Schwesta Ewa - Aywa (Review)

Martin_Canine SCHWESTA EWA

One of the most interesting facts about this album is not in any way related to the music itself: the deluxe edition of the record comes with an inflatable sex doll. Since a few years, it became obligatory for German music artists to release a big deluxe box set of their album containing extra goodies and merchandising (and sometimes new music), and over time they seem to compete with each other to have the most unique item. In the past, SXTN have included a swim ring, and quite a bunch of rappers chose condoms as their boxes’ content. Schwesta Ewa basically combined these two ideas, and I think she’s the first to do that.

Schwesta Ewa is a prostitute-turned-rapper-turned-pimp-turned-rapper that’s about to face a two year prison sentence soon. In Germany prostitution is perfectly legal, but pimping isn’t when the sex workers are exploited. Also, despite the age of consent being 14 over here, prostitution is not allowed until age 18, with some women under Ewa’s ring being under that age. Ewa was found guilty in underage pimping, tax evasion and in 35 cases of battery, but not in sexual exploitation. And before going to jail, she decided to bless the German hip hop world with her sophomore studio album (the first one, 2015’s Kurwa, peaked at number 11 on the charts to mixed-to-positive reviews). Why do I tell you all this when I repeatedly said you should not care about a person’s private life when reviewing music? That’s easily answered: because she constantly brings it up in her songs, and I wanted to give you a bit of context.

Before I go into detail about the album itself, there is still one point I need to add: I don’t judge this album on what Ewa has done in real life, but on how well or bad she sells it in her music. Maybe it’s also of interest for you that this topic is still one that polarizes in Germany: prostitution is accepted as being a legal job in much of German language Europe, but the conditions are still topic of debate. The incident got Ewa quite a lot of haters for sexually exploiting young women, but just as many supporters who see her as a victim of a witch hunt, especially other celebrities (“Free Ewa”). No matter what your personal view on this topic may be, everyone is free to express their opinion, and also to be heard. Ewa is a pimp found guilty, but she’s also an artist who may use her music to express herself.

While a majority of notable names in the German rap scene may use this as part of their stage persona, Schwesta Ewa, next to Haftbefehl, is one of the few MCs whose stories from the ghetto are absolutely credible. Through references, Ewa even stylizes herself as a female Haftbefehl, and it’s not a far fetched comparison: both of them rap in thick accent (Polish in Ewa’s case, Turkish in Haftbefehl’s), make music revolving around a criminal and often violent lifestyle and are known for speaking an authentic street dialect. The biggest difference is that Haftbefehl’s songs are filled with outstanding vocal delivery including a sense for melody, a constant vibe of frightening aggression and the ability to craft unique wordings by interpolating terms from different languages into German. Schwesta Ewa however doesn’t really seem to feel the music she creates, and never aims highly.

The opening song, Mein Geständnis (“My confession”), is already a perfect showcase of what works on Aywa and what doesn’t. Over an emotional piano trap beat, she starts telling her story and how she grew up in the poorest of the poorest quarters of Germany, a Polish migrant born in a world of cooking crack rocks and violent fights out in the streets. Sounds like easy cake, but actually isn’t. Lyrically, she tries to pose as a woman whose circumstances leave her no other option than choosing the criminal way, and often addresses her accusations. But instead of denying them, she tries to justify them, but in ways that… well, don’t make them any better. Over the course of the song she admits to hit women who don’t act the way she wants, but states that she never forced them to stay with her. She has a point, in that her battery didn’t make the women turn away from her, but isn’t this the same as an abusive husband being together with a woman who still sticks to him? The thing is: Schwesta Ewa is a well known name in the German hip hop community, and customers would probably prefer the prostitutes she selected instead of other, free working ones.
She devoted an entire track to this topic of why she sometimes hits women: Es fehlt ‘n Zwanni (“A Zwanni is missing”, “Zwanni” being a slang for a twenty euro bill). It’s about her being angry about one of “her” girls having kept twenty euros to herself. On the cover artwork Schwesta Ewa’s swimming in hundreds of thousands of euros. Yeah, I am sure this one bill will kill her. Her arguments are ridiculous and actually make her appear fairly unlikable. Other rappers made similar statements in the past, but they did it in-character and also aren’t going to prison soon. Mein Geständnis is still one of the highlights of the album, as it actually talks about something. Schubse den Bullen (“Push the cop”) is supposed to talk about her accusation of pimping underage girls. What she essentially says is: “I never pimped under age girls, it’s a lie… let’s push a cop and pretend it’s accidentally”. The chorus has absolutely nothing to do with the verses. In the verses, she at least addresses some of her issues, but the completely goes off-topic and raps about pushing a cop to the side and saying… “oops”. Really, that’s everything there is. The chorus, including pre-chorus, goes like this (translated from the German): “The cop doesn’t know what he’s talking about / Says I make money with little girls / A thing the judge better decides / The cop gets cheeky, I have to hit him / And I push the cop / Push the cop / I say oops to the cop / oops to the cop”.

