Controversial Rappers Cause German Echo To Rethink Nomination And Award Process

Last week’s Echo award ceremony in Germany, which saw Ed Sheeran take home three awards, was overshadowed by a controversy involving two of the country’s most successful rappers: Kollegah and Farid Bang.

Kollegah & Farid Bang
BVMI/Monique Wuestenhagen
– Kollegah & Farid Bang
Performed their single “All Eyez On Us” live at the Echo ceremony

Both rappers have been enjoying enormous success in Germany with their collaboration album Jung, brutal, gutaussehend (Young, brutal, good looking). They released part three of the series in December via their own labels Alpha Music and Banger Musik, using BMG for distribution.

There’s one track on a deluxe edition of Jung, brutal, gutaussehend 3, which features lyrics that translate along the lines of: “my body’s more defined than that of Auschwitz inmates.”

The line sparked a storm of indignation from German media and celebrities in the lead-up to last week’s Echo ceremony, which took place at Messe Berlin, April 12. Kollegah and Farid Bang were accused of anti-Semitism.

Both men emphasized that this was not the case, Kollegah in particular released several Instagram stories explaining that both him and Farid Bang judged any individual by their character only.

He accused Germany’s biggest tabloid, Bild, of trying to tie Deutschrap and anti-Semitism into one narrative, as both topics are guaranteed to generate clicks and sell newspapers. Farid Bang has since publicly apologized to Jewish Auschwitz survivor Esther Bejarano, and Kollegah made an offer to his Jewish fans, promising to grant them lifelong free access to his concerts.

Echo nominees are determined first and foremost by their album sales figures – it’s different with the Echo Jazz and Echo Classic awards, where a jury has all the say. There’s a jury for the main Echo too, which chooses from the shortlist, but their vote is merely one factor besides the sales figures.

While the exact sales of Kollegah’s and Farid Bang’s current album JBG3 are hard to come by, a source with knowledge of the matter told Pollstar that they currently stand at some 70,000 box sets and around the same amount of albums sold.

Numbers like these automatically place acts on the Echo shortlist. The Echo jury has the option of referring controversial cases to the so-called Echo Beirat, an independent advisory committee. JBG3 was such a case, however, the committee said it decided to place artistic freedom above fundamental societal norms – pointing out, however, that it did not approve of the language used on the entire record.

Kollegah & Farid Bang
BVMI/Monique Wuestenhagen
– Kollegah & Farid Bang
Accepting their award

Both artists slip into roles for their JBG projects, working out harder than usual and choosing a mix of violent and provocative, but in many cases also witty, lyrics over heavy beats. There are countless lines in each song one could take offense to if one chose to, battle rap in general is characterized by provocative statements. Anti-semitic lyrics are a different caliber in Germany, though, where utterances that are considered anti-semitic can be punished with jail time.

Some artists, who won at last week’s ceremony, announced they would return their award in protest. The head of the Echo Beirat, Christian Höppner, president of Deutscher Kulturrat, Germany’s council on cultural matters, stepped down.

The Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI), Germany’s trade body for the recorded music sector, which co-promotes the Echo, has announced that the event’s entire concept – from the nominations to the award ceremony – would be revamped.

The Echo has always been an audience prize, letting the sales decide used to be “Echo’s DNA,” according to an official statement. “This fundamental principle of the Echo, as well as all mechanisms relating to the nomination and handing out of awards, are going to be thoroughly analyzed by us after this year’s experiences, which have affected and shocked us,” the statement translates, adding that consequences will be drawn to create a new foundation for the award.

The controversy completely overshadowed the actual ceremony, which saw Ed Sheeran take home three awards. He was crowned international male artist of the year, and also won album of the year for Divide, and hit of the year for “Shape Of You.”

Kollegah and Farid Bang won in the hip hop/urban category for JBG3, Helene Fischer took home the Schlager award for her current self-titled album. The best-selling folk-album came from Santiano (Im Auge des Sturms), Die Toten Hosen won the rock award for Laune der Natur.

The dance national award went to Robin Schulz for Uncovered, Wincent Weiss was crowned national newcomer, and Luis Fonsi international newcomer. Peter Keller was named producer of the year, and “L auf der Stirn” by Beatsteaks feat. Deichkind was selected as best video.

German artist Haiyti won the critic’s choice award. Klaus Voormann was honored for his lifetime achievement, and Reeperbahn Festival won an Echo as partner of the year. Apple Music was named trade partner of the year, and Peace by Peace Festival (PxP) won an Echo for its social commitment.

PxP is an event that brings together some of Germany’s biggest artists, who play for free to raise money for children fleeing war zones. It has attracted 40,000 people to its two editions at Berlin’s Waldbühne in 2016/2017, and raised 800,000 Euros.

The Echo is one of Germany’s two most prestigious awards in music. The other one is called the Live Entertainment Award (LEA). The 13th edition took place the same week as the Echo, April 9, but lacked the controversy.