Kollegah & Farid Bang - Platin war gestern (Review)

Martin_Canine
KOLLEGAH & FARID BANG
Platin war gestern
★★★★★

A familiar string segment that sounds more like a movie score starts playing the moment “Platin war gestern” begins. We know this melody very well: it’s “Sturmmaske auf”, Kollegah’s and Farid Bang’s first and only number one song hit. Much like the original, the two rappers take alternating turns on the mic, sometimes saying one line each, sometimes finishing each other’s sentences. They are building up a cinematic tension that immediately lets you know you’re up to something big. But the lyrics are different, and so is the overall feeling. The original version felt like a nostalgic recap up to this point, an introduction to the one final collaboration album the rappers would record before going separate ways. But as you can see, that wasn’t the case. Because an incident seriously damaged their legacy, and before retiring the duo they needed to get that out of the way. “It’s time for rap to raise its voice” they shout - this time it’s personal.

It’s been frustrating eight and a half months since Kollegah’s and Farid Bang’s 2017 blockbuster collaboration album “Jung brutal gutaussehend 3” (usually shortened to “JBG3”) was released. Initially, everything was fine: the album topped the German, Austrian and Swiss charts, sparked their first number one single with “Sturmmaske auf (Intro)”, with all 16 other songs on the album entering the Top 50 in Germany as well, making it the commercially most successful German hip hop album of the year - and naturally, it received overwhelming acclaim from the hip hop community. The album was the most anticipated hip hop record of the year, and was certified gold on pre-orders alone. It couldn’t have been any better for the two rappers who were on top of their career.

But in April 2018, one line from the 5 track bonus EP of the deluxe edition turned their reputation upside down. On “08/15” Farid Bang raps: “Mein Körper - definierter als von Auschwitzinsassen”, or in English “my body - more defined than those of Auschwitz prisoners”. For months nobody questioned this line, and it received no attention whatsoever. Much of the German hip hop genre is based around battle rap, and the harder the punchline, the better it works - as JuliensBlog, host of one of the biggest rap tournaments, once said: “For a good diss, everything is allowed”. No one would deny it's tasteless, insensitive and below the artists’ own level of lyricism, but it’s not an antisemitic line, it’s a stupid comparison. Nevertheless, it was this very lyric alone that killed the biggest German music award, the Echo. This lyric moved Campino, singer of the legendary punk band Die Toten Hosen, to read a short speech at the award about needing to find a new limit in what music is allowed to do. When the two artists rightfully won for best national hip hop album (NOTE: since it’s only a bonus track, it can’t even be heard on the standard version which was awarded the prize), several former winners of the Echo returned their award, with huge media coverage that ultimately resulted in the end of the entire award show. For many members of the hip hop fanbase, as well as other rappers, music magazines and critics, the controversy was less a statement against antisemitism, but a witch hunt and an attack on freedom of the arts - and I am one of these people. Any form of radical racism needs to be fought against, but this was clearly just a tasteless throwaway line on an otherwise great rap album, and nowhere near the hardest line found on a commercially successful German hip hop album. A bad lyric blew up in a way that's beyond any logical reason, and the music scene as well as the big crowd was very divided - and for weeks, it was the media's favorite topic.

The question was how their careers would go on from this point. In the mass media, they’ve basically become public enemy number one for quite some time, while in the hip hop they are more popular than they have ever been - and it certainly was not their first number one album. Their fanbase expected no holds barred attacks on the incident, but now since the entire nation watched them, especially people who aren’t familiar with the dos and don'ts of the battle rap scene, maybe they would give in to the criticism to avoid further consequences. What would they do: try to please the big crowd or their loyal followers? Let Kollegah answer that for me: “our bodies are clearly defined, in contrast to your idea of artistic freedom”. Yes, that’s what I wanted to hear. Furthermore, it’s what we needed to hear.

