned a tape
and I had better things to do than visiting a freestyle, bitch
I am born in the 90’s
and when Torch rapped I was a little child
I really do not want to rate this period of time
but if people would not say that is dope I would not think so
(3Plusss “Ich habe HipHop nicht verstanden”)
Did he really not understand Hip Hop? Photo: private.
In this paragraph of 3Plusss’ song “Ich habe Hip Hop nicht verstanden” (I have not understood Hip Hop), he explains that rapping does not necessarily intervene with the other disciplines of the Hip Hop scene. For him making rap music was just a fun thing to do. He was never that into gaining popularity as. He says “[h]e had better things to do.” All in all, 3Plusss thinks that Hip Hop is no longer a small genre in Essen:
Hip Hop is really important for Essen, I believe. But I think Hip Hop is generally important, not only in Essen. Hip Hop is cool, Hip Hop is hot. Hip Hop is mainstream. Hip Hop does not need to bow before the mainstream but the other way round.
This statement sums up, how strong and important Hip Hop is not only in Essen but in the whole world. Hip Hop has always been a way to express yourself and your feelings.