Deutschrap, the native term for Germany's homegrown hip-hop, has recently undergone a massive transformation and become a serious competitor in the global music market. In 2023, Germany continued holding the impressive rank of the world's fourth-largest music market according to the IFPI State of the Industry Report. Notably, the country also experienced a robust growth of over 13% in streaming, showcasing its ability to adapt and thrive in the ever-changing music industry landscape.
At the core of German music taste lies a clear preference for local talent. More than 60% of music on the longplay charts and about half of the single charts are domestic productions, as reported by GfK Entertainment. This consistent fondness highlights the strong connection and cultural resonance between German audiences and artists who reflect their own musical roots.
Two genres stand tall: hip-hop and pop music
The dynamic interplay between these genres manifests in hip-hop's undeniable dominance of the charts and pop's commanding presence in the realm of audio streams. Using Chartmetric’s genre score, a proprietary algorithm that assigns affinity based on regional YouTube, Airplay, Spotify, and Shazam charts, the prevalence of these two genres in Germany becomes apparent.
Last year, the German music landscape witnessed a resounding triumph for its local hip-hop artists. The Federal Music Industry Association (BVMI) reported that local artists such as Luciano and Austrian-born RAF Camora achieved remarkable success, garnering significant streaming numbers and emerging as top performers. Germany's 2022 Spotify Wrapped also showcased these accomplishments, revealing Camora and Luciano as the most streamed artists in the region.
Taking a closer look at the diverse German music market reveals clear trends: people love their homegrown music, hip-hop is booming, and local artists continue making waves.
Germany's hip-hop legacy and a new generation on the rise
Initially, rapping in German carried an outdated vibe until a member of Advanced Chemistry stepped into the spotlight, effortlessly rhyming lyrical tales in their mother tongue. It was a quiet revolution, but German rap had discovered its authentic voice.
The 1990s witnessed the ascent of Die Fantastischen Vier, a group hailing from Stuttgart, who ignited a spark that would guide the genre's course. Around the turn of the millennium, German hip-hop began to quietly assert its presence, with several cities like Hamburg, Munich, and Berlin showing more diverse musical narratives. Battle and gangsta rap also made their way into the hearts of audiences, guided by enigmatic figures like Kool Savas.
In 2001, a new chapter emerged with the Independent record label Aggro Berlin, which began employing a new kind of influence through meticulously crafted image campaigns. Rapper Sido became one of the most notorious uses of this image construction with his silver skull mask, a symbol that would fully represent his time at the label. Other Aggro artists like Bushido and Fler also pulled influence from obscurity, combining dark topics and graphic lyricism to push societal boundaries. Though controversial, the label succeeded at shifting German hip-hop from the underground into the fringes of the mainstream.
"You have to do it the way Dr. Dre did it with Eminem: The beats get poppier, but the lyrics stay tough." - Specter Berlin, Co-Founder of Aggro Berlin
While themes of chauvinism and violence have continued to perpetuate the German hip-hop scene for most of the 2000s, younger artists are now taking a stand and calling for reform. Lyrics that once flirted with sexism, violence, and even anti-Semitism now face a mounting backlash as an increasing number of artists take a stand against them. One such person is Gen Z rapper Badmómzjay, whose powerful voice has become a prominent weapon against racism and homophobia. With over 3 million Spotify monthly listeners and 800k TikTok followers, the authenticity of her music has paid off as she currently ranks in the top 200 German artists by Chartmetric artist rank.
Though the genre has made substantial strides, the truth remains: fixing an industry long rooted in systemic bias requires more than just a few artists. What the genre needs is a holistic shift that encompasses the entire ecosystem, including record labels, studios, and music streaming platforms alike.
Dance music meets rap influence: The new sound of German hip-hop
Today, many of Germany's top rappers are drawing influence from the dance and electronic music space. Looking at the current top 10 of the Chartmetric charts for the subgenre "German HipHop," artists Ski Aggu (No. 2) and Bausa (No. 8), in particular, are known for their dazzling use of pop, rock, and electronic elements within their sounds. Their songs often feature catchy hooks and clever German lyrics spiced with English buzzwords. The beats also remain highly energetic and upbeat, making them ideal for nightclubs and dance floors.
Particularly influential are the producers Miksu and Macloud, who have already racked up several hundred million streams on Spotify in collaboration with rappers like T-Low and makko. Merging fierce hip-hop bars with brazen production, the growing fusion between German producers and rappers is proving to be the perfect mixture for today's Gen-Z audience. TikTok, in particular, has allowed the crossover to catch like wildfire, providing a space for fans and artists to engage with the scene's fast-paced transformation.
