The Feeling of Asphalt
More than forty years ago, a youth culture began in New York that still influences the European scene today: hip-hop—music, rapping, graffiti, break dancing, fashion. A five-thousand-kilometer journey of discovery with expert Niko Hüls—aka Niko Backspin—in the Porsche Cayenne S Coupé to the hip-hop centers of Europe, to a spiritual world full of innovative spirit, rhythm, feeling, and intelligence.
It has always been his dream to “retell the history of hip-hop,” says Niko Hüls, head of the Hamburg magazine Backspin and an expert on the European hip-hop world. “Our collaboration with Porsche has made this possible.” Numerous meetings with various protagonists of the scene have resulted in colorful film reports and a comprehensive documentary.
While the first part, entitled Back to Tape, only focused on the German hip-hop hot spots of Munich, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, and Berlin, the radius quickly expanded to the rest of Europe: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Barcelona, and Paris.
“Hip-hop is home.” Kool Savas
Hüls got back on the road. “We wanted to show how people in very different places are connected by a common culture,” says the journalist. The network grew with each meeting. It was time for the second part to begin. Its title was Back 2 Tape, as both a quote and a punch line.
Hüls knows that the perception of hip-hop is often overshadowed by the simplistic provocations of gangsta rappers. This makes him all the more eager to talk about the true character of hip-hop. Today’s international youth culture originated in the mid-1970s in New York’s Bronx borough. The Big Apple was broke at the time, and the Bronx was seething. The urban canyons were littered, impoverished, destroyed. Criminal gangs were in charge of everyday life. Hip-hop drew on parts of this world, while also liberating itself from it. The youth of the Bronx was creating new ways of communicating in innovative forms of expression. At first, graffiti art, rap, break dancing, and deejaying had nothing in common—except for one thing: they pitted creative competition against the destructive power of the street.
The first wave of rap, known as Old School, fascinated both critics and young people around the globe. But it mostly remained confined to the USA. Only in the late eighties—as part of what was known as the New School, led by US groups like Run-DMC and Public Enemy—did Europe develop its own creative approaches. The first formations, including Advanced Chemistry from Heidelberg and the artists’ collective Kolchose from Stuttgart, often had their start in juvenile homes. The practice cultivated there of achieving maximum effect with minimal equipment and good ideas is reminiscent of the garage hobbyists of the startup scene.
While European hip-hop initially tried to emulate the rigid slang of the US models, an intense engagement with its own language soon began: a multicultural mix of self-penned rhymes, sampling techniques, and the will to assert itself. Suburban reality was mirrored in rap’s lyrics.
“Hip-hop showed me who I am.” Apex Zero
French, Spanish, and Italian variants of hip-hop arose. The new youth culture became a universal code. The individual was no longer isolated but part of a greater whole—a global idea.
El Xupet Negre
“It doesn’t matter whether you do a workshop with young people or have a global career in mind,” says Mikel Rosemann from Berlin’s internationally renowned break-dance formation Flying Steps. Many of the European greats in Back 2 Tape draw on US roots from the early eighties. But since then, hip-hop has reinvented itself over and over again. “As long as you’ve got the right vibe, age doesn’t matter,” according to the young Danish hip-hop duo Gebuhr. Vibe as an attitude, a conviction, and a matter of the heart. Apex Zero from London adds, “Over four decades, hip-hop has remained a culture that each new generation conquers for itself. It belongs to them alone. Even if there are quite a few gray beards among them now!”
It’s the inclusive spirit of hip-hop that can be felt on the Back 2 Tape tour through Europe. Ego may be important to one’s own creative career, but without a clear commitment to “us,” you’ll never be successful. Long-time DJ and sneaker designer Edson Sabajo from Amsterdam is convinced of that. The successful young French rapper Lord Esperanza agrees. The same guiding principle is mentioned again and again: “Where you come from, the color of your skin, and your gender don’t matter.”
It’s undisputed that hip-hop has produced outstanding female rappers since its beginnings with Roxanne Shanté, Salt-N-Pepa, and Lauryn Hill. All the same, its view of women is still under a shadow of machismo and sexism. Back 2 Tape doesn’t shy away from looking at this aspect of the subculture. “Feminism and hip-hop are not mutually exclusive,” says Berlin-based activist Miriam Davoudvandi, alias DJ Cashmiri. On the one hand, there are so many women active at concerts and festivals that the gender issue is no longer a particular concern, adds Josi Miller, podcaster and tour DJ for Leipzig cloud rapper Trettmann. On the other, both women agree that the status quo needs to become more widespread. Their credo is that they should “stay visible and take up positions.”
Niko Hüls’s journey through the hip-hop universe is over for the time being. He’s dreaming of a triumphant Back 2 Tape finale with the pioneers in the USA. While he chats with Kool Savas about the merits of a Porsche, he feels reminded of the famous quote from Ferry Porsche, the company founder: “To begin with, I looked around but couldn’t find the car I was dreaming of. So I decided to build it myself.” Niko Hüls is pleased by the parallels: “Hip-hop is a DIY dream too. And one that’s conquered the world as well!”