Beats bang like gunshots as two rappers spit dense, blistering rhymes. But one line in an already controversial song by Kollegah and Farid Bang has sparked outrage in Germany.
“My body is more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates.”
Kollegah, 33 and Farid Bang, 31, have come under fire after comparing themselves to prisoners of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in their song “0815.” The politically charged song is peppered with lines about refugees, drugs, weapons and sex.
Jewish groups have strongly condemned the lyric as anti-Semitic. “Auschwitz survivors feel that the lyric […] is not just crude and undignified, but that it also disparages them and their murdered relatives,” Christoph Heubner from the International Auschwitz Committee told the German daily Bild. “Compassion and empathy are apparently alien to the world of battle rap. They also do not increase sales.”
“Verbal provocations are an essential feature of the genre of Battle Rap and, as long as they do not violate the law, fall under artistic freedom.”
The controversy is now overshadowing Germany’s biggest music event of the year, the Echo Awards on April 12 in Berlin. The rap duo is nominated in two categories, including “Album of the Year” for their record “Jung, brutal, gut aussehend 3” (“Young, brutal, good looking 3”).
Their nomination was reviewed by Echo’s ethics committee. Ultimately, the advisory board decided that their nomination still stands and that the rappers will be performing live. “Verbal provocations are an essential feature of the genre of Battle Rap and, as long as they do not violate the law, fall under artistic freedom,” the ethics advisory board argued, adding art is meant to provoke debate in society.
Their nomination is “an absolute borderline case” of artistic freedom of expression, Wolfgang Börnsen, the board’s spokesman, acknowledged. The wording of some lyrics, such as the song 0815, is “provocative, irreverent and full of violence.” While breaking taboos is a feature of artistic freedom of expression, the board warned that it is witnessing a rise of hatred and violence in the industry.
In fact, the German hip-hop and rap scene has been accused of hatred toward Jews and anti-Israel sentiment in the past. The popular rapper Haftbefehl dissed Judaism in one of his first songs, while the high-profile rapper Bushido featured a map of the Middle East without the State of Israel on his Twitter profile in 2013. And in 2016, Kollegah, whose real name is Felix Blume, drew criticism for a trip to the West Bank.
Meanwhile, the rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang, who are both Muslim, have pushed back against the criticism. “We want to make it clear that we do not want to discriminate against any minority or religion,” Farid Bang, who is of Moroccan descent, and Kollegah, who is of German-Canadian descent, said in a statement. “The lyric is a tough Battle Rap comparison and not a political statement. We distance ourselves from any form of anti-Semitism or hatred of minorities.”
Farid Bang, whose real name is Farid El Abdellaoui, however, later apologized in an open letter to the 93-year-old Holocaust survivor Esther Bejarano. “I apologize that my line personally hurt you,” he wrote. “It was not my intention to offend you.”
He then invited Ms. Bejarano, who performed in the Auschwitz Girls’ Orchestra and teamed up a few years ago with the rap group Microphone Mafia, to collaborate with him and Kollegah as a “symbol of reconciliation” on a song, whose proceeds could be donated to an organization of her choice. “So that the past cannot be forgotten and a positive thing would come out of the dispute and arguments.”
Stephanie Ott is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global based in New York. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org