“Platin was gestern” is either rapper’s first work since the controversial incident. Before any scandal, it was initially announced as an EP sized bonus disc for a super deluxe edition of “JBG3” to celebrate the platinum certification of the record (the title translates to “platinum was yesterday”, and it would have been the fifth version overall), but ultimately became a full blown studio album with 15 new tracks that was released separately with two months delay. Naturally, much of it feels like a sequel, and a response to everything that happened in the past months. It feels downright necessary that they appear together as a duo once more instead of individually addressing the topic on solo albums - or worse, moving on without saying another word.

“Jung brutal gutaussehend 3” was not a deliberately tasteless album. It actually broke no boundaries within the genre, but it delivered what it had to offer at a technically perfect level, complete with complex rhyming and brutal and inventive disses that hopefully hit hard like a good punch at a boxing match. It’s entertainment, and within battle rap, it was a near masterpiece. Now, “Platin war gestern” is a whole nother story. It’s purposely provocative to a level that it has scandal written all over some specific songs. In 2018, they make fun of the Weinstein scandal, threaten to shoot fans of German political parties and refuse to adapt any modern ideas of correctness, as when Farid Bang goes into detail what his hands smell like after a certain act. It’s very much in your face, it’s cynical and it tries hard to be shocking - and it’s also one of the most brilliant German hip hop moments of the year. And I personally like it better than “JBG3”.

Kollegah and Farid Bang are very smart people who are capable of delivering some insane bars with a fine selection of rhetoric figures, and have a vocabulary that leaves other musicians, no matter the genre, look like preschool kids (not kidding, a study showed that Kollegah’s song lyrics have a bigger vocabulary than the works of Germany’s best known classic writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, although I am not quite convinced of that, but it’s definitely huge). When they decide to dive deep into shock value territory, it’s all bedded in clever writing that comes off as smart rather than immature as it surely would if created by other artists. There’s this certain ability of the rappers to draw graphic violent and sexual images with a gripping atmosphere and wit. There are three dimensions of how these lines work. They are obscene to their haters, imaginative and funny to their fans BECAUSE the haters fall for them, and ultimately, they are satisfying for everybody who supported them in the past months, because they succeeded in causing this reaction towards the other two groups.

While “JBG3” was aimed mainly at the entire German rap scene, “Platin war gestern” goes for the people who attacked them after the incident. On the single “Mitternacht 2”, Kollegah delivers two funny lines to bash two of their biggest critics. Campino, the man who started it all, was obviously nervous when he delivered his speech and was shivering all over his hands. Kollegah now turns this around in a witty way, using the fact that the animal called “electric ray” is called “shiver ray” in German: “I apparently have magic powers, because when I enter the room popstars turn to shiver rays”. He also has an animal word play for TV personality Carmen Geiss, who was among the harshest attackers of Farid Bang, as her last name is a homophone with “Geiß”, which translates to a female goat: “Dissing us was a gigantic mistake / Because now it’s going downhill with the Geiss like Peter the Goatherd” (a character in the Swiss tale “Heidi”).

In the meantime, Farid Bang has other worries: the German far-right party AfD suggested deporting him - which, of course, won’t happen as he is a legal German citizen and delivering tasteless lines is not against the law. The only thing their suggestion resulted in is a couple of heavier lines on the album in which the political party is referenced in - very much negatively, to say the least (this is not supposed to be a political post, so I leave it standing as it is). One of the most hilarious laugh out loud disses on the album is however aimed at Germany’s darling Helene Fischer, who was one of the most famous people who criticized the artists after the Echo awards: “Helene says we wouldn’t deserve respect for rap / One question: Have you ever written a lyric or decided what to wear on stage?”. It’s awesome. Fischer lives within the world of the schlager genre and is completely unfamiliar with hip hop - in addition, she doesn’t write her own songs and has a huge team behind her that executes her ideas for her, including setting up her stage show. Kollegah and Farid Bang (the latter of which delivered the lyric) however both own successful labels and are excellent lyricists. Of course, all three artists deserve respect as Fischer is a charismatic performer who can actually sing very well, but the counter attack after such a dull statement was just too much on point not to be highlighted.

