Ezhel: How to Rap the Turkish Reality
Same as in every December, we have received our report cards from Spotify to see our most listened to artists, songs, genres, and podcasts. Many Turks, including myself, had something in common in our data; our most listened to artists. Ezhel, otherwise known as Sercan Ipekcioglu, is currently the most popular rapper in Turkey. Born and raised in Ankara, the rapper increased his popularity by releasing tracks with fellow rappers. His most popular collaborations have been with the Dutch-Turkish rapper Murda and German-Turkish rapper Ufo361. Since 2018, he is the most-listened to artist on Spotify. However, his rise to fame has not always been this smooth and glorious.
On 24 May 2018 he was arrested due to the music he was releasing, specifically because he sings about weed and describes the feeling of getting high. The Turkish Court of Justice found that his songs “promoted and eased the usage of marijuana” and was sentenced to 1 year and 8 months of prison, which was further postponed 5 years. Especially for us living in the Netherlands this seems ridiculous. Honestly, from a Turkish perspective, this was, again, kind of shocking. Being one of his fans, I personally never felt the need to smoke weed because of him, and considering that I live in Maastricht, it would be really easy for me to do so. However, as a Turkish person, I also know that this was not the first censored artist or public figure in history, especially in Turkish history. Many actors cannot perform, news broadcasters cannot work, and journalists cannot write due to the pressure and censorship coming from the government.
After this incident, the rapper moved to Berlin so that he could sing, uncensored. The song I focus on today, “Olay” (Incident), talks about the busy news schedule of Turkey, and also the world in general. The song suggests that we have new incidents every day, which is extremely true in Turkey, and that we live in constant paranoia, not feeling safe. However, the sensational part of this song was not its lyrics, but its official video. The music video is not reachable for children under the age of 18. This was bizarre to me, and many other viewers alike, since the whole video consists of small video clips from Turkish news, previously aired on TV. We have been watching these horrible news stories, consisting of endless “incidents” where innocent people were killed, raped, harassed, or even faced with police brutality, since we were born. However, Youtube thought it was not appropriate for children to see it. I thought it was quite hypocritical since this was the news I had been watching since I remember myself. What got me emotional, in between all the horrible news clips, was just a simple black background, with red names on it. Women’s names. More specifically, the names of women killed by domestic violence. If you are living the Turkish reality, you do not need an explanation, you know who they are. After the long list of names, he simply wrote the ever rising number of women killed each year in Turkey due to domestic violence. 288 in 2014, 293 in 2015, 284 in 2016, 348 in 2017, 396 in 2018, and 284 in 2019 until the 6th of September (It was 474 in total). Finished by a simple sentence “We do not want to die”.
The irony, he highlighted in his song and in the video, was that most of the men who committed these crimes were not imprisoned. But he was sentenced to prison for 1 year and 8 months, because he rapped about weed. Between all of these “incidents”, does it make sense that his arrest got so much attention and media coverage? Shouldn’t we talk about “real crimes” on TV, and not about a simple rap song? If you do not like it, then do not listen to it. If you think that your kids can get affected by lyrics about weed, maybe check on your children instead of limiting an artist’s self-expression? Or better yet, talk to them about it. Plus, if we live in a country, a world, full of incidents as such, isn’t a rap song the least of our worries? At least this is what I believe. In his song, he also highlights why all these incidents were created by a simple lyric which translates to “Actually the whole thing is Euro, Lira, and Dollar”. He suggests that all the propaganda and extremely mediatic news, such as his arrest, were created so that the politicians could do whatever they want to do, whilst their citizens are busy following the hectic news agenda, unaware of what is actually happening.
After this political song, he was called a terrorist by certain conservative media outlets (To clarify, in Turkey if you criticize the government in any shape or form it is very likely that you will be declared a terrorist). He answered these horrible allegations via his Instagram story that he has no relations with any terrorist groups, he has been affected by these terrorist attacks both in his village and in Ankara, that he loves his country, does everything to represent his culture, and he hopes to see a joyful Turkey one day. I guess this was not enough for him, since in his latest solo song, he expressed himself much better on all of the aforementioned allegations and issues. In his song ‘Allahindan Bul’, he raps “Look I'm out and free, but the minds are imprisoned/ Can't care about y'all, I light cannabis/ My weapon is music so I ain't no terrorist”. This simple verse touches upon all of his biggest issues with self-expression, and even though he is not physically imprisoned, as Turks, we all feel terrified to speak up, that him singing about cannabis shouldn’t be an issue, and that you simply cannot call someone a terrorist when they do not agree with their government.
Besides his great quality beats and fun lyrics, the reason why Ezhel was the most listened to artist on Turkish Spotify is that he speaks for us. He is unapologetic and when we feel frustrated, clueless or scared to express ourselves, he is the one speaking up and facing the consequences. He reminds us that we are as free as we believe we are, and that having fun is for everyone regardless of age and gender. He is not only listened to by the youth. From my 13 year-old brother to my 53 year-old father, everyone enjoys his music. There are comments under his Youtube videos, thanking him for making a 40 something housewife love rap music. It is not easy to reach such a demographic with rap music, and Ezhel simply achieves it because he sings his truth but at the same time ours too, unapologetically.