Rapper Ceza takes stand against war, abuse of women in new album
Rap music has enjoyed a steadily growing level of popularity in Turkey in recent years. These days you can hear the rhythm of rap on the street, in the background of television series, in movies and on many musicians’ albums. And when the spotlight moves to rap in Turkey, one of the first names to come to mind is Ceza.
This artist, who has signed off on many hit singles, duets and albums, has been out of the public eye and living in Germany during the past year. But recently, Ceza has returned to Turkey, this time with what looks set to be a new extremely popular album.
Ceza’s new duet album, on which he col-laborated with the German-based Turkish rapper Killa Hakan, is called “Bomba Plak” (The Hit Record). The duets on this album refer in their lyrics to many remarkable subjects, from war to racism, from relations based on personal interest to corruption, and even to the abuse of women. And despite the fact that rap music’s roots are in the US, even American rappers are getting their fair share of criticism in this album.
Sunday’s Zaman had a chance to speak to Ceza and Hakan about “Bomba Plak.” During the interview, both seemed pleased with the point that rap music has reached in its Turkish journey thus far; moreover, both are sure that rap will achieve the place it deserves in Turkey sometime in the future. The two artists both assert also that the criticism of this style of music is not fair. They insist that people should be interested not in the way the people who listen to or make this music look, but instead with the messages and the words relayed by the music. The duo saves harsh words for the recent Israeli attacks on Palestine, as well as Kurdish-Turkish and Alevi-Sunni tensions. Both underline that, in essence, their words aim to bring about a world filled with peace.
Where did the idea of making a joint album spring from? How did you wind up working together?
Killa Hakan: We have known each other for a long time now. And we had always been looking for ways to make an album like this. When we went to the same concerts, we would always tell each other, “God willing, one day we will be able to work toget-her.” And with these thoughts fresh in our minds, Ceza came to Berlin to hold a workshop on rap music. There were Turkish youth as well as youth from many European countries at this workshop. So as the workshop was under way, we also started to work on this album. And the outcome is “Bomba Plak,” which has both a Turkish and a European version.
What is the difference between the European and the Turkish versions?
K.H.: The Turkish version has only songs with Turkish lyrics on it. On the European version, there are some well-known German rap songs. With this album, we wanted to show that we were well-known artists in Europe also. What’s more, we worked with some well-known European rap stars on this album.
Actually, language differences aren’t so important in music. Rap music is a kind of music where words are sung very quickly. Could we in fact say that there isn’t really a language barrier in rap?
Ceza: Well, for years we also listened to foreign music. I don’t understand German rap, but when I listen to it, it really does affect me. For example, when I gave a concert in Spain, people who didn’t know any Turkish at all came to listen to me. Of course, actually knowing the language of the music being sung gives more pleasure, but what is necessary first and foremost is for that music to have an influence on its listeners. Listeners who are affected by the music and by the performer later get curious about what the words mean, and then we explain. I gave a concert in the US. When there is a demand for you and your music from foreigners, then it is clear that problems stemming from differences in language have been eliminated. But of course, when you know what the songs are saying, it’s definitely more pleasurable.
On “Bomba Plak,” you criticize the rap culture in America, the birthplace of rap music, and you also criticize the abuse of women in rap songs.
K.H.: We have respect for everyone’s cultures. Since we do rap in our own language and according to our own values, we do criticize those things which we don’t think are right.
Ceza: For example, the rapper 50 Cent might have partially nude women starring in his videos. And rappers in America might label themselves as “pimps” in their songs. We can’t say such things, and we don’t say such things anyway. I also criticized the exploitation of women in that kind of rap music in the clip for my song “Yerli Plaka” (Domestic License Plate). Rap music is not all about the ac-cumulation of wealth, women and luxurious cars. To the contrary, the music we do is a music which is harshly critical of some of the mistakes being made in society and in the world. In the first video we shot for our new album, we stressed that we did not own everything there was to own, and that we too come from the streets and from the people of the nation. We don’t want people who listen to rap to compare us to those other rap stars. The roots of rap music may lie in the US, but everyone exists with their own values.
Some people criticize rap artists for the bad examples they are setting for youth in terms of clothing. What do you think of this?
Ceza: Youth want to show themselves off one way or the other — through sports, the success they achieve, or through clothing styles. For example, on the streets, people who listen to punk music dress and look a certain way, while heavy metal and rock fans are always clear from their longer hair and black clothing. And so youth that listen to rap have a certain style of their own, with which they are saying “this is who I am.” We might not dress exactly like American rappers, but we do have our own style and who we are is clear. I think it’s better not to focus too much on this though. Let people listen to our words and our messages. We have respect for people who criticize us, but we don’t accept the criticism that somehow if you dress like a rapper, you have become American. Of course, in some countries our fellow rappers really go all out, with earrings and uniquely colored and shaped hair. What we are looking for is something that works with our society. As it is though, it’s not up to us to train our youth to be respectful. It is really what comes from people’s families that is important on this front. That said, I don’t think we have ever set a bad example. As I have always said, rather than fighting, solve your problems through speaking, don’t distinguish people according to what they wear, their ethnic roots, or the music they listen to. Read books and carry on your education as far as you can. These are our most important messages.