But there’s more to the album than counter attacks - in fact, they are more or less just the cherry on top. Compared to its predecessor, “Platin war gestern” has more energy and feels like the two artists actually had a lot more fun letting loose both the insults and the boasts. Perfectly understandable: dissing other rappers is nothing personal, but this time it’s revenge. It’s also the technically superior record. The multisyllabic rhymes are much more in the foreground now, so that quite often there are either long rhyme chains over several lines, or many smaller ones in little time. “Du kriegst TRAUMATA vor'm TRAUALTAR weil ich in GAUNERART / Bullets verteilte und dann deine FRAU MITNAHM in fairem TAUSCHVERFAHREN”, Kollegah raps in “Nuklearer Winter”. Both artists frequently deliver rhymes at such a level throughout every single line. But that’s nothing new; they established themselves as the highest league of rhymers in the German rap scene for years. Just dig this chorus from “Geister, die du riefst” (alternatingly performed by both), which also starts off with one of the coolest homophones on the album (“eingespieltes Team” = “well attuned team”, “ein gespieltes Team” = “a staged/acted team”): “Wir sind ein EINGESPIELTES TEAM, ihr seid EIN GESPIELTES TEAM / Deine Brüder sind nur Brüder, wenn sie SCHEINE MITVERDIENEN / LEICHEN IN DEN STREETS, wenn du mich in CRIME-BERICHTEN SIEHST / Mich plagen Bullen, Gs, Reporter, aber MEIN GEWISSEN NIE /
Der größte HYPE DER INDUSTRIE, die dicksten EIER IN DER JEANS / Boss und Banger, Box-Gym-Gänger oder MIKE TYSON AUF BEATS / Die GEISTER, DIE DU RIEFST”.

What needs to be added is that on releases before 2016, Kollegah had a more intellectual approach. He appeared as an eloquent and educated gangster who could calmly quote from classic literature by heart while carefully studying a Monet painting, just before having you executed for not paying back your debts. He was threatening and menacing, and not the type of guy who would rip out one of your ribs - yet he raps about doing just that on this record. In the past few years, he reduced quite some of his fancy coolness in favor of a very brutal and testosterone drenched style. At the same time, Farid Bang has always been far grittier, more aggressive and more direct than him. With Kollegah’s reduction of overly classy elements, the two are an absolutely perfect match now with all stylistic differences out of the way - a duo you wouldn’t want to get into a fight with.

The vibe of “Platin war gestern” leans very much towards oldschool territory, with many beats consisting of heavy drums and boom bap rhythms. In that style, “Nuklearer Winter” is one of the hardest jams that German hip hop has heard in years - especially when Farid Bang is on the mic using a more traditional flow. And the dark bass and impressive flows of “Echo in der Hood” showcase that the multisyllable hardcore hip hop does not stand behind trap and cloud rap when it comes to musicality. Times when the artists had massive lyrics over cheap sounding beats are over. Just listen to the mystical, lush beat and sung chorus of “Der letzte Krieg”. Then, “Ausnahmezustand” feels positively similar to Farid Bang’s “Wachstumshormone” from his 2015 masterpiece “Asphalt Massaka 3”. But it’s even harder, and with a very anarchic tone. Like the first part from 2009, “Mitternacht 2” is based around Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, but in direct comparison, you can hear a massive progress in production and sampling skill (the new beat was created by Juh-Dee and Mesh, the original one by Rizbo). But there are also a few songs using modern type beat work: both “All Eyez On Us” and “Schuldig bei Verdacht” are based around trap drum kits, but while still sticking to a flow that does not in the slightest resemble said genre, and the closing song “In die Unendlichkeit” even features a sung autotune chorus that could have as well be heard on the newest Yung Hurn tape - but all without leaving their classic hard sound behind.

Need I add anything else? There is nothing left to be desired, we have two great rappers who do what they can do best with ease, featuring entertaining content that’s even more enjoyable if you know the context. Whether as a statement against censorship or simply as a parade of technical perfection, this is why I love German hip hop.

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