Der Unterricht für die Unterschicht: Voices from the Margins in German Gangster Rap
The past decade has witnessed a dramatic increase in the popularity of gangster rap in Germany. This unique form of artistic expression is characterized by aggression, violence, and the rejection of established authority, which at first glance seems to advance a destructive message. Yet many rap artists use this form for constructive social criticism and to provide a voice for the marginalized against mainstream German society. My analysis will examine the use and effect of rap as a medium of social criticism. Through a detailed analysis of texts by contemporary rap artists, I show how they use social critical elements to point out the failures of a multicultural German society. Their message unites fans in an inclusive community based on the shared experience of marginalization and mobilizes this audience to become active proponents of a functioning multicultural society. I show how these German rappers use their music and artistic personas to re-imagine the status of multiethnic identity in the lives of their listeners and in German society as a whole. Research on rap affirms its social-critical penchant, but scholars generally view German rap predominately through the lens of the Turkish immigrant experience. Most current research therefore focuses on the genre’s diasporic qualities and asserts that rappers act as the mouthpiece for young, second- and third-generation Turkish immigrants caught between their native and adopted cultures. While early German rap was noticeably Turkish oriented, this restrictive label no longer fits the genre as it has evolved. Popular contemporary rappers represent a variety of ethnicities, including Turkish, Arab, North African, Romani, and even native German. These multi-ethnic rappers reach out to all young people experiencing marginalization and exclusion, even beyond the German immigrant community. My research shows how contemporary German rap focuses on multiethnic experience. In contrast to prevalent analyses limited to the German-Turkish duality, I show how contemporary German gangster rap provides insight into the minority experience as a whole. The music combats oppressive fixtures of mainstream society and suggests an alternative model for a more integrated, multiethnic German society.