In the last several days, two vastly different spheres of German society --gangster rap and high-ranking German politics-- have found themselves facing off in a news story that has raised questions about hate speech and German hip-hop. On one side of the scandal is Bushido, a popular Berlin rapper known for his provocative and often mysogynistic lyrics about drugs, sex and prostitutes. On the other side, prominent members of the German political scene, including Claudia Roth, co-chair of the German Green Party, Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.
At the heart of the issue is a song that, according to many German commentators, contains incitements to violence against German political leaders.
It began last week, when Bushido released a new music video, "Stress Ohne Grund," ("Stress Without Reason") in which he rapped about murdering the Greens' leader ("I shoot at Claudia Roth and she gets holes like a golf course") and the Free Democratic Party's Serkan Tören ("I want Serkan Tören to bite the grass"). The song also features a homophobic line directed at Wowereit, who is gay. The video, which quickly drew complaints, was pulled from YouTube and politicians went on the attack.
While the rap scene in Germany is smaller and less culturally relevant than in countries like the United States or France, it has become more prominent in recent years, with Bushido among its best known figures. Bushido, who grew up in the Tempelhof area of Berlin and has a Tunisian father, has spoken openly about his drug dealing past. His 2008 autobiography, "Bushido," was turned into a feature film.
While some of his early songs, were banned from live performance for being offensive, he has, in recent years, become more accepted by the German mainstream and even German politicians. In 2011 he was given a Bambi Award for being a "role model" of integration, and in 2012 he completed an internship at the German parliament.
But he has remained controversial. In 2012 he caused a small political uproar when he tweeted a map of the Middle East in which Israel did not exist, along with the words "Free Palestine." And this spring, newsmagazine Stern ran a story claiming he had connections to a Palestinian-Lebanese mafia in Berlin.
The latest controversy may land Bushido in legal trouble. Germany has strict regulations when it comes to "hate speech" and the artist may have gone too far.
"Bushido has overstepped the law," Interior Minister Friedrich told TV station N24. "Even artistic freedom has its limits." Roth has said his song is a "clear incitement to violence and murder." FDP politician Tören added that he would file a complaint with the Berlin prosecutor's office, and said that "it must be investigated if the lyrics are a death threat or a call to murder. A person who wishes for the death of a politician is no role model."
Shooting with Words
The scandal has reverberated throughout Germany's pop culture scene as well. Heino, the phenomenally popular singer of German Schlager music from the '70s and '80s -- who once renounced his own Bambi Award as a protest against Bushido -- has spoken out, saying that Bushido "must be stopped." Singer Karel Gott, who once recorded a duet with the rapper, told the tabloid Bild that he "would not work with him again."
Although he initially seemed to welcome the controversy -- tweeting "I'm making headlines, yeah" -- he has since, perhaps because of the impending threat of litigation, become more apologetic. He appeared in a TV interview on Monday in which he said that his song was "in no way a call to violence" and that "if he shoots with anything, it's words."
But that may not make much of a difference for his impending legal battles -- Wowereit has already initiated a claim against the rapper.