The Story of Turkish Hip Hop

Hip hop songs usually talk about experiences of the street life in a ghetto and portrayals of black men and women in society. It was at least like that in […]

Hip hop songs usually talk about experiences of the street life in a ghetto and portrayals of black men and women in society. It was at least like that in the 70s and 80s when hip hop was not a commercialised business. Turkish people couldn’t catch up with hip hop during the time. They had no idea about DJ Kool Herc or Grandmaster Caz or Afrika Bambaataa. That only changed during the late 1980s and early 1990s known as the “Golden age of hip hop”.

When the Turkish youth finally heard the first Turkish hip hop songs in the mid-1990s, they didn’t hear anything about ghettos, street experiences or black men. It is not because the Turkish people love going against the grain, but simply because the environment in the Turkish Hip Hop songs were not comparable to the South Bronx or other such areas. Essentially, Turkish hip hop could not relate to any of characteristics that initially gave birth to hip hop in America. In fact, Turkish hip hop was popularised not in Turkey, but in Germany. So why is this such a unique tale?

Hip hop is a street subculture, which needs a fertile environment to germinate. In the 70s when hip hop culture started to take shape in the United States, Istanbul’s new urban migrants who brought their village to the city (metaphorically speaking) developed a domestic subculture in Turkey. The urban migrants of the 70s danced to melodic and emotional arabesque songs that expressed their pain, frustration, desire, and love. Turkey clearly was not fertile for hip hop culture to evolve during that time.

Turkish Hip-Hop

The conditions of the Turks in Germany were worse than the migrating families in Istanbul. During 1960s a huge crowd of people from Anatolian villages migrated to Germany as guest-workers, but they settled in ethnic enclaves instead of returning back to Turkey, primarily because they hoped for a better future in Germany. In the 1980s, the teenagers of the migrants ran into many social, cultural and political problems in Germany.

The conditions of Turkish youth in Germany became the backdrop to the Turkish hip hop culture, which emerged in the ethnic enclaves of Germany instead of the streets in Istanbul. It is no surprise that the first Turkish hip-hop songs used folk beats, made use of the arabesque style, and contained lyrics revealing the problems faced by Turks in Germany.

Alper Ağa’s “Bir Yabancının Hikayesi” (“The life of the stranger”) was said to be the first recorded Turkish hip-hop song. The first Turkish hip hop album was released by Dj Mahmud, Volkan T, Murad G and KMR in 1994. However, it was Cartel, the first Turkish hip-hop band, who crossed the borders of Germany and introduced hip hop to the Turkish youth.  Initially Turkish youth found their music odd, but soon it was accepted and popularised in Turkey. Cartel even gave a concert at Beşiktaş’s İnönü Stadium; the show was the first and last hip-hop stadium concert in Turkey, which is said to be the second most crowded concert following Michael Jackson’s legendary appearance. Unfortunately, Cartel faded away in the twinkling of an eye, yet still inspired and influenced the manifestation of the hip hop culture in Turkey.

Cartel – “Cartel” (1995)

The last years of the 1990s, Turkish hip-hop became more popular in the country. Cartel’s two members Erci-E and Karakan released their first solo albums in 1997. Following them, Islamic Force released their first album which was a milestone for Killa Hakan as he drew all the attention, owing to his lyrical content and rap style. Rapor 2, one of Turkey’s first hip-hop artists, also made a comeback and broke new ground with his new song, “Çiz” (Draw), featured with popular rock band Radical Noise that is considered as the best Turkish hip-hop rock crossover ever.

In 1999, a Turkish hip-hop collection album “Yeraltı Operasyonu” (Turkish Hip Hop Movement) was released and it was very notable success as the most popular rappers of the decade took part of this music project.

From the beginning of millennium onwards Turkish hip-hop grew in popularity. A new generation of artists emerged. Names like Basemood Records, Kadıköy Acil, Sansar, Pit10, Şehinşah, Saian, Karaçalı, Allame, Jontürk, and Da Poet pioneered the creation of underground hip-hop in Turkey. They also promoted hip-hop culture; break-dance, beat box, graffiti and clothing quickly seeped into Turkey.

Meanwhile, a few hip hop artists were enjoying fame in the country. When Sultana’s first music video “Kuşu Kalkmaz” (His Bird Can’t Fly) was forbade by government, where a few TV channels banned her music from airing, the female hip hop artist Sultana suddenly became the trending topic in the country.

