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Turkish Rap Scene – Part 1

The birth of Turkish rap scene : from the diaspora to cities of Turkey

Cartel, one of the most famous German-Turks rap band

Rap is a music style taking its roots in the black neighbourhoods of the disadvantaged cities of the United States at the end of the 70’s. If this music style has still then been commercialized, broadcasted and transformed, turning into the first musical genre listened among youth, it still keeps a sincere anchoring with the topic of the street, the life in the city, the identity of people living in the margin and the suburbs.

Even though being born from the US, rap exported itself all around the globe thanks to cultural globalization. But instead of creating one worldwide trendy and homogeneous type of music, it gave birth to a lot of different branches each of them being impregnated by particular contexts. In the case of Turkish rap for instance, the first examples of rap songs being sung in Turkish can be found by looking back at the 90’s from Turkish immigrants set in Germany or, in a smaller proportion, Netherlands : the first recorded rap song in Turkish, Bir Yabancının Hayatı (‘The Life of a Stranger’) by the Nuremberg crew King Size Terror, was released in 1991.

It’s not that surprising that the context of uprooting, migration and poverty encouraged young Turkish far from their home to rap, considering the fact that these topics are central in this musical genre. What is more surprising to see is how the welcoming conditions of these migrants impacted the content of their rap songs.

The musicology researcher Tunca Arican, in one of his articles called “Comparing turkish-speaking rap scenes in Germany and the Netherlands” highlighted how the two geographical situations had an impact on the speech of the rappers. For instance, in the 1990s, a wave of racist and xenophobic violence occurred in Germany. The Turkish diaspora located in there had to face discrimination and therefore used rap music as a political tool to value their identities. The main German-Turkish group back from this decade was Cartel, that got famous for its anti-racist and political lyrics. « Germany has then become the homeland of Turkish rap and has particular socio-political particularities » writes Arican.

In comparison, the Turkish-speaking rap scene of the Netherlands had been influenced by a less violent context compared to Germany, that Arican describes as a more peaceful and multicultural social environment. Turkish diaspora mixed herself more with the rest of the Dutch population and it reflects through the lyrics : Dutch-Turks were less ghettoized if you compare with German ones, which led to « more assimilation and less proficiency in the language », or in other words, a less politicized and vindictive speech.

Let’s not keep with the comparison longer and focus on the similarities, which are, in both cases, the singularity of Turkish identity. This Turkish rap scene, although located in Europe, didn’t forget where she was from by including her own musical, cultural and linguistic contributions to this globalized “hip hop nation”. In their recordings, the band Cartel sampled songs written or performed by prominent Turkish musicians such as Barış Manço, Sezen Aksu, İbrahim Tatlıses, Erkin Koray, etc.


Cartel – Der Weg Den Du Gehst (sample from Barış Manco – Gönül Dağı)

This immaterial link with their homeland that Turkish rappers managed to build while going through the process of migration is in the DNA of current Turkish rap. It is thanks to these big bands from the 90’s that rap finally exported itself to Turkey and became a trend here also. The anti-establishment strength of this music genre is still vivid today, as we have seen with the implication of Turkish rappers in recent political events.


This article is part of a two-articles series. The second one, about current Turkish rap scene in 2021 is to be found in the days to come. 

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