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Listening to Istanbul: Imagining Place in Turkish Rap Music

Turkish rappers in Istanbul have indigenized the global musical genre of rap and hybridized it with local genres of Turkish popular music. The Istanbul rap group Nefret has especially fused with rap the sounds and discourses of Turkish folk music, arabesk and Turkish light classical music. In their song "stanbul" they also use rap's practices of intertextuality to appropriate from Turkish popular culture and re-emplace within their own music existing ways of representing the city. Istanbul rappers like Nefret comment on and critique what globalization has wrought in Istanbul by appropriating, indigenizing, and locally re-emplacing rap. Turkish rap music in Istanbul thus embodies the tensions between a cosmopolitan, globalizing Istanbul, and an "other" Istanbul populated by rural migrants and the urban poor.

Keywords:music and place, Turkish rap, Istanbul, globalization

Rap music and the poetics of place

Ethnomusicologists and popular music scholars have recently begun to explore how people use music as a vehicle for imagining places and constructing place-based identities.1 This work has shown how mediated popular musics can be a local resource for identity construction, and how practices of the production and consumption of popular music are simultaneously expressive practices for imagining and performing place. Closely related to this focus on music and place is an interest in musical aspects of globalization.2 In one significant area of this research, writers have borrowed from contemporary cultural theory and applied to the study of popular music concepts like indigenization,3 localization,4 glocalization,5 reterritorialization,6 and domestication 7 to describe processes by which people engage with, appropriate, and locally re-emplace globally circulating musical products, styles and genres through practices of production and consumption. The term glocal, first used in business to describe strategies for marketing global products in ways appropriate to local sales territorities, has emerged as a shorthand way of evoking the articulations and interpenetrations of the local and the global in popular cultural expression.8

Rap music, with its characteristic practice of “representing” place,9 is a particularly appropriate genre for investigating the musical imagination of locality and musical relationships between the local and the global. Central to the discourse of rap is the explicit construction of identity in terms of place, what Krims calls “hip-hop’s urge to locality.”10 In his recent book on race, space and place in rap, Forman details the complex and multiple spatial discourses of rap and hip-hop in the U.S.11 Rap is also now a thor

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oughly globalized genre, as the essays in Mitchell’s edited volume Global Noise show.12 Young people from places as diverse as Greenland, Japan, New Zealand and Brazil have indigenized the genre, re-making it into a vehicle for constructing local identities and expressing local concerns. Forman’s monograph and Mitchell’s collection represent the significant contributions the concepts and methods of cultural studies can make to understanding how the discourses of rap and hip-hop emplace identity. Largely missing from both books, however, is a sense of how the poetics of rap – the texts and musical tracks of rap songs themselves – are vehicles for these imaginings of place.13

A few researchers have discussed some aspects of the musical and textual poetics of rap; these writers have generally focused especially on rhythmic organization and sampling practices, making various arguments about how rap is a vehicle for a particularly African-American aesthetic.14 Probably the most detailed discussion of formal aspects of rap is Krims’ work on rap and the poetics of identity.15 Krims, a music theorist, demonstrates through extremely detailed transcriptions of rap texts and textures the ways in which rappers and rap producers construct place-based identities, particularly in his analysis of southern U.S. rappers’ imaginations of a distinct “rap geography.”

In this paper I attempt a synthesis of the cultural studies and poetics-oriented approaches to rap music, examining in some detail how rappers use aspects of song texts, musical style, and visual imagery as vehicles for imagining place. My example comes from a song created by Turkish rap musicians in the city of Istanbul. The Istanbul rappers I discuss here understand that the discourse of rap characteristically includes the practice of representing place, and implement that discourse in their songs using the musical and textual resources at their disposal.16 I suggest that they use rap’s practices of intertextuality to appropriate from Turkish popular culture and re-emplace within their own music existing ways of representing the city of Istanbul, fusing the resources of Turkish popular culture with the globalized Afro-American rap idiom to re-imagine the urban landscape of the city. First, however, I introduce two contexts for Turkish rap about Istanbul: previous ways of representing the city in song, and the impact of globalization on the city.

“Istanbul songs” and arabesk – musical imaginations of the globalizing city

There is a long Turkish tradition of representing the city of Istanbul in song. Songs about the city are a staple of the genre of popular Turkish light classical music known today as Türk sanat müziði (literally, “Turkish art music,” henceforth abbreviated TSM). Sancar notes over 100 songs composed in this genre between the mid-17th century and the present that explicitly mention the city or one of its localities.17 Martin Stokes has discussed the different forms of nostalgia constructed in contemporary TSM performance.18 The repertory known as Ýstanbul ªarkýlarý (“Istanbul songs”) within this

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genre is effectively the aural equivalent of old picturesque orientalist postcards of the cityscape, painting aural portraits that praise the “genteel pleasures” and enchantment of the beauty spots of the city, evoking scenic views of minarets, the Bosphorus Strait and Golden Horn Bay from the city’s many hills.19 Perhaps the epitome of TSM’s nostalgic representations of the city is composer Münir Nurettin Selçuk’s (1900–1981) famous setting of Yahya Kemal Beyatlý’s (1884–1958) poem “Aziz Ýstanbul” (“Beloved Istanbul”).20

