Bushido - Mythos (Review)

Martin_Canine BUSHIDO

The last months have been tough for Germany’s biggest rapper Bushido. Not exactly music-wise (his previous album Black Friday topped the charts and was released to positive reviews), but his private life has undergone some dramatic changes that will also have huge impact on the German music scene, at least the hip hop genre. These circumstances, in combination with the rise of Afrotrap (which is distributed mostly digitally rather than physically, as it was always the case until this year) and the Echo scandal, in which the win of Kollegah and Farid Bang’s Jung brutal gutaussehend 3 for best national hip hop album at the Echo Awards sparked a nationwide debate about the liberty of the arts which resulted in the end of Germany’s biggest music award, may cause a major turn in the world of German hip hop.

Mythos may be Bushido’s best album since his 2003 classic Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline, which is one hella achievement, as it’s often regarded as the definitive German rap album. But most certainly, it is the most important one in ages. To demonstrate its role in Bushido’s career, let’s skip ahead 14 tracks, and take a look at the album’s closing song: a 10 minute epic storyteller called Mephisto. It is the story about a young artist whose label treated him unfair, who needed money to support his sick mother and who was in desperate need for someone to put him out of this misery. This is when he met Mephisto, the devil figure from the Dr. Faustus tale, who offered his help in making the artist big in exchange for his soul. And indeed, all of a sudden, nothing could stop him. His music became popular, he himself turned into a famous icon and the money kept on increasing. All seemed fine until the artist met a woman, his angel, and they fell in love. Now it was time for a big change as the boy wanted to raise a family, which of course didn’t suit Mephisto who made profit from the artist’s career. He started manipulating him, spreading lies and turned his life bitter, their relationship sour. Mephisto started to show his true colors more and more, with the artist not being able to see it. Years pass. The artist stayed strong despite the power Mephisto has over him, and his family has grown. Now it is time for the final step: parting ways with Mephisto.

Those who are familiar with Bushido’s background know how to decipher these characters and their story: Bushido is the artist, the angel is Anna-Maria Lewe (his wife and also the sister of one of Germany’s biggest music stars, Sarah Connor) and Mephisto is Arafat Abou-Chaker. Arafat is a member of the mafia-like Abou-Chaker Clan, a criminal family who was known to be long time friends with Bushido. In his songs and his biopic, Bushido depicted Arafat as his closest friend, someone who would die for him, and the other way around. Former collaborator Kay One ran away from Bushido’s label and spoke out publicly against the structures of the clan and their relationship with Bushido, which resulted in an already pop culturally historic exchange of diss track. Most importantly is that Bushido defended Arafat and called him a father figure, while Kay One was described as a traitor with purely commercial interests. A majority of people were on Bushido’s side - and we now know that the truth may be closer to Kay One’s. Leaving a dangerous clan like this behind takes more courage than most of us have, and knowing that while Bushido had the talent, Arafat’s connections opened the doors for him, he may also felt that he owed much of his current life to the family. Furthermore, in the process of abandoning his surroundings of the last 15 years, he also lost many of his collaborators that decided to stick with Arafat (you can’t blame them, you’d be afraid too), and a sampler that’s already been made available for pre-order was scrapped. Looking at everything it took to make this decision, a track like Mephisto, which is unusually poetic and clean in its wordings, feels like a massive statement, ultimately putting his past behind.

Similarly, the entire album Mythos feels like a radical reboot - and at the same time, like a throwback to his classic days. His thirteenth solo studio album, excluding many collaboration projects and live albums, it barely feels like a polished and overly carefully produced product made for a huge market, and instead often has the feeling as if made in the days when rap didn’t hit the mainstream yet. Bushido always produced his beats himself, but this time, he wasn’t aided by other music artists who added their finishing touch on the rough body of music the rapper created, as it was the case on his last couple of albums (apart from four songs which didn’t feature Bushido’s beats). Similarly, on most songs he is the sole songwriter, except for the few guest parts by other rappers, of course. The overall sound is similar to Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline, his groundbreaking debut and the last album from the pre-Arafat era. We have melancholic violin/soundtrack samples, oldschool bass drums, dominant snares and static hi-hats, which is more than enough to create an intense atmosphere of Berlin’s streets in the night. Once again, the sound is dirty, raw, and somewhere in between, wistful. There’s a spirit of authenticity and honesty hardly found on albums of this scale of popularity - you could call it a diamond in the rough.

It was always one of Bushido’s biggest strengths to find a perfect symbiosis of tenderness and brutality, musically and lyrically. His songs on Mythos, like the title track, Hades, Geigenkoffer or Das Leben, contrast eye wetting strings or pianos with the harsh sounds of an MPC, as well as poetic, lyrical phrasings of the German language with crude coarse language. The hard, edgy elements represent his street mentality, the violence he experienced in life, everything that formed him with bare fists, while the softer, melodic moments are the vulnerable, sensitive side of him. Superficially, most of the songs on the album could be interpreted as sheer self stylization, much like his previous records, but those who can read between the lines will notice that Bushido is very much reminiscing over his life and his musical legacy. He is proud of what he achieved as a music artist and he claims the title of the greatest in German hip hop for all he added to the genre (which is a lot), but he realizes he gets older and that, while it was time to mindlessly enjoy your life until now, now it’s time to settle, take on responsibility and care for his family. We can’t tell if Mythos is the first chapter in a new book, or the final chapter of a big epic, but if this was his way of leaving the stage, he did what he could.

Interestingly, if you buy the deluxe box, next to the album (including instrumental CD) there comes a remastered version of Bushido’s demo tape and two EPs by his latest signings, Samra and Capital Bra, which became a part of Bushido’s label ersguterjunge after he parted ways with Arafat. His demo tape is marked with the word “Vergangenheit” (“past”), the main album with “Gegenwart” (“present”) and both EPs with ”Zukunft” (“future”). When Bushido is representative for the golden era of German hip hop, Capital Bra stands for the new generation of German rappers now taking over - and I am sure Bushido recognizes himself in Bra, an innovator who turned the genre upside down overnight and brought it to wider attention. Even moreso than Samra, Capital Bra can be named the face of hip hop in his generation, and we know that Bushido has already attempted to pass the reins to other, younger rappers, namely Kay One and Shindy. We know how the story with the former ended, the latter started promising with four innovative number one albums, but then stayed with Arafat Abou-Chaker. Maybe Capital Bra, who brings in the extremely few trap inspired touches on the otherwise oldschool album, will prove worthy. With five solo number one hits within 9 months, he’s already a household name.