Dies ist kein Abschied, denn ich war nie willkommen
This is not a goodbye, because I was never welcome
It is quite amazing how a German rapper – once spitting rhymes against everyone and everything managed to transform into the smallest common dividend of teenage girls, hipster boys, indie lovers and rap enthusiasts. This guy is called Casper and released his second album “XOXO” about two years ago. He showed his musical taste with sampling Explosions in the Sky and playing live with a real band – instead of the common DJ and second homeboy rapper.
His album brought charts success – going straight to No. 1 in the charts – and over night he turned into the culture press favorite. I admit, I loved his album too. I also loved the aesthetic and the whole concept behind him. I’ve hardly seen a promo campaign so fitting and so coherent. His label Four Music, a subsidiary of Sony Music, just nailed it. And he delivered with a great album, but also with his live shows and his persona. He was talkative, never angry, kept his edges and seemed to stay grounded no matter how big the hype got. Two years on and the musical landscape in Germany hasn’t changed much. Rap is still the young kid’s favorite music. Electronic music seems to keep on growing. Jay-Z and Kanye released highly anticipated albums infused with electronic and technoid noise. A$ap Rocky his crew and Kendrick have given rap a deeper, darker side. A more minimalist approach, if you want. And German rap?
Well it has been a success story so far. Cro released a hugely successful album ironically called Raop, disguised as a panda but blending so much pop with his rap, that nearly everyone could agree on it. Lance Butters is going to release is debut wearing an Iron Man mask (oh hang on, he had to change that), Haftbefehl are still going strong with their heavy gangsta rap, Farid Band & Kollegah have yet again brought NY rap to Frankfurts’ skyline. Prinz Pi is still going strong as an intelligent observer and Casper? Well he kept us waiting. There were news that he was in the studio and that he got Konstantin Gropper in as a co-producer. Would his album then go into an even more indie focused direction? Would it work, that a rapper teams up with Germany’s best kept indie composer, the mastermind behind three eclectic Get Well Soon records?
Ein Drittel Heizöl, zwei Drittel Benzin
Augen und Herzen sind Dynamit
A third fuel oil, two thirds petrol
Eyes and Hearts are dynamite
A few months ago, the marketing machinery got going again. Casper was due to headline Splash! Festival, just the biggest rap festival in Germany. His management plastered the way to the festival with posters reminiscent of city signs that read HINTERLAND. The name of the record was announced. Not long after that, Im Ascheregen was released as the first single. The video was breathtaking. Set in the swamps of the US deep south, it tells the story of a mysterious girl who gets baptized in the river after she was lost. A bouncing piano intro, before thundering drums get the song moving. Then a little guitar in the mix, Glockenspiel, then trumpets kicking in. It takes more than two minutes until Casper raps his first lines backed by handclaps and a children choir. At first listen, I wondered if this was madness or genius.
Now that the album has arrived, I am sure it was genius. This is not rap – I mean, seriously, it isn’t. If you expected a return to his roots, you’ll be more than disappointed. But it’s not just the safe bet, the 2nd XOXO. This record is testament to a musician, to a music lover and to an artist trying to add a new dimension to rap. I argue that an album like that could have never been recorded by an American rapper much as with Grime. Maybe this is the take of rap music that a white kid from small-town Germany can create because he doesn’t need to worry about racial meanings or heritage. Alles endet (aber nie die Musik) could have been on an album by Kettcar or Tomte, La Rue Morgue breathes Get Well Soon out of every pore. Endlich angekommen is the final statement, a blend of modern R’n’B (think AlunaGeorge) and that Sigur Ros moment (or say 3 minutes) to end the record with.
Musically this record shows all rap records of 2013 the rear end. Yes, Kanye did try a lot to do something new. But it will forever be overshadowed by his persona, his ego and his self-image. Jay-Z will probably never reinvent himself at this stage of his career. And yes I am fully aware that I am using two international megastars in the same mould as Casper, because I think he belongs there. It’s a shame really, that people outside of this country will ever hear of him, or will ever pay attention to any of his songs. This album sounds so fresh and exciting, yet so warm, welcoming and coherent that it’s hard to think of a lot better ones for this year. And even though this blog is not about rap (and probably won’t turn into it, ever), this album deserves a lot of attention, a lot of love and yes, a lot of respect. This is why we love music. And this is what we should be talking about!