Hamburg’s vibrant hip-hop scene

(Aight D-Flame)

Hamburg’s hip-hop scene is booming like never before. While established bands such as Beginner are topping the album charts, new, upcoming acts such as Ace Tee are also gaining international fame and are taking Hamburg’s cool, cosmopolitan hip-hop style to the world stage. But also beyond the sphere of music, Hamburg has a rich hip-hop scene to draw on: several streetwear labels founded in Hamburg add to the city’s identity and have become real success stories in recent years. What is more, Hamburg boasts a vibrant pub and club scene, which has become ever more exciting in recent years thanks to various new venues.

Beginner: putting Hamburg on the hip-hop map

As early as at the turn of the millennium, old masters like Beginner were writing songs such as the “Hamburg City Blues”, an anthem to the city aimed at boosting Hamburg’s popularity as a centre of hip-hop. Following a long hiatus, the three Beginner members Jan DelayDenyo and DJ Mad reappeared on the scene last year with their song “Ahn Ma” feat. Gzuz & Gentlemen, which was meant to “put Hamburg back on the map”, as the lyrics put it. The song became such a hit that it was played by many Hamburg businesses as an opener at their Christmas parties. To date, the YouTube video has had over 29.6 million views, ranking 4th in the most successful German rap videos for 2016.

 

Newcomer Ace Tee: taking off in the United States

While Beginner have been representing Hamburg’s hip-hop scene since the early ‘90s, R&B singer Ace Tee is still fairly new to the scene. The Hamburg native has become an absolute internet sensation lately with her ‘90s revival hit “Bist du down?” – a success that was neither expected nor planned and that has developed organically over the past few weeks. A couple of German hip-hop blogs did indeed write about the Hamburg singer, but apart from that, the song did not attract any particular attention at first. Twitter users from the United States and Canada then discovered the 23-year-old, comparing her with the R&B band TLC from the United States. “The new TLC are German, pass it on” wrote Twitter user Yung Rachu on 4 January, posting the video on her timeline. And it’s a very apt comparison as both TLC and Ace Tee represent a soft ‘90s R&B vibe that you don’t hear much anymore.

 

The increased attention on Twitter and Facebook sparked a veritable wave of interest, catapulting Ace Tee right to the US edition of Vogue. Since then, international publications have featured interviews with and news about the 23-year-old singer, who continues to work as a hair stylist at a hairdressing salon nearly every day. The video that made her famous also introduces viewers to other aspects of Hamburg’s hip-hop culture: for instance, dancers perform their moves under a railway bridge in Altona, with iconic graffiti in the background that was created more than a decade ago by the late Hamburg graffiti artist OZ.

Streetwear labels: on the road to success

Yet also beyond music, Hamburg has long established itself as a hip-hop city. Streetwear labels such as CleptomanicxMojo Snowboarding and Aight Evolution have been creating a cool, casual, everyday look for years – a look that may only be found in Hamburg in such concentrated, individual form. Aight Evolution founder, Christoph Schröder, who has set up his warehouse in the district of Barmbek, considers Hamburg to be the perfect location: “Barmbek is a bit of a workers’ district, and I think that this is very fitting for Aight, as I have done virtually everything myself to date.” This also includes partnering with rappers – both local artists and artists from other cities: “Over the years, real friendships have evolved from these collaborations. Whenever there’s a concert on in Hamburg, artists would sometimes pop around to my warehouse. I think it’s great that Aight with its hip-hop connection has opened up so many opportunities to get in touch with other likeminded people. As a cosmopolitan, vibrant city, Hamburg is of course perfect for this.”

(Nico Suave / Pascal Kerouche)

Having contact with the scene is also very important to Mojo Snowboarding founder André Gießelmann, whose store is based in Hamburg’s Schanzenviertel district: “We currently do quite a lot with Gold Roger, Nico Suave, Johnny Rakete, Marvin Game and Bengio.” The 33-year-old also has close personal links with Hamburg’s hip-hop community: “Of course the ‘90s records by Beginner, Dynamite Deluxe, Fünf Sterne, Eins Zwo and Nico Suave were all highlights for me, and I think it’s wonderful how openly this culture and music is still embraced in Hamburg today.” Mojo Snowboarding is also keen to hear from up-and-coming Hamburg artists: “For me, the lads from 187 Strassenbande, the style of Ace Tee, and even the effortlessness of Bengio make a refreshing change from the ‘old schoolers’.”

Hamburg’s lively pub & club scene

Hamburg’s hip-hop lifestyle continues out on the streets. Established clubs and bars such as Uebel & Gefährlich (Feldstrasse 66), Grüner Jäger (Neuer Pferdemarkt 36), the Bernsteinbar (Bernstorffstrasse 103) and the Fundbureau (Stresemannstrasse 114) are all just a few minutes’ walk from one another and have provided a home for the hip-hop community for many years – and in some cases even decades. It’s no coincidence that all these venues are concentrated in the areas around the Schanzenviertel district and the Reeperbahn as these quarters have always been the places where everything happens. And yet there is also a lot going on beyond these well-known hotspots: in the Ottensen district situated west of the Reeperbahn and just off the railway station featured in Ace Tee’s video, renowned bars such as Aurel (Bahrenfelder Strasse 157), Familieneck (Friedensallee 2-4) and Querbeet (Bahrenfelder Strasse 180) feature electronic tunes and lots of hip-hop. Anyone stopping by these bars for a quick drink often ends up staying a fair while longer.

These long-established venues are joined by new clubs and bars such as the Luba Luft Bar (Am Brunnenhof 2-4), Kleiner Donner (Schulterblatt 73) as well as the legendary Mojo Club (Reeperbahn 1) that was reopened underneath the “Tanzende Türme” skyscraper. With its excellent live music programme and stylish setting, the Mojo Club in particular has taken Hamburg’s club scene to a new level and boosted its international profile. The top-class acoustics are yet another piece of the puzzle that has seen renowned international artists such as Talib Kweli, Lee Fields, Diamond D and Large Pro make a detour to Hamburg – just like various newcomers such as Anderson Paak and BJ The Chicago Kid. The Spektrum Festival further adds to the city’s varied hip-hop landscape. It was launched six years ago and is held annually at the Island Park in the district of Wilhelmsburg. The one-day festival has now become an essential melting pot for traditional hip-hop and crossover and can certainly be considered to be the worthy successor of the legendary “flash” festival that caused a stir in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. In short: Hamburg sure has been, and continues to be, a hive of activity!