Hip-hop is often thought of in a strictly American context without consideration of its international iterations and nuances. Consequently, the implications of the genre and its embedded messages in other countries are rarely considered from an American perspective. Vanessa Plumly, a PhD candidate in German Studies at the University of Cincinnati and candidate for hire in the German Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies departments, presented some of her research on Monday that challenges this bias. It focused on Samy Deluxe, a politically and socially conscious German rapper, known for his messages surrounding gender and race construction.
Deluxe is one aspect of Plumly’s dissertation research, which looks at Afro-German art and culture after German unification for the purpose of studying how artists “produce and perform home” in their work.
Plumly was introduced to Afro-Germanic research as an undergraduate but revisited the topic in graduate school, discovering Deluxe as an intersection of Afro-German and political pop cultures.
“I had been listening to hip-hop in the German context, and he is the one artist who I feel is addressing societal issues and not the traditional hip hop culture that is very misogynistic and other things that I don’t think are necessarily what hip-hop should be about or what it was originally conceived of as,” said Plumly. “I think what he is trying to do is really break down these binaries that we often set up and establish through discourse, through societal norms … and I think he is also integrating Afro-Germans into the cultural context, the national context of the body of literature and cultural production.”
Part of Plumly’s evidence for Deluxe’s shift towards progressive politics was his album covers, specifically his movement away from referencing American rappers in them. She argues that in doing so, Deluxe solidified his identity as an Afro-German as opposed to an African-American.
“He took a trip to the US, and he recognized that the racial differences in the US are something he cannot identify with,” said Plumly. “I think that it was part of his decision to say ‘I can’t keep pretending that I am African-American when I’m not,’ even though that was his original point of cultural reference. That was sort of a shift in his perspective towards race in Germany, [where] people are always together.”
According to Plumly, Deluxe, his music, and rap music in general serve as an especially effective platform for his mission of advancement and integration of Afro-Germans into the national discourse.
“It’s one of the cultural productions that reaches the most people. Not every single German is going out there and reading a book of literature written by an Afro-German. Actually, if you asked one the street they probably wouldn’t be able to name an Afro-German author,” said Plumly. “But they would be able to say ‘Samy Deluxe! I know him! I’ve heard his music.’”
Despite his popularity in Germany, according to Plumly, any sort of international presence for Deluxe or any rapper who performs in a foreign language is unlikely.
“I think hip-hop from other cultural contexts, especially German contexts are really hard to translate back to an American context,” said Plumly.
Plumly works with Deluxe to change the way we think about German culture in terms of its racial and ethnic makeup.
“My main goal with my research is to garner more attention for minority communities in the German culture,” said Plumly. “I want to change people’s perspectives on what German culture can mean.”