But actually, that’s just the tip of the iceberg that makes these specific tracks not work.

While not all of the songs center around her private life (actually a majority is simply thug rap), a much more constant issue with the record is how technically limited Ewa is on the mic. Sometimes she tries to rhyme complex and comes off very forced, and sometimes it doesn’t rhyme at all. Also she’s fairly insecure in her flow. More than once, she trips over her own words, putting too many syllables in one line without being able to adapt a faster flow to make it sounds fluent. In the end, it’s not the premise, the topics or the sound that makes Aywa such an underwhelming experience, it ultimately comes down to the fact that Schwesta Ewa simply isn’t a great rapper and doesn’t have much sense of musicality, sensitivity and atmosphere. Despite that, her surprisingly successful debut Kurwa actually had its decent moments. This was mostly owed to the production, which was simply masterful and consisted of classic boom bap jams enriched with lush soul, jazz and funk samples. Many of the flaws in Ewa’s rapping were already very present, but the good music concealed much of it, and the positive aspects in the end outweighed the negative, making it an okay album. Now with the stylistic change towards trap, her lack in skill shows even more. Not because the trap beats are inferior, but because this subgenre relies all the more on melody, mood and tension, its major quality is becoming one with the beat.

The first impression you get on Aywa is surprisingly accurate to what’s the major problem with the record. As the sweet, sentimental beat starts, a completely neutral, emotionless Schwesta Ewa randomly speaks into the mic: “Alles fickt Kopf”, or in English: “Everything f--ks head”. Uh huh. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, and the very broken, incorrect German is actually far below Ewa’s actual level. She delivers such puzzling ad libs throughout all of the album: “I’ve been gone for long… and damn, soon I’ll be gone for long again”. Comparing the wait between two albums to your very real stay in prison will DEFINITELY get sympathy for your situation.

Everything works in favor of Ewa:
1. She is gifted with one of the most distinctive voices in German hip hop; apart from the appealing accent, she finds the perfect balance between dominance and femininity, seductive yet self assured.
2. She has an authenticity little others have and sure has lots to talk about. This woman definitely has been through a lot, nobody can take that from her.
3. She’s facing the law and has a majority of the hip hop scene supporting her.
4. The producers gave her some really fine trap fuel

And still, her performances miss every chance there is to make a decent record. Puzzling lyrics, weak arguments, weak flow, and weak rhymes just prevent it from living up to that.

But there is also some enjoyable content on the disc, and that’s whenever a feature guest appears. The husky vocals of SSIO on Herr Wärter (“Mr. Jailer”) steal the show, and his flow causes one of the biggest earworms on the disc. But if one single moment can be named the best of the disc, it’s Tabledance, which is mostly due to its inclusion of the feminist hip hop duo SXTN, consisting of Juju and Nura. It’s a blessing for once hearing female vocals on this record that are on point and positive (Ewa’s raps about sex are mainly tied with misery, SXTN’s with fun). Also, Juju’s verse manages to say something in favor for Ewa that might ACTUALLY work in a debate: “Ihr wollt alle Gangsta-Rap, doch keine realen Rapper / Wäre sie ein Mann, dann wärt ihr leise, free Ewa” (“You all want gangsta rap, but no real rappers / if she was man, you’d be quiet, free Ewa”). It questions our expectations of viewing music as an entertainment form AND addresses that one of the more shocking facts about this trial is that it was a woman beating other women. While it doesn’t make Ewa free of guilt, it’s lines like these that work at making her appear as a victim rather than an offender.
Also, Ewa lives up when she dives into Afrotrap territory, which happens in the final three tracks. The autotuned, song vocals over the lively beat indeed do add a bit of a summer vibe. Similarly, the simple yet memorable chorus of “Waywayway” is catchy enough to make the song leave a good impression. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for the entire album. Its flaws are way too apparent and obvious to be truly entertaining or clever.

PS: "Aywa" is Arabian for "yes", and "Kurwa" is a Polish slur for a prostitute.