Sultana – “Kuşu Kalkmaz” (2000)

However, The Istanbul rap group Nefret (Hate), consists of two rappers in their twenties, Ceza (Punishment) and Dr. Fuchs, who were the most popular and respected hip hop artists in Turkey. They released such an album that went beyond the hip-hop fans. One of their most famous songs was “Istanbul.”  Despite the success, the friendship between duo was damaged after Dr. Fuchs went away for mandatory military service.

Ceza continued his solo career, released his “Rapstar” album, which paved the way for him. At the pinnacle of his career Ceza performed at Rock’n Coke festival and took part of a lollipop TV commercial. Not only did hip-hop fans criticise him, but Sagopa Kajmer said that he wouldn’t have licked a lollipop for money. Since then, the fight between these two most popular hip hop artists has continued.

Sagopa Kajmer’s lyrical and rap style was completely different compared to Ceza’s. His song “Al Bir de Burdan Yak” was the soundtrack of the most popular movie in the country – Cem Yılmaz’s GORA – the legendary comedy movie in Turkish cinema. GORA helped create awareness for hip hop among an audience that had not been exposed to it before, which is his greatest contribution to the hip hop community.

Ceza & Sagopa Kajmer – “Neyim Var ki?” (2004)

By mid 2000s Turkish youth were wearing baggy hip-hop clothes and having freestyle battles on the streets. You could walk in the streets of Kadıköy and Bakırköy and sense the hip hop culture; finally, it found an environment to grow in.

From the mid-2000’s onwards the Turkish hip hop artist also started to find place in the music market as well as on television. Hip hop was at its highest peak. It had reached so far, but also a milestone which affected highly the future of hip hop in Turkey. The worst problem was that hip hop media didn’t exist; mainstream media had no interest with Turkish hip hop, popular radio stations advertised only a few hits from the same names, and journalists didn’t report or write about Turkish hip hop.

The real deathblow to Turkish hip hop came from a few pop failures and a few famous names such as Ümit Davala, Aziza A and Dezz Deniz who emerged on stage and faded away after they defaced Turkish hip-hop. It is yet to be understood why football player Ümit Davala came forward as MC. Yes, Ümit Davala! But why, is beside the point, they both did more harm than good the genre.

All these new developments worried important hip hop names who thought Turkish hip-hop was going downhill. However, time proved them wrong. A great number of upscale works on hip-hop continued to come in view. The Istanbul rapper Jonturk’s cooperation with legendary leftist souls such as Leman Sam, Cezmi Ersöz and Nejat Yavaşoğulları for a hip-hop album was definitely a feast. Ceza’s “Yerli Plaka” album is also worth mentioning as it was great result of cooperation with famous names such as Tech N9ne, Sammy Deluxe, Eko Fresh, Killa Hakan and Turkish pop queen Sezen Aksu. Meanwhile, Turkish underground rap started to gain fame off of great works by Cashflow, Modo XL, Pit10, Sansar, Saian, Norm, MT, to mention a few.

In the first years of 2010s a new generation of artists emerged while the old veterans such as Ceza and Fuat stayed silent. Ceza made a pause until 2015 and then he released his “Suspus” album. This year also witnessed Turkey’s biggest Hip Hop festival “HipHop Jam Istanbul 2015”. From the new generation of artists, with the help of his lyrics, style of rap and video-clips, Fate Fat proved that he is the future star of Turkish hip hop. Another golden rapper is from the capital Ankara – Ais Ezhel – his great mixture of hip hop and reggae makes him unique. Istanbul has also great names that are carrying hip hop music in Turkey. Among them Sansar aka Salvo, cannot be counted as new generation of artists, but no Istanbul rapper now can drop him from the Constantine Walls.

Fate Fat – “Bizik 3” (2011)

Apparently, the future of hip hop in Turkey is linked with the underground hip hop scene. Not only Fate Fat, Ais Ezhel and Sansar but there are many greater artists who carry hip hop music in Turkey. The political and social situation in Turkey is becoming increasingly worrying which opens doors for Turkish hip hop artists. But, if they follow the trend and produce commercialised hip hop songs, they probably won’t gain much recognition and respect. For now, it can be said that hip hop in Turkey is not full of optimism but it’s rich and turbulent history suggests otherwise.

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