As in TSM, songs about the city, implicitly or explicitly Istanbul, are prominent in the urban popular musical genre arabesk that has emerged in Turkey since the late 1960s.21 As Stokes suggests, arabesk is “a music of and about the city.”22 But arabesk songs about Istanbul reject the nostalgia of TSM and paint instead a much more grim and pessimistic view of the city in which genteel pleasures are replaced by the pain and suffering of the urban poor, subject to the merciless (acýmasýz) machinations of a city personified as a femme fatale that fatally seduces the naïve migrant from the countryside.23 Arabesk is widely perceived to be music by and for migrants from the rural areas of Turkey to the city.24 While actual musicians and audiences for this music cut across class lines and the dichotomies of rural vs. urban origin, in both popular and intellectual discourse arabesk is a music born out of the huge flow of rural migrants to the city since the 1950s. Due to this internal rural-to-urban migration, Istanbul has seen an explosive population growth from 1,078,000 in 1945 to 7,309,000 in 1990,25 to 10,018,735 in 2000, according to census figures. Unofficial estimates of the city’s population at the turn of the millennium run up to 15 million souls. The city struggles to absorb this inflow with resulting overcrowding, low-paying jobs and strain on its infrastructure, all embodied in popular discourse in the growth of illegal squatter settlements (gecekondu in Turkish, literally “put up at night”) of migrants on the outskirts of the city.26

Arabesk’s portrayals of the city are very different from the nostalgic fantasies of TSM, but arabesk does have its own brand of nostalgia as well. Besides the many songs discussing the difficulty of city life in general terms – a random selection could include Ferdi Tayfur’s “Bu ªehrin Geceleri” (“This City’s Nights,” 1989) and “Bu ªehir” (“This City,” 2000), Müslüm Gürses’ “Bu ªehirde Yaºanmaz” (“This City is Unlivable,” 1988) and Cengiz Kurtoðlu’s “Bu ªehirden Gidiyorum” (“I’m Leaving this City,” 1988) – some songs explicitly contrast the difficult life of rural migrants in the city with an idyllic village life, shifting the nostalgia for old Istanbul of TSM songs to a nostalgia for the countryside. A well-known example of this is Ferdi Tayfur’s folk song-like “Fadime’nin Düðünü” (“Fadime’s Wedding,” 1994), about a village wedding, with its famous line “Hadi gel, köyümüze geri dönelim” (“Come on! Let’s go back to our village”). The rise of arabesk music (and, more generally, what has popularly been described as the “arabesk culture” of rural migrants) corresponds with a resurgence of urban interest in traditional Turkish culture.

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This resurgence of interest in Turkish culture provides a dramatic contrast to the cosmopolitan fantasies of the governing urban elite who have embraced globalization and, since the 1980s, embarked on a project to remake Istanbul as a “global city,” actively courting global capital.27 The attempts by the city administration and business interests to globalize Istanbul can be seen in transformations in the urban form of the city since the 1980s from mixed, multifunctional spaces to rationalized functional zoning, involving major restructuration projects in which “the city is being divided up in terms of functions: some districts to work in, some to shop in, some for living, some for entertainment and recreation.”28 This restructuration has included the development of major industrial parks, walled housing estates for the newly emergent middle class, shopping malls and cultural centers,29 all with the requisite accompanying parking lots or multi-story garages. To facilitate movement between all the new zones, the city government has overseen the construction of major new motorways across the city, including through historic and densely populated areas.30 While the project of re-making Istanbul into a global city of the same stature as New York, London or Tokyo remains incomplete,31 the transformations begun since the 1980s have irrevocably altered the urban landscape, and the city’s global position continues to evolve, often through informal and quasi-legal arrangements that bypass remaining political obstacles.32

This opening up of Istanbul, and Turkey more generally, since the 1980s has meant not just an opening up to the flow of global capital, but also a (re-)opening of the country up to the flows of global popular culture, including western popular music. Media deregulation came a little later, in the early 1990s,33 and paved the way for the entrance of multinational record companies. Some of these gained a foothold in Turkey by establishing partnerships and licensing agreements with local companies, as in the PolyGram-Raks association;34 others directly established local branches under their own names, such as Sony (beginning in 1993), Universal (from 1998), EMI, and BMG.35 These companies brought with them their international (but mostly American and English-language) catalogues of pop, rock and rap, which the newly emergent middle class began to eagerly consume in the expensive CD format, while indigenous genres such as arabesk and Turkish folk and pop continued to be sold mostly in the cheaper cassette format. Media deregulation also lead to the introduction of cable television in 1991, bringing MTV (including, significantly for my argument here, the program Yo! MTV Raps) to Turkish audiences for the first time.36

The tensions between the city of rural migrants and the city of the cosmopolitan, globalizing urban elite has led some writers to speak of “two Istanbuls.”37 Despite the best efforts of the urban and business elite to rationalize the urban landscape and “market Istanbul”38 as a cosmopolitan, global city, the continued inflow of rural migrants has resulted in a “reorientalization of the city”39 that some writers have characterized as “the return of the repressed,”40 or even “Istanbul’s revenge.”41 But, as these writers note, the simplistic dichotomy of the modern, globalizing city Istanbul versus the alarmist

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image of the “countryside occupying the city”42 fails to recognize that the processes of recent rural-to-urban migration and the emergence of hybridized popular culture expressions such as arabesk are themselves the result of global processes of capital flow, urbanization, and the formation of new identities.43

Rural migrants to the city were attracted by new jobs recently created there by new growth in industries such as textile production, which exploded dramatically in Istanbul in the 1980s due to new liberalization policies by the globalization-friendly, post-1980 coup-governments that encouraged exports and the expansion of international trade.44 But new migrants to the city seek not only jobs in the newly globalized local economy, but also a new urban lifestyle that, while not abandoning its basis in the rural culture they grew up with, actively engages with the cosmopolitan culture of the city. Turkish sociologist Nilüfer Göle argues that the contemporary urban culture of Istanbul represents “a synthesis in which local textures, colours and traditions are combined with modern global culture”; by means of this synthesis, “The ‘alaturka’ is attempting to globalise itself in the Istanbul crucible.”45

