'Black Tape': The unwritten history of German hip hop

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Freundeskreis

The Stuttgart rapper Max Herre (right) was influenced by his parents' Marxist views and bands like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Along with the US rapper Sékou Neblett (front left), he formed the socially conscious rap group Freundeskreis (which translates as "Circle of Friends") and created an association of Stuttgart rappers called Kolchose.

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Advanced Chemistry

Two Afro-Germans and an Italian-born rapper from Heidelberg are the undisputed pioneers of Germany's underground hip hop scene. Founded in 1987, the band Advanced Chemistry's influences are somewhere between the vibes of US DJ Africa Bambaataa and the satire of German writer Kurt Tucholsky. Frederik Hahn aka Torch (left) was the leader of the band.

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Die Fantastischen Vier

With its four members Smudo, Thomas D, DJ Hausmarke, and And.Ypsilon, this band from Stuttgart takes its name from Marvel's Fantastic Four. They were the first German rappers to reach the country's music charts with their hit "Die da!?" in 1992. In 1996, they started a label called Four Music, which made other rappers such as Freundeskreis, Blumentopf and Afrob popular.

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Cora E.

She was the first prominent woman in the German hip hop scene. As a teenager growing up in Kiel, Sylvia Macco, aka Cora E., discovered rap in the mid-80s. By 1995, she was signed by EMI. Her hit single "Schlüsselkind" (Latchkey Kid) describes how hip hop saved her after going through a difficult childhood.

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MC René

With his quick flow, René El Khazraje, aka MC René, from Braunschweig was already a star of the scene by the age of 15. His freestyle rap made him representative of the "new generation of rhyme." In 1999, he joined his heroes Grandmaster Flash and Flavor Flav from Public Enemy on DJ Tomekk's hit "1, 2, 3 Rhymes Galore." Today he also works as a stand-up comedian.

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Rödelheim Hartreim Projekt

Moses Peter Pelham grew up in Frankfurt and landed his first hit in 1989 with "Twilight Zone," in English. When Moses P. and his band Rödelheim Hartreim Projekt released the German album "Direkt aus Rödelheim" (Straight from Rödelheim) in 1993, he stirred controversy in the scene by dissing other rappers in his songs. He has since become the sensitive songwriter of the soul band Glashaus.

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Absolute Beginner

These guys from Hamburg had not even finished high school when they became stars in 1992. Their highly politicized lyrics attacked xenophobia and pollution, for example. Later, without Martin Wilkes (left), Dennis Lisk, DJ Guido Weiss and Jan Phillip Eissfeldt created their most successful album, "Bambule," in 1998. Eissfeldt pursued his career as the very popular solo artist Jan Delay.

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Die Coolen Säue/DCS

At the beginning of the 90s, Die Coolen Säue (The Cool Sows), later DCS, from Cologne established their reputation as rappers against right-wing extremism. Their sound is characterized by jazz and funk samples. Schivv (in the middle at the back) and Rotzlöffel (right) would rap about divisions and everyday observations.

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Eins Zwo

Rapper Dendemann and DJ Rabauke founded Eins Zwo (One Two) in Hamburg in 1997. Their sound is characterized by surprising chains of rhymes and an unusually high amount of samples of vocals by other rappers. Dendemann's witty puns made him especially popular in the scene. He is currently part of the house band Freie Radikale for the German late-night satire show "Neo Magazin Royale."

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Ruhrpott AG (RAG)

Founded in 1996 in Bochum, Ruhrpott AG is made up of rappers Pahel, Galla, Aphroe, and their DJ Mr. Wiz (at the back). Their dark, heavy sound perfectly captures the atmosphere of the Ruhr region. Their lyrics integrate references to all areas of pop culture. And without spoiling the punch, one of these guys is involved in the Tigon mystery in the film "Black Tape."

The history of hip hop in the US is well documented, but not in Germany. A new documentary fills the gap and shows how rap became popular through US soldiers based in Germany. Discover 10 German pioneering acts.

In the late 1970s, hip hop battles were held in the Bronx to curb gang violence. These pioneers of hip hop decided to fight with words instead of weapons: Rap was born.

In the early 80s, hip hop culture started conquering the world. It took nearly a decade for Germany to develop its own independent scene. Now German rap is widespread. This year alone, 17 albums have reached the top of the charts. Most of these rappers are so young that they weren't even born when it all started - but not all of them are interested in finding out the origins of their own music: German hip hop used to be a countercultural movement rebelling against social and political injustices.

Road trip through German music history

Originally from Boston, Sékou Neblett came to Freiburg in 1993 to study linguistics. Along with the rapper Max Herre from Stuttgart he was part of the socially conscious hip hop group Freundeskreis (meaning "Circle of Friends"). Over 20 years later, the US rapper has directed a film which pays tribute to German hip hop culture, "Black Tape." He spent four years working on this unusual documentary film, which blurs reality and fiction and opens in Germany on December 3.

In the film, he goes on a quest with two music journalists who've been part of the scene for many years: Falk Schacht and Marcus Staiger.

Based on the content of a black music cassette, they try to track down the mysterious Tigon, who could potentially be the first German to have given a public concert, in barracks of the US army in Heidelberg in 1986.

Searching for the roots

This quest symbolizes the filmmaker's search for the origins of German hip hop: "Every culture needs to reflect on itself at some point. We've had hip hop in Germany for about 30 years already, but the heroes in the scene are not as celebrated as artists in the US or England. "

The documentary meets several well known rappers from different generations, including Thomas D. from Die Fantastischen Vier, Samy Deluxe and Haftbefehl. Through short interviews, they share their views on hip hop, while the search for Tigon continues. It turns out to be difficult to find him, because there are hardly any films documenting the German scene in the 80s.

Semi-documentary films from the US hip hop scene, such as "Wild Style" and "Beat Street," contributed to sparking the movement in Germany. Break dance, graffiti and rap music thrilled the youth from urban regions. From Berlin to Bamberg, teenagers living in cities with US bases could experience hip hop culture first hand. Deep bass resonated in GI clubs, where African American soldiers would dance in colorful sportswear.

German, the taboo language

Kinofilm Blacktape Still

The music specialists in the film are also musicians

Tigon is said to have rapped in this context in 1986 - and it triggered a small cultural revolution. Until then, the German language was not considered cool enough for rap. "I found it fascinating to discover how the German language became taboo after World War II, because it was the 'perpetrator's language.' Everyone wanted to keep their distance from these people who had done such horrible things, so even the language was under attack. This of course affected pop culture, too."

The American presence in Germany allowed rap to find its way in the country's culture. In 1986, a band formed in Stuttgart which would later become known as Die Fantastischen Vier (named after Marvel's "Fantastic Four"). They produced the first German rap hits. Their aesthetic was inspired by the US, but they found their own narrative language.

Related Subjects

In 1992, the rapper Smudo declared in an MTV interview: "The German language is rap-able." Many have brilliantly demonstrated this fact since.