In a few days, the annual German ECHO awards will take place in Berlin. In the past years, these prestigious awards have been granted to renowned musicians such as: Eminem, Robbie Williams and Ed Sheeran.
This year, the rapper-duo Kollegah and Farid Bang, known for their controversial and provocative lyrics, have been nominated for the category “Album of the year” and “hip-hop/Urban National” with their album “Jung Brutal Gutaussehend 3”. The nomination has caused a wave of controversy and outrage from the public due to the questionable lyrics which touch upon sensitive political topics. Where does the line fade between freedom of expression and ones responsibility towards society?
The official statement by ECHO in response to the public outrage states that provocative lyrics are at the core of “battle-rap” as a musical genre, as well as the artists right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, their argument entails that the songs, and their lyrics are supposed to be questioned by the audience, and serve as food for thought to provoke society. All this makes sense in theory, however, in reality there is no guarantee that fans will take that one extra step and think critically about the lyrics. Often times the audience is comprised by young people, who will regard the artists as role models. What guarantee is there that a young teenager will not interpret the anti semitic and violent text in the wrong way? Furthermore, don’t the victims of such horrendous events and their families deserve more respect than being the substance of a rap song that thousands sing and dance to? By rapping about and glorifying such topics, the severity of issues growing in threat is being undermined. At some point it is not the artists freedom of expression that should be protected, but possibly the effect he or she could have as a role model for younger generations and as an influence to our society.
Drawing the line between freedom of speech and political incorrectness in lyrics is essential. The album in question contains verses referring to the numerous terrorist attacks that have taken place in Germany in the last years, as for example the truck that drove into a mass of people at a Christmas market in 2016 causing 12 deaths. Incorporating such happenings in ones artistic expression would be tolerable if it were to merely criticize them. However, it becomes clear when listening to the songs that the context in which the rappers place the terrorist attacks is ridiculing these tragic events. Not only is this disrespectful to the families and friends of the victims, but it simultaneously undermines the tragic nature of the incidents.
Furthermore, verses such as “those syrians raping your girl” or “first thing you know a black guy from Kenya fucks you”, make it seem as if the two rappers were embracing the racial stereotypes that already seem to be a growing part of the German society. The refugee crisis has lead to a rise of the far right party and ideology in Germany, further increasing the tension on political opinions. By including such racist connotations that solely refer to the nationality of people, negative pre-dispositions that many Germans already have towards immigrants might be strengthened.
Moreover, by comparing themselves to Auschwitz inmates in their song “0815!” when singing: “My body is more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates”, the rappers are definitely taking their verbal provocation too far. It is true that artistic freedom should be promoted, but setting a limit to it is just as important. The music of artists such as Kollegah and Farid Bang reaches people on a extensive scale, thus, inevitably, many will be deeply offended by their controversial lyrics. Holocaust survivors deserve respect and peace, not crude and obscene references to their murdered family members through these lyrics which are clearly disrespecting cultural sensibilities.
However, the deeper issue here arises when considering the following question: How can ECHO, as the biggest music awards event in Germany, take the album in question seriously and nominate it for such an influential award? By nominating albums such as “JBG 3”, the people behind the nomination of the award are seemingly making intolerance and mockery towards certain racial cultures and past, but also present happenings acceptable in the eyes of its audience.
When taking into consideration Germany’s historical background, it is shocking that a German award is making it seem acceptable to indulge in hate and anti-semitism, when what should really be happening is an effort to prevent the far right rising once more,through unity and tolerance. Many people remain indignated as to the content of the lyrics of the album, especially when taking into account Germany’s strict rules on the right of free speech, according to which a lot of legal regulation of anti-semitic speech has been implemented.
We are lucky enough to live in a democratic society in which tolerance is one of our key values. When someone speaks to the masses, it needs to be clear that he also has the power to influence and appeal to the masses. With fame comes a certain responsibility, especially when it comes to topics that include tragic fatalities. Music needs to be used for positive political influence rather than for the spreading of hatred and violence. It seems that with these lyrics we are stuck in a spiral that keeps going back in time instead of progressing and ensuring that fatal historical events do not reoccur. We believe that there strictly cannot be any tolerance for intolerance.