The complex inter-relationships between the “two Istanbuls” were brought to my notice often while I lived in Istanbul 1999–2002, and during many return trips there since. One image that encapsulated the inter-connections between globalization and locality for me was the familiar site of a migrant from rural Anatolia to Istanbul who, unable to find a better-paying job, sold from a small, wheeled cart pirate CDs at a regular spot in Taksim square in the city center, next to my bank and in the shadow of the towering five-star luxury hotel The Marmara. I made a habit to stop and chat with him and look through his selection of Turkish and international pop CDs (including everything from Ferdi Tayfur to Shakira, Björk, and Edith Piaf) every time I went to the bank in Taksim square. He told me that most of the CDs he sold were actually copied and packaged in Bulgaria or elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and brought to Turkey for sale by the middlemen who supplied him. Along with the other pirate CD sellers in the area, he stopped coming to Taksim in late 2001, apparently the result of stepped-up efforts by authorities to enforce anti-piracy laws, at the behest of the newly vigorously anti-pirate MÜ-YAP, the Turkish Phonographic Industry Society, founded in 1988 and from August 2000 the Turkish affiliate of the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), an organization with international copyright protection and anti-piracy measures high on its agenda. The IFPI’s Commercial Piracy Report 2004 proudly notes that as a result of effective lobbying, the Turkish government “has recently adopted a strong anti-piracy bill, including a total ban on street sales of audio-visual products. This is expected to help eradicate the widespread phenomenon of street piracy in Turkey’s main cities and tourist areas.”46 My pirate CD-selling friend’s absence from public space in Istanbul, just as much as his presence had been, was thus conditioned by local experiences of global processes.

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In the following section I turn to a detailed discussion of a single song by an Istanbul rap group, and discuss the musical and textual strategies this group has developed for imagining the city. I argue that Turkish rap music from Istanbul embodies the tensions between a cosmopolitan, globalizing Istanbul and the “other” Istanbul populated by rural migrants and the urban poor. Like Türk sanat müziði and arabesk, Turkish rap music from Istanbul has also developed a characteristic discourse about the city. Istanbul rappers comment on and critique what globalization has wrought in Istanbul – the specific physical changes in the urban landscape deriving from globalization47 – by appropriating, indigenizing, and locally re-emplacing the globally circulating musical genre of rap, creating a unique hybridization of Afro-American rap with local music and popular culture.

Re-imagining the city through rap music

The Istanbul rap group Nefret, whose name means “Hate,” consists of two rappers, Ceza (“Punishment”) and Dr. Fuchs, both in their early twenties at the time they made the song discussed here. Dr. Fuchs was born in Regensburg, Germany in 1978, the son of Turkish migrants. When he was eight years old, his family moved permanently back to Turkey, and he has lived since then in the western suburb of Bakýrköy, on the European side of the Bosphorus. Ceza was born in 1977 in Üsküdar, on the Asian side of the city, and has lived there all his life. Both young men started making rap in the mid 1990s, while they were teenagers. After working solo and with various other rap groups, they came together and formed Nefret in 1998. After releasing their self-distributed single “Vatan” in 1998, and having four songs included on a 1999 Turkish rap compilation album titled Yeraltý Operasyonu (“Underground Operation”), in 2000 they released their first full album, titled Meclis-i Âlâ – Ýstanbul (“High Council – Istanbul”). The cover photo of the CD (Figure 1) shows the two rappers beside the Bosphorus, with one of the two bridges spanning the strait in the background, unmistakably placing them within the urban geography of the city.

The song “Ýstanbul” is the fourth track on the CD. In this song the two rappers paint a verbal portrait of the city much in contrast with the nostalgic view of the city found in Türk sanat müziði, as discussed above. But they find and exploit a certain commonality between aspects of East Coast African-American rappers’ ways of describing the ghetto and Turkish arabesk’s ways of representing the city. By inflecting the song with a vocabulary typical of arabesk, and evoking specific places in the urban geography of Istanbul, they create a dark, pessimistic sonic evocation of the city.

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Figure 1: Front cover of Nefret’s first album, Meclis-i Âlâ – Ýstanbul, showing the group’s two rappers in front of the bridge over the Bosphorus.

The music forming the multi-layered backing track for the rap is also appropriately dark in tone. Aspects of the musical foundation of the track are represented in Example 1, a schematic of some of the musical features of the song. Not all of these features occur simultaneously throughout the 3:41 track; the different layers enter and drop out at various times, constantly varying the texture within and between verses and choruses.

Harmonically, the track is built on a continuous alternation between two held-out block chords, Am and F, played on a synthesizer and an acoustic baðlama (the top two staves in Example 1). The baðlama is a long-necked lute common in Turkish folk music, also much used in arabesk. While the organ-like timbre of the synthesizer is sustained throughout the measure, the strummed baðlama chord decays quickly after the first beat of the measure. The sustained timbre of the synthesizer is varied sometimes by adding additional layers to the texture – a synthesized flute, somewhat similar in timbre to the breathy sound of the

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vertical flute ney used by the Mevlevi order (better known in the West as the “Whirling Dervishes”) in their ritual music, and synthesized violins, whose timbre recalls the large string groups pervasively used in arabesk, as well as sometimes in arrangements of TSM (staves 3 and 4 in Example 1). The serious minor key sound of the two alternating chords – i and VI in A minor – is accentuated by the voicing, with its parallel 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, and octaves, contributing to the ominous, haunting sound of the track.

