German rappers are fond of bragging about how hard life is in the ghetto, but until now many people have suspected they were exaggerating things a tad. After all, just how tough can life be in Germany, with its (relatively) generous social welfare net? Even Berlin's Neukölln district, which Germany's answers to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre like to portray as the country's equivalent to South Central, is popular with students and artists attracted by its cheap rents and bohemian edge.
But after a rapper was shot on a Neukölln street earlier this week, many are wondering if German gangsta rap is finally living up to its name. The rapper Massiv, whose real name is Wasiem Taha, was shot three times Monday evening by a masked man as he stood by his car talking on his cell phone. He was hospitalized and reportedly lost a lot of blood, but he chose to leave the hospital later in the night. "He was very lucky," said a spokesman for the rapper.
Although the motive behind the attack and the identity of the assailant are still unclear, there is speculation that the attack could be related to rivalry with other gangsta rappers or gangs. Massiv is reported to have attached himself to a large Arab gang in Berlin in order to boost his credibility and for protection.
There is also speculation that the attack could have been provoked by anger over Massiv's posturing as an authentic gangster from Berlin, when he is, in fact, a newcomer to the city. His background is actually somewhat less edgy: The 25-year-old son of Palestinian refugees grew up in the provincial southwestern German city of Pirmasens, population 42,000, in the wine-making state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Two years ago, he moved to Berlin -- the center of Germany's hip hop scene -- in order to launch his career.
Another theory posits that the attack could have been staged to attract attention to Massiv's new album, which comes out in two weeks' time -- a claim the rapper's spokesman has strenuously denied.
Whatever the true cause of the attack, it marks a worrying escalation in violence in the gangsta rap scene, coming as the latest in a series of attacks on prominent rappers. Berlin rapper Fler was attacked by three masked men wielding knives last November as he left the MTV studios in Berlin, just a few days before fellow Berlin artist Bushido -- notorious for his violent and sexist lyrics -- was attacked on stage in Hanover. Massiv himself was attacked on stage last summer during a concert in the Ruhr area.
However, the use of firearms marks a new -- and potentially fatal -- turn in rap-related violence and is likely to add fuel to the ongoing debate in Germany about violence perpetrated by young people from immigrant families. Gun crime is a known problem in Neukölln, which has a reputation for being one of Berlin's most dangerous districts -- although its crime rate is still low compared to certain inner city areas in, say, the US.
Despite the new wave of keeping-it-real violence, German rappers still need to work on their street cred if they want to impress their cousins on the other side of the Atlantic -- but sometimes they're just too, well, German. In one song, "When the Moon Crashes into My Ghetto," Massiv complains: "I've had to beg for my unemployment benefits here in the ghetto, no one is satisfied with his €300 a month after deductions."