A Sociohistorical Exploration of the Turkish Rap Part I

Cartel

Even though Turkish rap made its first big communal move with the emergence of Cartel’s first namesake album, this movement did not start with them unlike what the popular memory suggests. Cartel was only the first Turkish voice that was heard in the international Hip-Hop arena. Turkish mainstream media did not take any interest in subjects that did not relate to Cartel’s Turkishness and their high number of sales. They only asked “Will this succeed?” silently from afar. The Hip-Hopper youngsters in the skateboard rings of Ataköy or gathering in front of a bank in Harbiye to do their break-dancing without taking heed of the crowds of the city or the exhaust fumes of the streets would catch the attention of small media outlets on occasion. That was until such gossips like “Turkish hip-hop is starting be promising” or “These names will most likely become popular in the upcoming years” emerged and Turkish pop musicians who like to jump head-first into every thing that promised potential featured a couple of hip-hop songs in their albums. After this, newspapers started to publish full-page colored articles about this genre.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall changed so many things and one of them was inevitably the fate of the immigrant workers who have watched that wall for many years. Germany tightened their migration policies as well as starting to encourage these immigrants to return to their home countries through various maneuvers. This policy was not as innocent as it seemed, because it fired up the hatred for foreigners within the country that already existed beforehand, resulting in a nationalistic and chauvinist attitude in the German youth.

The roots of Turkish rap go back to Turkish workers who were called to Germany as cheap working power in the 60s. These workers moved to the ghettos of Berlin’s Kreuzberg district and their households started to get crowded with the relatives they took in during the years. Their increasing numbers, their influence in the fabric of society, even though this was artificial and their expansion especially in the next generation quickened the steps that prepared for the infrastructure that would later give birth of Turkish rap. Gastarbeiter stayed in Germany after that initial generation that migrated there and even started to take root. Not only Turkish workers, but all immigrants started to be immersed in this cultural formation that featured a sort of neither here nor there group of people who did not adapt to their surroundings or were able to let go of their roots. Especially the second generation resisted being integrated into the German society yet did not feel as if they belonged to their parents’ culture. They did not see or get to know about the country their parents came from.

A subculture that was born in the Bronx in America was infecting Germany in this exact time era; hip-hop culture and rap music came across the borders of the country and were influencing younger generations. Turkish youth was not exempt. As the radios played this genre frequently, the showing of American movies such as “Style Wars” and “Beat Street” was signaling the emergence of a new wave in Europe. However, there was another factor that contributed to the popularity of hip-hop among Turkish people in Germany. American soldiers positioned at the Berlin War were having close relationships with Turkish people in the area and they were in a cultural exchange during this interaction. This was because the areas these Turkish people lived in were close to the Berlin Wall. This area was cheap initially and was far away from the city center, resulting in the immigrants being moved there, but it became one of the most valuable areas in the city after the Fall of the Berlin Wall because now it stood right in the middle of both sides. Germans did not foresee this, how would they?

The newly emerging German rap bands consisted mainly of members of the second generation immigrant workers. For example, the members of Advanced Chemistry and Absolute Beginners were from Ghana, Haiti, Italy and Africa.

The second generation Turkish youth were drifting around in search of a new identity (they didn’t feel close to their own family culture or the middle class German culture surrounding them) and this new hip-hop culture and rap music seemed to be the perfect start to build one.

The time has come and the conditions have ripened. Islamic Force, founded in Kreuzberg in 1986, would be written down in history as the first band to record Turkish rap even through they started out with songs in English. The band consisted of B (Bülent İpek), DJ Cut Em T (Taner Bahar), DJ Derezon (Thomas Rüllich), Killa Hakan (Hakan Durmuş), Maxim (Atilla Murat Aydın) and Nellie (Nellie Rüllich) and they were shaping the hip-hop culture in Berlin. The band, which performed many concerts within the city, made rap with English lyrics but their sounds embodied ethnic elements. For example, they used Turkish motives in their 1992 song “My Melody” and samples from Barış Manço in their “The Whole World is Your Home” EP. The band was renamed kan-ak when they were entering the Turkish market because they were wary of having Islam in their name. The reason for their choice of this word was a reaction to ‘Kanake’. They were disbanded when Boe B passed away in a traffic accident and Maxim was stabbed to death in 2003.

Islamic Force

The Fall of the Berlin Wall changed so many things and one of them was inevitably the fate of the immigrant workers who have watched that wall for many years. Germany tightened their migration policies as well as starting to encourage these immigrants to return to their home countries through various maneuvers. This policy was not as innocent as it seemed, because it fired up the hatred for foreigners within the country that already existed beforehand, resulting in a nationalistic and chauvinist attitude in the German youth.

Young foreigners, especially Turkish ones, didn’t have the tools to resist this racism and rightist civilian powers. They had many obstacles that made politicizing and organize in political formations extremely hard. Rap music was one of the few tools they had at their disposal.

One of the most tragic attacks that were getting frequent happened in Solingen in the May of 1993. The house of a Turkish family was set on fire and five people, including three kids, lost their lives in the arson. This grim happening became the subject of the titular piece in Cartel’s first album (this project was founded by Sinan Ozan, who was then joined by Erci E from Berlin, Karakan from Nurnberg, Cinayi Şebeke from Kiel) carrying their name two years later. This was the first Cartel song that was played in popular radio channels, whose video clip was shown on the TV. This song especially had a commercial success and popularity. Cartel was now featured in newspaper articles, gave interviews to magazines and had big concerts. This success was so big that this album not only got featured in rap charts but also got popularity among listeners of all genres, topping Michael Jackson’s song on the lists. They were the first rap band that gave a concert at a stadium in Turkey (Istanbul- İnönü Stadium). Interestingly, these songs which were born as a reaction to racism found a fan base in nationalist communities, especially with the lyrics “cehennemden çıkan çılgın Türk/Crazy Turkish man from hell”. The band made the statement “This situation saddened us, everyone should listen to us. We don’t want to be the voice of a single community.” when they were greeted by the supporters of the nationalist party at the Istanbul airport.

There were those who saw Cartel’s music as nationalism or chauvinism, but they were born entirely as a reaction against the racist pressure they experienced. This was the biggest spark that set fire to Turkish rap music in Turkey until that day, despite the way their music was politicized. It wouldn’t be wrong to claim that the storm created by Cartel encouraged a small community which was in fetal position yet and shaped new identities in the long run. The answer was 95% the same when asked this generation:

“The first song I heard was Cartel… I started listening to rap with Cartel.”