Example 1: Schematic of parts of the musical track of Nefret’s “Ýstanbul.”

In the way they use samples, Nefret are an exception from the way many Turkish rap groups use recognizable melodic samples from Turkish folk and popular music, sometimes called “oriental samples.”48 Nefret uses such melodic samples from pre-existing recordings much less than other groups, preferring to compose their own original music from scratch. For the songs on the group’s first album, member Dr. Fuchs created some of the backing tracks by composing short melodies that serve as motifs or ostinatos for songs, and realizing them on his home PC using the software Fast Tracker 2.49 He also added rhythm tracks, using samples of various percussion sounds (kick drums,

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toms, snares, high hats, etc.). Nefret also sometimes records other instruments “live” in the studio and adds these sounds to the basic tracks produced on the computer.

The group used the latter technique to add a melodic baðlama part to the song, transcribed on the sixth stave of Example 1. The distinctive timbre of the baðlama itself – the instrument par excellence of Anatolian folk music – plus the modal quality of the melodic fragment played on it suggest the sound of modal Turkish folk music, but the syncopated entry of the melodic fragments and the ostinato-like quality of their repetition are more akin to African-American rhythmic practices.

Mixed high up in the recording and thus prominent in the overall sound of the song, but not transcribed in Example 1, are the scratches, provided by guest DJ Mahmut, that fill out the texture of the song as a whole and take over as scratch solos at various parts of the recording. The scratching is rhythmically complex, at times imitating the rhythms of the rapped text, at times developing other rhythmic motifs. The record used for scratching has what at times sounds like a human voice on it. With the way DJ Mahmut manipulates the record on the turntable, however, no words are recognizable, and instead the open vowel sound of the voice comes through intermittently sounding like a howl of fright or pain, also adding to the moody atmosphere created on the track.

The song is given further rhythmic support by synthesized bass and percussion parts, the latter using kick drum and dampened snare sounds. While this “rhythm section” is similar to the breakbeats of American rap, in this case the bass and drums are mixed very low in the track, and thus do not come across like the speaker-pounding “jeep beats” of some rhythmically more aggressive American rap. This is consistent with Nefret’s usual emphasis on melody and harmony as support for the text in their earlier songs, with rhythmic play – other than that in the scratching provided by guest DJ Mahmut on some tracks – developed more in the vocal parts, particularly those delivered by the rapper Ceza.

Turning to the vocals and the lyrics of the song, Nefret cultivate in this track their particular, recognizable rapping style. The two rappers lengthen the last syllables of many lines, vary the vocal timbre of the held out vowels, and bend the vocal pitch downward on these syllables in ways that suggest anger and disgust – the aural equivalent of the sneers and angry looks on the rappers’ faces in the video clip they made for the song. While all the rapping in the track is done by the two male members of the group, a female voice is also heard in the background during the chorus, melismatically singing the name of the city “Ýstanbul” in a flat, expressionless voice (the bottom staff in Example 1) while the rappers deliver the chorus’ lyrics.

As in most of their songs, Nefret’s two rappers Dr. Fuchs and Ceza share rapping time roughly equally. In this song, Dr. Fuchs raps the first verse solo, they alternate lines during the choruses, Ceza raps the second verse solo, and they alternate lines or rap together during the third verse. But even when one of them is rapping solo, the other often joins in on certain words or syllables, typically at line endings or on particularly important words, a common practice in African-American rap as well. In the fol

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lowing transcription and translation of the lyrics of “Ýstanbul,” I name the solo rapper above his respective lines, underline the words or syllables in which the other rapper joins in briefly, and indicate also in the English translation which words the second rapper joined in on by underlining the corresponding English words.

Nefret – “Ýstanbul”

Lyrics: Nefret (Ceza & Dr. Fuchs); Music: Nefret & Ziya Cezzar.

[Introduction; scratch solo by DJ Mahmut]

Verse 1
[Dr. Fuchs solo, Ceza joins in on underlined syllables]
Gel, gelen gördü Ýstanbul’un çilesini Come, the ones who came saw Istanbul’s    suffering
Çek, çek ki Ýstanbullu olasýnSuffer, suffer for being an Istanbulite
Dolan taºan sokaklar ve binalarThe streets and buildings are overflowing
Hani nerede o altýn topraklar?So where is that golden ground?
Yalan, yalan olan tek ºey rüyaLie, the only lie is the dream
Rüyalarda gelen tek ºey ise paraMoney is the only thing that comes in    dreams
ªu Ýstanbul’un eºsiz Boðazýnda On Istanbul’s incomparable Bosphorus
Ne kadar gizemli esrarengiz bir havaSuch a mystical and mysterious atmosphere
Güneºin batýºýndan ta ki doðuºunaFrom sunset to sunrise
Ýster Asya ister Avrupa’da dolaºYou can wander either in Asia or in Europe
Burasý bizim iºte Türk topraklarýThis place is ours, this is Turkish land
Bak da gör atalarýnýn miraslarýný Look and see your ancestors’ heritage
Ne kadar acýmasýz olsa da bu ºehirIt doesn’t matter how merciless this city is
Senelerdir burada katlandýk bu olanlaraWe have endured for years what goes on    here
Ýstanbul bizimdir bizim kalacakIstanbul is ours and will stay ours
Ýstanbul’u dinliyorum gözlerim kapalýI am listening to Istanbul, my eyes closed

