A Sociohistorical Exploration of the Turkish Rap Part II
There was a music sector in Turkey even though it was not anything like the developed Western market, and the center of this scene initially was the Eastern Bank (Doğu Bank) in the Sirkeci-Eminönü districts, which then moved to Unkapanı Record Sellers Bazaar (İMÇ) in Fatih district in the seventies. This unique sector had its own rules and interesting enough, certain genres were unable to open the doors of this world for a long time, unable to take a step inside. Naturally, rap was one of these genres.
Just like the rock music of the eighties, young talents who wanted to make rap music would not be able walk through this market in peace, let alone receive support from the local music industry. They were not even given appointments by these companies to discuss about releasing their albums.
Companies that managed small stores located outside İMÇ facilitated the transition of rap music to legal products in Turkey. A few of these store-companies that commanded over this underground scene were Hammer Music in Akmar Passage and Zihni Music in the Asian side of Istanbul and Kod Music in Beyoğlu Atlas Passage on the European side.
Kod Music, the last company to jump into the chaotic embrace of this market out of the three we mentioned, was founded by a metal music lover youth from Bursa called Necati Tüfenk in 1996. Necati moved to Istanbul when he got into Boğaziçi University. He got interested in alternative music genres during his student years and got to know the circles in the big city while spending most of his free time in Narmanlı Han where the underground youth hung out. He was well known. In the meanwhile, he collected albums of unknown bands and musicians. He started his first music business in an amateur spirit with Osman (Öztürk) who was studying at Austrian High School, whom he met through this scene. Two friends collected many things and thought why not put their forces together and make their collections available to people as an achieve and information center. This also could have become an invaluable source of finances for students who wanted to grow their own achieves. They named their business in line with the idealist entrepreneurs they were: Rocker’s Dreamland. They listed the archive, photocopied it and passed it from hand to hand. They recorded cassette tapes for cheap and that caused them to become very popular. This semi-amateur business was the beginning of the commercial activity that would result in a brick-and-mortar store.
Necati started to ask for promotional albums from foreign recording companies to play during his radio program on Hür FM called Aksi Nota. Soon, these companies were asking him whether there were companies that could distribute their albums in Turkey. The increasing number of these questions pointed out to a space that needed to be filled in the market. Necati was able to gather some experience revolving around this problem in the 1.5 years he spent in Germany. Yes, he did move there to finish his doctorate on philosophy, but he ultimately decided academia wasn’t for him. The partnership suggestion that came from two of his acquaintances, storeowners Deniz Pınar and Tayfun Aras whom he met at Narmanlı Han, fell through at the last second when Deniz decided he prefered solitude in his business. This made Necati to turn to his old friend Osman. Osman had already jumped into corporate life and the duo would need someone who understood finances very well. Kod Music opened in the first days of 1996 by Necati-Osman-Tayfun trio at number 16 in Atlas Passage.
The most active members of the underground scene worked here. They formed a crowded bunch with those who came in and out of the store. The most important thing that made this store indispensable was the passionate relationship between the storeowner and the visitors—whether this included debates, arguments and talking each other down. Kod Music had plenty of these. It was almost like a copy of the store in the novel ‘Hi-Fidelity’. Both the store owner and the frequenter were surely semi-psychotic music maniacs.
Many of those who frequented the store made music themselves and they belonged to the area outside the sector that we have mentioned in the beginning of this article (those who couldn’t get appointments with the Unkapanı companies). This situation and the offers received encouraged Kod Music to become more than an importer into the business of producing.
They didn’t belong to a certain single genre (from alternative music to indie, hardcore punk to industrial music, electronica to avant-garde jazz) and made albums that could be included in the melting pot of underground music scene. The produced a Turkish punk-rock cassette with Rashit, the first house album of Mert Yücel and the first local hardcore album with Crunch. They released the compilation album “Aksi İstikamet”, which was a perfect example to the alternative music scene of the times, but the most important item in their catalog was undoubtedly the first rap compilation called “Yeraltı Operasyonu”.
A graffiti artist called Turbo (Tunç Dindaş) started to prepare hip-hop pages for the teenager magazine Blue Jean a few years after Kod Music opened its doors. This space was like an oasis in the desert, considering that local rappers were never featured in media. Turbo became a beloved and important name in this music circle due to the fact that he featured bands and MCs not mentioned by the press and albums that weren’t released in Turkey. After all, this was the first hip-hop culture column in the country and his mailbox was overflowing with letters from all over. He didn’t only receive letters but demos from local and international rappers, flyer and posters. He started making his own music with a friend called Jemy under the band name ‘Statik’ while contemplating how to make more use of the things he was receiving. He was getting known more and more; he met Yener Çevik when he went to a concert, accompanied by Nefret and Silahsız Kuvvet, organized by Susturucu in Izmir. He managed to collect the demos from the young musicians in the area thanks to Çevik, broadening their circle and forming the skeleton crew of hip-hop lovers in remote areas. Semi-professionals were joining them as well; for example, Ses sent recordings from Germany and he was featured in some compilations abroad.
He was able to collect enough pieces to make an album, including songs from Dr. Fuchs and Ceza’s band Nefret and Silahsız Kuvvet, who would later on become known as Sagopa Kajmer. This was his plan from the start, but how was he to find a recording company that would release an album featuring unknown rappers?
A second album was released in 2001 with the title “Yeraltı Operasyonu 2” and featured Statik and Yener once more while Killa Hakan contributed with a track while Turkish rappers hailing from Germany such as MCs Stress Sırtlan, Gekko G and Sultan Tunç were introduced to the Turkish listeners.
Turbo’s father was a musician, he knew people who worked for Unkapanı companies but what they wanted to do was so alien to these people. The only place he thought would be appropriate was Kod Music where he was a frequent customer. He became friends with the people working there; they understood him, liked his music and cared about it. They were already interested as well, they founded an independent recording company and started to publish small projects. Necati Tüfenk opened the door for him when he came knocking, understood what he wanted the first time he explained it and said “Let’s do it” without asking any questions.
These recordings came together under the title “Yeraltı Operasyonu” and were sent to DJ Mahmut in Germany for mastering. This compilation album was released in 1999 in CD and cassette formats and was a milestone for Turkish Rap. Another important detail was that this album was the first one ever to feature many prominent rappers from the same generation.