Rap and Rechtschreibung: Five times rappers nailed German grammar
On the 20th anniversary of the Rechtschreibreform, controversial German rapper and philologist Lady Bitch Ray has launched a passionate defence of correct German. But she is not the only hip-hop artist who can teach us a thing or two about German grammar.
The Rechtschreibreform, the last major update to the official rules and regulations of the German language, is 20 years old today, having come into force on the 1st August 1998.
For philologist Dr. Reyhan Sahin, otherwise known as the unapologetically pornographic rap artist Lady Bitch Ray, this is a cause for celebration. The linguistic expert has admitted that, when it comes to grammar, she does not suffer fools lightly.
“What I really don’t like are people who don’t make an effort when it comes to spelling and gender in their lyrics,” the 38-year-old told RND this week. “E-mails, too, are now more like letters to me, and should be written correctly.”
Judging by her lyrics, there are quite a lot of things that Lady Bitch Ray really doesn’t like, but more on that later.
For now, her admirable plea for more grammatical accuracy has inspired us, and so in our own tribute to both rap and the Rechtschreibreform, we thought we’d dig out five occasions on which German hip-hop really nailed it grammatically.
Marteria - Neue Nikes, 2010
"Ich hab dem Teufel meine Seele verkauft/Gegen ein paar neue Nikes eingetauscht"
Marteria may have leaned somewhat heavily on a certain Mr S. Dogg when it comes to the beat on “Neue Nikes”, but what he lacks in originality, he makes up for in spades with grammatical accuracy. “I (nominative) sold my soul (accusative) to the devil (dative)” is his powerful and literate opening gambit in what is actually quite a funny ditty about consumer culture.
Käpt’n Peng - Sie mögen sich, 2014
"Er mag sie und sie mag ihn/Sie mag ihn und er mag sie/Er mag sie und sie mag ihn/Sie mögen sich."
Käpt’n Peng’s tragicomic ballad traces the story of a couple who decided to transform themselves into foxes (and what happened thereafter). The chorus is not only a delightfully irritating earworm. In its simplicity, it’s also a good exercise in working out how pronouns differ between the accusative and nominative cases.
Seeed - Dickes B, 2001
“Coolnessmäßig platzt die Stadt aus allen Nähten/aber wo sind jetzt die Typen, die auch ernsthaft antreten”
Strictly speaking, Seeed are more reggae than rap, but Peter Fox knows how to rhyme at speed, and in Berlinerisch to boot. In the band’s classic ode to “Mama Berlin”, Fox expertly demonstrates the genius of the suffix “-mäßig”. Stick it on the end of any noun, and save yourself the trouble of more cumbersome phrases meaning “with regards to”. After all, “Was Coolness angeht” or “Mit Bezug auf das Coolness” ” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Prinz Pi - Kompass ohne Norden, 2013
“Die Ersten sind gescheitert, die Ersten was geworden/Die Ersten wurden Eltern, die Ersten sind gestorben/Bob Dylan gab mir einst einen Kompass ohne Norden”
Prinz Pi’s 2013 song “Kompass ohne Norden” is a pretty straightforward ode to the passing of time, full of bittersweet, nostalgia-drenched pathos. From a grammatical point of view, its refrain teaches us the useful lesson that you can hang two different past participles, even if they are in separate clauses, to the same auxiliary verb. Because both “werden” and “scheitern” take “sein” in the perfect tense, the artist formerly known as “Prinz Porno” doesn’t need to use the word “sind” twice in that first line.
Lady Bitch Ray - Ich hasse dich, 2006
“Sarah Connor, du Kaugummi kauende Schl**pe”
To finish things off, a real zinger from Lady Bitch Ray herself. Linguist or otherwise, Ms Sahin’s lyrics are not known for their poetry so much as for their aggressive vulgarity. The above is the opening line of her 2006 song “Ich hasse dich” (I hate you), and while it is undoubtedly an unkind appraisal of poor old Sarah Connor, it is also a fine example of the German tendency to seamlessly create phrasal adjectives using present participles.