[Dr. Fuchs]
Majesteleri ve ekselanslarý Your majesty and your excellency
Nefret Ýstanbul’un ºahý, Türkçe rapin kralýNefret is the shah of Istanbul and the king    of Turkish rap
[Dr. Fuchs]
Ýstanbul bizimdir bizim kalacakIstanbul is ours and will stay ours
Ýstanbul’u dinliyorum gözlerim kapalýI am listening to Istanbul, my eyes closed

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Verse 2
[Ceza solo, Dr. Fuchs joins in on underlined syllables]
Burada yaºamak zor evet çok zorLiving here is hard, yes really hard
Saf olan adama kor, evet hem de çok korIt screws up the gullible man, yes it really    screws him up
Baºka ºehir görmeden Ýstanbul’u    tanýyorumI am getting to know Istanbul before seeing    another city
Rahatý ve çilesi Ýstanbul’u dinliyorum Its comfort and its suffering, I’m listening    to Istanbul
Gözlerim kapalý, bazen görmek istemiyorMy eyes closed, sometimes they don’t want    to see
Gözlerimden süzülen iki damla yaºTwo teardrops flowing from my eyes
Aynada bana aðlayan Ýstanbul’u    hatýrlatýyorIn the mirror remind me of Istanbul crying
Ve Ýstanbul aðlýyorAnd Istanbul is crying
Mavi Marmaramda o yakadan bu yakaya    geçerkenWhile crossing [the Bosphorus] from one   side to the other on my blue Sea of   Marmara
Buyaka buyaka! ben silah sesi duymak    istememI don’t want to hear the sound bang bang!    of gunshots
Magandanýn elinde Ýstanbul’un çýðlýðý The maganda50 has the scream of Istanbul    in his hand
Arabanýn kornasýThe car horn
Artýk býktým bunlarý duymaktan    görmektenI am bored of hearing and seeing all this
Mavi denize akan o simsiyah pisliktenOf the pitch-black filth flowing into the    blue sea
Yeter artýk yeter! Yeter artýk yeter!Enough is enough! Enough is enough!
Bu pisliði yapan, artýk senYou who’s making this filth
Artýk sen geber!Now it’s your turn to die!


[short scratch solo by DJ Mahmut]

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Verse 3
[Dr. Fuchs]
Ýskeleden uzaklaºan bir gemiA ship pulling away from the dock
Hatýrlatýr bana mazide kalan günlerimiReminds me of the days left in the past
[Dr. Fuchs]
Gördüðüm ºu mavi deniz ufkumu    aydýnlatýrThe blue sea that I see brightens my horizon
Uçup giden bir martý yitirdiklerimiA seagull flying away [reminds me of] the    ones that I’ve lost
Boº sokaklar kimisinin dostu olduThe empty streets are friends for some
Kimisi de buldu ayný sokaklarda sonunuBut some found their end in these same     streets
[Dr. Fuchs]
Sokak çocuklarý kapanmaz yaraStreet children are a wound that never heals
[Dr. Fuchs & Ceza]
Her yer beton oldu her yer karaEvery place has become concrete, everywhere    it’s black
Nerede Sultanahmet, Ortaköy, BeykozWhere are Sultanahmet, Ortaköy, Beykoz
Üsküdar, Emirgan, Çamlýca, HaliçÜsküdar, Emirgan, Çamlýca, Haliç?
Anlatmýº zamanýnda neyi istediðimiHe explained what I wanted in his time
Kapalý gözleriyle Orhan VeliWith his eyes closed, Orhan Veli
[Dr. Fuchs]
Uðruna gemiler yürütüldü karadan For its [Istanbul’s] sake the ships were carried    over the land51
Boºuna mý yatýyor altýnda ºüheda Are Turkey’s martyrs lying under the Earth    in vain?52
Hatýrlamýºsýndýr benim kara topraðýmýYou remember my black earth
[Dr. Fuchs & Ceza]
Ýstanbul’u dinliyorum gözlerim kapalýI am listening to Istanbul, my eyes closed


While a line-by-line analysis of this song would be illuminating, space limitations prevent me from discussing the song in that much detail. A few points deserve mention, however, and will illustrate one of the salient characteristics of Nefret’s rapping – a dense intertextuality, with references to other texts such as Turkish proverbs, popular

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sayings, poetry, the lyrics of other folk and popular songs, etc. Much of the song is pervaded by a vocabulary typical of arabesk song texts, including words such as acýmasýz (“merciless”), çile (“suffering”), yara (“wound”), yalan (“the lie”), zor (“difficult”), aðlamak (“to cry”) and yaºlar (“tears”).53 But besides this more general use of arabesk-like vocabulary, the song is also filled with very specific intertextual references.

Verse one of the song opens by evoking the flood of migrants who have come to Istanbul from rural Anatolia, as discussed above. The line “Hani nerede o altýn topraklar?” is derived from the famous expression “Ýstanbul’un taºý topraðý altýn,” literally “Istanbul’s stones and earth are gold,” more colloquially “The streets of Istanbul are paved with gold.” This expression has often been used since the 1950s to evoke migrants’ perceptions of what they expected to find by leaving their rural villages behind and moving to the city.54 By making the expression into a question, “So where is that golden ground?” Dr. Fuchs makes the statement ironic, pointing out that most migrants find that the ground is not golden after all, and that making a life in the city is hard for the newcomers.

