Close-Up Soon, they’ll all be shouting her name

© Tim Bruening

German hip-hop is no longer the domain of men. Women rappers like Haiyti, SXTN and Sookee are stirring things up in the scene as this overview reveals.

The voice shoots up, almost tips. Sometimes it trembles briefly, artificially distorted by auto-tune effects. These pointed high notes, reminiscent of the great German punk diva Nina Hagen, are a trademark of the Hamburg rapper Haiyiti. In her just-released single “100,000 Fans” she holds long borderline screeches, “I have 100,000 fans who don’t know me yet / They all shout my name,” she raps to a minimalist dancehall beat. A strong track, which is not only a harbinger of her debut album Montenegro Zero to be released in January, but also another sign of the current strong rise in the presence of women in the German hip-hop scene. German rap is no longer a male domain with the mere exceptions of women like Sabrina Setlur or a group like Tic Tac Toe recording hits. Decades after pioneers like Cora E. u Aziza A., there are promising female rappers all over the country.

Haiyiti is one of the most prolific female MCs. She has already released a number of mixtapes including the 2016 self-released City Tarif that especially earned her some respect. Based on the trap sound from the US South, she raps about drugs, money and fast cars; typical hip-hop themes with which the artist, who grew up in precarious circumstances in the Hamburg district of Langenhorn, apparently has some personal experience. However, she lacks the genre’s usual exaggeration. Haiyiti, who is actually named Ronja Zschoche, prefers to experiment with different styles and images as demonstrated in the video for “100,000 Fans,” in which she switches between a fancy leather outfit, diva look and urban style.

With this capacity for variation, which also includes her music, she sets herself apart from most of her clearly one-dimensional colleagues. Above all, the former prostitute Schwesta Ewa, who processed her experiences in the Frankfurt red light district on the album Kurwa (2015), presenting herself as a tough scene bird. She raps to classic boom-bap beats in her monotonous dominatrix flow, in which she mixes Polish, Arabic and Turkish words, about everyday life in the brothel, drugs and theft.

Schwesta Ewa has the bonus of authenticity just like her friend and mentor Xatar. The street rapper spent five years in prison for robbery and assault. Almost at the same time as his conviction, Schwesta Ewa, born in Poland in 1984 and raised in Kiel, started her rap career with the video clip for the song “Schwätza.” Xatar had persuaded her to make it and she had agreed because she saw the video as an advertisement for her sex business. When the numbers of views went sky-high, she decided to switch industries. However, she always kept one foot in the milieu doing some things that were not quite legal, and this year Schwesta Ewa was convicted of tax evasion and bodily harm. She had struck young women who went on the streets for her. The rapper is now free and her Facebook page announces a tour for next year. But the litigation continues, as both the prosecutor and Schwesta Ewa have requested appeals. Apparently, the trial inspired her as the rapper announced a new album for next month – including a song about the judge.

Schwesta Ewa is thus probably the first female German gangsta rapper, who nonetheless has an influence on the scene apart from her criminal activities. This is evident, for example, in the Berlin duo SXTN, consisting of the MCs Juju and Nura. They pursue a simple strategy: their lyrics are just as aggressive and sexist as those of some male colleagues, especially porn rapper Frauenarzt (gynaecologist), with whom they went on tour. This also involves – as in the opening track of their summer album Leben am Limit (Life at the Limit) – them calling themselves cunts, more proudly than as a slur. They embody a female image that is diametrically opposed to the stereotype of the sweet, ever-smiling woman willing to do anything for her man. In their lyrics and videos they curse, puke, party hard. “I fuck your mother without a dick / I smoke all your life in one blunt / Every hater is one more click / You're worth nothing more than a fuck,” are the lyrics to the track “Mutter” (Mother). It’s a shame that SXTN, in their desire for provocation and exaggeration, often go beyond all limits of taste, because they can rap and sing – much better than Schwesta Ewa for instance – have a good stage presence and, with songs like “Er will Sex” (He wants sex), certainly contribute to strengthening young women’s sexual self-assertiveness. But they invalidate all this, for example by using a quote from feminist Alice Schwarzer in “Hass Frau” (Hate Woman) to continue a misogynist song by King Orgasmus One. In their version, it ends in a rape scene.

SXTN were criticised by the queer feminist Berlin rapper Sookee for this song. She rightly sees it as sexist and lacking in solidarity. It is likely that SXTN, who completed a sold-out tour of medium-sized German clubs in autumn, are aiming for just these reactions. They can thus position themselves as a politically incorrect alternative to artists like Sookee.

The 34-year-old rapper, whose real name is Nora Hantzsch, studied gender studies and linguistics, which is sometimes clearly noticeable in her lyrics. For Sookee, it’s about battling sexism, racism and homophobia. In her early days, she experienced plenty of condescending and misogynist be-haviour from other rappers, which she has repeatedly addressed both in interviews and in songs. Sookee is combative, but also funny. Her latest, fifth solo album features the track “Queere Tiere” (Queer Animals) in which she raps to a relaxed mid-tempo beat that “people [should] be compared more often to animals,” because then we would understand they are by no means strictly hetero-sexual as is often claimed: “Gay swans adopt abandoned eggs / And raise the hatched babies together / Albatross lesbians indulge themselves one night / And then live as a family with their female partner / Flamingos, storks, vultures and seagulls / There are lots of queer birds that like to party and shag.”

The cute cartoon video of the song has been viewed on YouTube 260,000 times since March. Sookee has a stable, loyal fan base. She can sell out the legendary Kreuzberg club SO36 two evenings in a row. Until now she has been denied international attention, which is the case for most German rappers due to the language barrier. However, there is one astounding exception: Last year the Hamburg-based Ace Tee thrilled American media such as Vogue with her track “Bist Du down” (Are You Down).

In eleven months, the stylish, colourful video for the song was viewed around 2.5 million times. It garnered Ace Tee, born in 1993, a contract with the fashion chain H&M, for which she designed a collection. In addition, the trained hairdresser was allowed to open for the US rap star Future, and that although she has only released a mini-album so far. Like her ultra-hit, the EP Tee Time is very reminiscent of nineties hip-hop and R’n’B; Aaliya, TLC and Lauryn Hill are obvious influ-ences. Ace Tee usually takes over the sung hooks and her Hamburg homeboy Kwam.e the bigger rap parts. Since he is louder and more aggressive than she is, Ace Tee sometimes seems like the guest vocalist of her own songs. Hopefully this will change when she produces a whole album be-cause Ace Tee needn’t hide the rap, as she proves with “Jumpa,” in which she raps in her liquid, slightly hoarse flow on the powerful grooving retro beat. 2017 will definitely be an exciting year for German hip-hop – not least because of powerful women like Haiyiti, Ace Tee and Co.