“I can say that TikTok has helped me a lot because my stuff has spread like wildfire. But if artists decide to use the platform, I think it's important that they find their own way there and don't make videos on the spur of the moment.” – Ski Aggu, rapper.
The impact of major and independent labels
In a landscape where native listeners favor local repertoire, the nature of Germany's unique recording industry can be unraveled by analyzing regional talent. RAF Camora(Believe Music), Luciano(Universal), and Apache 207 (Sony), for example, have notably similar listening audiences in Germany's bustling urban hubs of Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg. Seeing such close numbers, it's clear that both indies and majors can act as a template for breaking artists within the borders of Deutschland.
Believe Music is one independent label that has made waves, earning its place as the third-largest recorded music company in 2022, according to data from GfK, a respected market research firm. This ranking underscores Believe's impact on the local music scene, where industry giants Universal Music and Sony Music have historically led the way.
Believe's influence extends into the vibrant world of German Hip-Hop, where it secures its position as the second-largest player. This success speaks to Believe's understanding of the local musical landscape, its rapport with artists, and its dedication to nurturing talent in this genre. The company is on a mission to provide a full spectrum of services to artists and labels, catering to diverse stages and genres. This spans DIY distribution like Tunecore, as well as partnerships with distribution and artist service brands such as Rough Trade and Groove Attack. Additionally, Believe engages in classic distribution deals and lends its support to individual label brands like Nuclear Blast and AFM.
“It’s been fascinating to see this year unfold and I’m thrilled that it proved to be such a milestone for Believe in Germany. We are confident that we will continue building on this year’s landmark performance. It has never been more relevant for us to put all our efforts into supporting our local labels and artists at all stages of their careers, so that they can thrive and live from their art, thus contributing to a fairer and more sustainable music ecosystem.” – Thorsten Freese, Managing Director, Believe Germany
On the major label side, a new chapter emerged in 2021 with the birth of Atlantic Records Germany, an offspring of Warner Music. Nestled in Berlin-Kreuzberg's creative embrace, the label embarked on a mission to uplift the voices of German Hip-Hop while dedicating space to the underground currents. As hip-hop took the lead in streaming currents across Germany, Atlantic solidified its place in the market by signing Yung Hurn, one of the most influential German-language artists of recent years.
Warner Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner, has also been manifesting its rise. In 2021, it proudly claimed a 33.64% market share of local repertoire, amplifying its influence through a strategic investment in the vibrant world of German Hip-Hop.
“We want this label to be a place for culturally relevant artists and have more of an indie, start-up mentality, rather than the typical major label approach.” – Doreen Schimk, co-President of Warner Music Central Europe
Major and independent labels alike are recognizing the potential of the German music market, particularly its thriving Hip-Hop scene. Through collaborations and investments, they're joining the ranks of those amplifying the locally driven German music market - a promising tune in the evolving music landscape.
Breaking out and breaking into the German hip-hop market
It's not uncommon for artists from different countries to collaborate and feature songs to expand their reach, merge genres, or simply grow their creative output. But what does this look like for the German music market? How should international artists attempt to enter such a close-knit region, and how do German artists succeed beyond its borders?
Berlin native Luciano is one rapper finding success on a global scale. Son of a Mozambican father and German mother, he began reaping notoriety beyond Germany's borders in 2020 with his German-language adaptation of UK Drill. With the spark lit, Luciano continued to fan the flames by collaborating with American rapper BIA and UK rap star Aitch on his original track "Bamba." Further features with international legends like Central Cee and Offset cemented his global appeal, generating significant support on Spotify and other streaming platforms.
Still, Luciano isn't the only artist to benefit from cross-collaborations. Both BIA and Offset have reaped the benefits of teaming up with the Berlin native, finding Germany as their second biggest country in terms of Spotify monthly listeners. Though the United States still trails far behind for Luciano, it's possible that the secret to breaking both in and out of Germany's music landscape may lie in sharing a verse or two.
How effective these international collaborations can be also becomes noticeable when comparing his audience to other German Hip-Hop heavyweights like Apache207 and RAF Camora, who showcase a strong presence in Germany but cannot quite keep up in non-German speaking territories.
From an unfavorable history to its present renaissance, German hip-hop has undergone a transformative journey, catalyzing a new wave of artists committed to shaping the genre's future trajectory. As the industry undergoes dynamic shifts, collaborations, both within and outside Germany's borders, emerge as pivotal conduits for artists aiming to expand their reach and leave an indelible mark on this flourishing musical landscape.
Graphics by Sarah Kloboves and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Oct. 4, 2023.