The line which closes verse one and then also becomes the tagline of the chorus, “Ýstanbul’u dinliyorum gözlerim kapalý” (“I am listening to Istanbul, my eyes closed”) is a direct quote of the first line of the famous poem “Ýstanbul’u Dinliyorum” by Turkish poet Orhan Veli Kanýk (1914–1950).55 The poem is a love song for the city, similar to the nostalgic texts of songs in the Türk sanat müziði genre discussed above, describing pleasurable sounds and sensations such as a gentle breeze blowing the leaves off trees, birds flying up and calling, fishing nets being drawn up, and a pretty girl walking by. Many composers have set the poem to music, and recordings of different settings abound, all playing up the poem’s romanticism in its affection for the city. The first line of the poem has thoroughly entered Turkish popular culture, appearing especially in media advertisements, implying that by listening to a particular radio or television station, one is listening to the sound of the city itself. Nefret’s rap ironically re-places this famous line within a very different urban geography from that of the poet Veli, invoking instead the sounds of car horns and gunshots, the stink of raw sewage spewing into the historic strait, and filthy streets filled with homeless children. The rappers acknowledge their debt to the poet, and the contrast between his imagination of the city and theirs, in verse three in the lines “He explained what I wanted in his time / With his eyes closed, Orhan Veli.”

Trading off lines at the beginning of verse three, the two rappers briefly invoke a nostalgic discourse like that of Orhan Veli’s poem and Türk sanat müziði’s evocation of the beauty spots of the city, with the depiction of a ship leaving the dock, the blue sea and a seagull flying up and away. But this brief nostalgic evocation is quickly framed as ironic and displaced by the return to an arabesk-like depiction of the contemporary reality of the city, describing those who found their ruin, or even their death, in the city’s empty streets, homeless street children, and the concrete that has recently covered over

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so much of the city’s former beauty as the city administration has constructed new roadways and parking lots in its bid to globalize the city, as discussed above. In this verse the rappers thus explicitly evoke and juxtapose the different ways TSM and arabesk describe the city.

Besides refering to the city of Istanbul as a whole, the rappers evoke more specific aspects of the geography of the city, mentioning the European and Asian sides, the historic neighborhoods of Sultanahmet, Ortaköy, Beykoz, Üsküdar, Emirgan, Çamlýca and Haliç, and evoking the crossing by ferryboat of the mouth of the Bosphorus, where it empties into the Sea of Marmara. In the chorus of the song, the rappers employ the typical “We’re number 1” type of line often found in Turkish (and American) rap, but phrasing it in a way that again emplaces themselves firmly within the city, referring to themselves not just as the “king of Turkish rap,” but also calling themselves the “shah of Istanbul.”

Verse three ends with one last intertextual reference, in the line “Hatýrlamýºsýndýr benim kara topraðým” (“You remember my black earth”). This refers to the line “Benim sadýk yarim kara topraktýr” (“My real lover is the black earth”) from the famous song “Kara Toprak” (“Black Earth”) by the much beloved Turkish folk poet/minstrel Aºýk Veysel (1894–1973). The line evokes the original folk song’s paean to a literally “earthy” rural life, contrasting it by implication to the alienated life of the modern city, in a way similar to arabesk singer Ferdi Tayfur’s famous line “Come on! Let’s go back to our village” discussed above. Except in Nefret’s vision, the life on the “black earth” is lost in the past, recoverable only through nostalgia – there is no return to it for those in the city.

The video clip for “Ýstanbul,” included as a bonus CD-ROM track on the CD release of Nefret’s first album, further develops the themes discussed above. Space limitations prohibit a shot-by-shot analysis of the clip, but again at least a few points are worth making here. The video evokes an underground feeling through an intentionally low-tech visual style. The clip is shot mostly in black and white; there are some color sequences in which the color contrast is very low, making them also almost appear to be in black and white. Some outdoor scenes are shot with brown or gray filters, giving the sky and landscape a dingy monochromatic look suggesting the effects of pollution. Some of the sequences of Dr. Fuchs and Ceza rapping look like they were filmed by placing a video camera on the floor, tilted up pointing at them, suggesting a do-it-yourself approach to video making in which even having a cameraman is not necessary. Other sequences in the video, however, show a more sophisticated technology, as in the triple split screen effect mentioned below. The video incorporates some of the visual vocabulary of American rap videos, such as running the video images alternately backward and forward with fast direction changes at certain points when scratches are heard on the soundtrack. This technique is common in rap videos, where the backward and forward movement of the images on the screen iconically represents the DJ’s manipula

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tion of the record backward and forward on the turntable to produce the scratches.56 The technique is not just used for its own sake, however, in this video. One scene thus manipulated shows Ceza and Dr. Fuchs walking along the historic Galata Bridge over Golden Horn Bay (Figure 2), a landmark instantly recognizable to those who know Istanbul’s geography. This has the effect of taking the visual vocabulary of American rap videos and reterritorializing it within a specifically Istanbul urban setting. The two rappers are also seen with other famous landmarks of the city in the background, such as the Galata Tower and the Sultanahmet Mosque (better known to tourists as the “Blue Mosque”).

Figure 2: Still from the video clip for Nefret’s “Ýstanbul,” showing Dr. Fuchs and Ceza walking on the Galata Bridge.

In the clip the textual idea of “listening to Istanbul, my eyes closed” discussed above is made literal during the final choruses, as rapper Dr. Fuchs is seen wearing a black blindfold, surrounded by – via a split screen effect – blurry images of urban scenes including fast-moving traffic and fast camera pans across recognizable historic sites such as mosques (Figure 3). The effect of this montage is that he, at the center of all the fast-moving images, is being bombarded and overwhelmed by the city, and his eyes are shut not because he wants them to be so he can listen to the city and contemplate its beauty, but because he has been blindfolded by some unseen hand, hinting at the violence to people’s bodies to be found in the city.