There are many sharp words and much criticism in this album. What’s the reason behind this?
K.H.: The lyrics on this album are based on what we have experienced. Since we were col-laborating for the first time in a duet album, we wanted to express ourselves as clearly and openly as possible. Hip-hop can be harsh at times, but what’s important is to know your limits, to know how to express yourself, what it is you want to say and to make sure the listener gets it.
Ceza: There are some strong lyrics on this album, but all in the appropriate places. In daily life, people do use swear words, but when they hear other swearing in other places they act surprised. Anyway, we didn’t swear on this album. We actually had the swear parts bleeped out so that it wouldn’t stand as a bad example. But of course there are places where the words are very tough, but since there is a certain level of protest being expressed, this is quite necessary. To say something indirectly and find the correct words for it, to arrange these sentences, is an art.
So, could we say that rap music is living out a golden age of sorts in Turkey?
Ceza: No, I don’t think so, not yet. But good days for rap will come.
K.H: Rap music has got a great heartbeat here. People have warmed to it, and they have begun to understand what it’s all really about. It would be even better if the media and television would support us.
Doesn’t the growing popularity of rap make you afraid that as music, it will degenerate in terms of quality in the future?
Ceza: Definitely not. All sorts of music are popular across the world these days. Of course, some people make music in order to become popular, while others make good music and then become popular. That’s what we do. We make our music, and it gets popular because people like it. If you make good music, people hear you, they discover you, they listen to you, Hip-hop and rap are that kind of music; as people began to realize how good they are these genres have started to gain more popularity in Turkey. There are lots of pop music artists now who want to do rap duets, or who use hip-hop material on their own albums. It is definitely not bad that it is becoming more popular.
A “rap star” competition has started up, and Ceza is on the jury panel. Do you think a real star in rap might emerge from this show?
Ceza: They spent a year and a half asking me if I would be on this program. I didn’t think at first that this program would influence many people. But thinking about it reasonably, I thought to myself “why not?” I get lots of e-mails from Anatolia, and young people do want to see rap-related topics on television. They want to see programs about how rap is done, and hear criticism about it. The program has only just started. As far as I was concerned, there were lots of mistakes made in the beginning, but we can straighten them out as time goes by. Actually, if we hadn’t been at the helm of this project, there could have been some really bad results. At this point, the things that are being done are being done because of the producers, the directors and some third-party influences. But in the next weeks, we hope to be showing some better things in relation to rap music. This is something which will herald the entrance of rap music into Turkey. I definitely think it will be helpful. For us, it’s a very unique sense of excitement. If this program is to continue, it will be as we want it. I do believe that a rap star might emerge from this program.
Lately, people from every section of society have been listening to rap music. How do you think this has happened?
Ceza: I was born and raised in this society. I grew up in Üsküdar. Many of our neighbors were Greek and Armenian. But there were never any problems between us on the question of religion. This is just how we grew up, not hearing anything about the differences between Alevis and Sunnis, or between believers and nonbelievers. We have carried out our friendship on this basis, and we try to relay this message in our music. I observe people and note that those who think differently are often treated like “the other.” We need to eliminate this though. In our music, we talk about the problems that face all youth that breathe this same air, and everyone can find something that fits with their lives in our music. I use neither religion nor ideology as tools in my music — which is why there is somet-hing for everyone in this music. People should not drift away from each other because of their personal beliefs. And so I think that “Bomba Plak” is a great answer to those who don’t think this way. The partnership here between me and Hakan is a great exam-ple. Anyway, people have to account for their actions on the other side. No one has the right to make others account for themselves in this world.
K.H.: There is nothing to do except to simply laugh when hearing these kinds of debates. We don’t talk about these kinds of differences. It doesn’t matter what religion or color someone is. Who does it concern what someone believes? For us, at the center of the question is the person. We are working to make a better world.
You have issued criticism about the latest situation with the Palestinians. You spare sharp words for war on this album. Can we learn your feelings on this topic?
Ceza: We talk on this subject in every album, every chance we get. There are always songs criticizing and condemning war on our albums. We are following the situation with the Palestinians closely. In the end though, we only see whatever we can from the newspapers and televisions. We know that the truth is actually more painful. People have been through terrible things there. The people who have done these things are people who have learnt no lessons from history. Something must be done to warn them and stop them. Neither the UN nor the US had enough power to do this. I know our power is insufficient, but at least we can let young people know what is happening. They need to raise their voices when there are people being mistreated. We are musicians with a sense of responsibility, so we talk to our listeners. We don’t want our listeners to simply be listening to happy songs. They need to know about the situation with the Palestinians, and they need to react. The song “Paydos” on this album is all about this. Israel has acted disgracefully toward the people of Palestine, and I criticize this.
K.H.: Yes, there is something terrible going on there, and as artists, it falls to us to tell people about this, and so we do. It is mostly our res-ponsibility to make people aware; to point a finger and show where injustice is occurring. This is our duty as humans.