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Figure 3: Still from the video clip for Nefret’s “Ýstanbul,” showing rapper Dr. Fuchs surrounding by Istanbul cityscapes.

Conclusion – the poetics of the glocal

In his discussion of rap and hip-hop outside the U.S., Tony Mitchell has recently argued that rap has become around the world a “tool for reworking local identity.”57 I have tried in this paper to show how this “reworking” of local identity is quite explicit in the case of Turkish rap from Istanbul. In their appropriations of the globalized genre of rap, the rappers of Nefret have thoroughly reterritorialized and indigenized it, embodying in their rap the sounds and discourses of other, indigenous musical genres and creating a hybrid musical expression58 that serves as a vehicle for local imaginations of place.59 This imagination of place is accomplished not just through the discourses surrounding Turkish rap,60 but also through the words and sounds of rap songs themselves. The thick intertextuality of Nefret’s raps with the texts of Turkish popular culture, for example, emplaces their rap within a specifically Turkish space. By explicitly invoking Orhan Veli’s poem and the characteristic discourses of Türk sanat müziði and arabesk, the rappers of Nefret also acknowledge the connection their song has to the long lineage of popular poems and songs about Istanbul. They draw all these sources together in, and emplace themselves within, their own musical imagination of the urban landscape of the city. Attention to the poetics of their rap can thus provide us with some insight into how rappers can use the texts and sounds of rap to imagine their localities and emplace themselves within these imagined places.

It is perhaps ironic that Istanbul rappers like Nefret comment on and critique what globalization has wrought in Istanbul by appropriating, indigenizing, and locally re-emplacing the globalized musical genre of rap. The case study discussed here could easily be used

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to construct a narrative about how local rappers appropriate global commercial popular culture forms to talk back to and resist globalization. I think, however, that the dynamic here is somewhat more complex than that easy narrative. I would suggest instead that, rather than simply being “resistant” in some essentialist way, Nefret’s rap, and other Istanbul raps like it, embody and embrace the tensions between the “two Istanbuls” – the city of the globalized cosmopolitan and the city of the rural migrant and working urban poor. Both of the “two Istanbuls” result from processes of globalization, and, as Göle argues, despite differences in consumption patterns based on class, ethnicity, and religious orientation, share a common contemporary urban culture based on synthesizing local tradition with modern global culture.61 Just as both the presence and the absence from downtown Istanbul of my pirate CD-selling friend were conditioned by global processes, so both the presence of so much concrete in Istanbul – newly poured since the 1980s to make the motorways and garages that would make the city more “globalization friendly” – and Nefret’s familiarity with and use of the rap idiom to critique that concrete and the alienation it has lead to, are conditioned by the accelerated insertion of Istanbul into the circuits of global flows of culture and capital. Nefret’s very familiarity with the rap idiom was made possible by the (re-)opening up of the Turkish mass media to American popular culture begun with media deregulation in the 1990s. Even the influence of Turkish rappers from Germany, who first introduced Turkish-language rap to audiences in Turkey in the mid-1990s, is not a simple, direct Germany-to-Turkey flow. The much-discussed introduction of German-Turkish rap to Turkey by the group Cartel 62 was made possible by and mediated through global processes – significantly, the partnership between the local Turkish record company Raks and the multinational PolyGram, a partnership made possible by deregulation of the Turkish media and harmonization of Turkish copyright law with that of Europe and America.63

As the alaturka globalizes itself in the crucible of Istanbul,64 Turkish rappers in the city explore ways of drawing on and synthesizing the global and the vernacular in order to re-imagine the urban landscape, and in the process imagine their own local identities in the globalizing city. I have tried in this paper to explore how both the object of their scrutiny – the landscape of their home city – and the vehicle for their expression – Turkish-language rap music – are implicated in both local and global processes in multiple, complex ways. Listening to Istanbul, they hear the local pulse of the globalizing city, and in their rap we can hear the complex, interpenetrating counterpoint of the local and the global – the poetics of the glocal.

Copyright acknowledgement

Lyrics and musical transcription of the song “Ýstanbul” by Nefret, and stills from the song’s videoclip © 2000 Hammer Müzik. Used by permission.


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[All items are CD/cassette releases unless otherwise noted.]

Ersoy, Bülent. “Aziz Ýstanbul,” Alaturka 1995, S Müzik Yapm (1995)

Gürses, Müslüm. “Bu ªehirde Yaºanmaz,” Müzik Ziyafeti, Akdeniz Plak (1988, cassette)

Kurtoðlu, Cengiz. “Bu ªehirden Gidiyorum,” Hain Geceler, Sindoma Müzik (1998)

Nefret. “Ýstanbul,” Meclis-i Ala – Ýstanbul, Hammer Müzik/Hipnetic Records HPNCD001 (2000)

__________. “Vatan,” Self-distributed CD single (1998)

Selçuk, Münir Nurettin. “Aziz Ýstanbul,” Aziz Ýstanbul, Cokun Plak (1988, cassette; re-issue of recording from 1948 originally released on 78 rpm record)

Tayfur, Ferdi. “Bu ªehir,” Zengim Olsam, Ferdifon (1999)

__________. “Bu ªehrin Geceleri,” Allahým Sen Bilirsin, Ferdifon (1989)

__________. “Fadime’nin Düðünü,” Mor Güller, Ferdifon (1994)

[Various Artists.] Yeraltý Operasyonu, Kod Müzik KOD 006 (1999)

1Bennett 2000; Stokes 1994a; Whiteley, Bennett and Hawkins 2004.
2Feld 2000; Lipsitz 1994; Mitchell 1996; Negus 1996, chapter 6; Stokes 2003a, 2004; Taylor 1997.
3Bilby 1999, cf. Appadurai 1996.
4Bennett 1999.
5Mitchell 2001a, 2004; cf. Robertson 1995.
6Bennett 2000:54, cf. Lull 1995:159–164.
7Barber and Waterman 1995, Slobin 1993:90.
8Mitchell 2001a:11–12, 2004:108,110.
9Forman 2000.
10Krims 2002:191.
11Forman 2002.
12Mitchell 2001b.
13Both of these books contain examples of rap song texts, though mostly only short excerpts from longer songs. My point is not that they ignore song texts, but that they only use portions of texts anecdotally, rather than looking in detail at aspects of textual poetics such as rhetorical structure and intertextuality. On the other hand, neither book contains musical transcriptions or detailed discussions of the musical tracks of rap songs.
14Baker 1998; Gaunt 1995; Keyes 1996, 2002, chapter 5; Rose 1994; Walser 1995.
15Krims 2000.
16I should note that in this paper I am only considering Turkish rap made by rappers living and working in Turkey; generalizations made here do not necessarily apply to the larger field of Turkish-language rap, including the large number of rappers living and rapping in Germany, Holland, the United States, and other countries. There is a small but fairly well-developed literature on German-Turkish rap and hip-hop, much of it focusing on the group Cartel (Çýnar 1999, Diessel 2001, Elflein 1998, Kaya 2001, Robins and Morley 1996). I discuss some of the relationships between Turkish rap made-in-Turkey with Turkish rap from other countries in Solomon (2005).
17Sancar 2003.
18Stokes 1996, 1997.
19Stokes 1996.
20Discussed by Stokes (1997, 2000).
21Stokes 1992.
22Stokes 1994b:31.
23Stokes 1999:135.
24Güngör 1990; Stokes 1992, 1994b; Ellingsen 1997; Özbek 1997.
25Sönmez 1996b:45.
26Güngör 1990:82–92; Stokes 1992, Özbek 1997.
27Aksoy and Robins 1994; Keyder 1993, 1999:16–17.
28Aksoy and Robins 1994:58.
31Keyder 1999:20–21.
33Aksoy and Robins 1997; ªahin and Aksoy 1993.
34Stokes 1999, 2003a.
35BMG eventually closed its Istanbul offices in 2001 and established instead a licensing agreement with local independent DMC (Doðan Music Company).
36Kýrca 1993:45.
37Robins and Aksoy 1995.
38Keyder 1993.
39Göle 1993:22.
40Robins and Aksoy 1995.
41Göle 1993.
42Duthuit, quoted in Aksoy and Robins 1994:69.
43Keyder and Öncü 1994:418.
44Keyder 1999; Sönmez 1996a:102,107.
45Göle 1993:23.
46IFPI 2004:15.
47Keyder and Öncü 1994:412.
48Cf. Diessel 2001.
49Dr. Fuchs, personal communication 25 May 2001.
50The maganda is a stereotyped offensive male who is uncouth in every possible way: loudly clearing his throat and spitting on the ground, belching and picking his nose in public, staring obviously at every pretty girl who walks by, and constantly fiddling with his tespih (prayer beads). The character is also sometimes associated with a class of nouveau riche – rural migrants from eastern Turkey who have become wealthy, and conspicuously consume commodities that show off their wealth (wearing gold chains and driving BMWs), but still otherwise show in their behavior their “uncultured” (i.e., rural) world view. For a discussion of the maganda figure in Turkish popular culture see Öncü (1999, 2002).
51This line refers to a historical event during the Ottoman Turkish conquest of the city from the Byzantines in 1453. The Byzantines had blocked the Ottoman naval fleet by stretching a chain across the entrance to Golden Horn Bay, but the Ottoman sultan Mehmet the Conqueror thwarted this by having his ships carried over a narrow strip of land into the bay on the other side of chain, and was thus able to breach the Byzantines’ defenses.
52ªüheda, here translated “martyrs,” more specifically means “people who died while defending the Turkish state.”
53Cf. the content analysis of arabesk song texts in Özbek (1991:346–350) and Stokes (1992, chapter 5).
54Cf. Özbek 1997:214.
55An English translation of this poem by Larry Clark, under the title “I Listen to Istanbul,” can be found in Silay (1996:465).
56Cf. the discussion by Goodwin (1992:63).
57Mitchell 2001a:1–2.
58I don’t mean to imply here that arabesk and TSM are in some way essentially “pure” genres incorporated into a hybrid Turkish rap. The hybrid nature of arabesk itself has been analyzed by Stokes (1992) and Özbek (1997). Though it may be less obvious, I would argue that in many aspects of its contemporary performance practices, TSM has also become a hybrid genre, as evidenced by the way TSM performance has been modernized and westernized by performers like Münir Nurettin Selçuk (Stokes 1999), and the number of performers who have moved back and forth between the arabesk and TSM genres, such as Zeki Müren and Bülent Ersoy (Stokes 1992, 1996, 1997, 2003b).
59I should also note that indigenizing a globally circulating musical genre and using it to imagine locality in Turkey did not begin with rap music. Martin Stokes (1999:131) notes that one of the first composers of Turkish tangos during the tango craze that emerged in Turkey in the 1920s, Necip Celal Andel (1908–1957), composed many tangos to Turkish lyrics that celebrated Istanbul’s beauty spots. Similar arguments could also be made about Turkish rock from the 1960s.
60As discussed in Solomon (2005).
61Göle 1993:23.
62See references in note 16 above.
63Stokes 1999, 2003a.
64Göle 1993:23.
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