LONDON — Back when he was a teenager, German rapper Cem Toraman, known to his fans as Summer Cem, started out making music by taking the lyrics of other local hip-hop acts, spitting them over his own beats, and passing them off as his own. “I soon realized that wasn’t cool,” laughs the 36-year-old, who now ranks among the country’s leading hip-hop stars.
Born and raised in the city of Mönchengladbach, the son of Turkish immigrants, Toraman started out performing in local rap crews before releasing his first album, Feierabend, in 2010. Since then, his career has taken off with his last two solo albums and 2017’s joint LP with fellow German rapper KC Rebell all hitting number one in Germany. He’s also topped both the album and single charts in Switzerland and Austria and has had six top-10 singles in his home country.
Summer Cem is part of a wave of German rappers that includes Bausa, Samra and Capital Bra, who are burning up their country’s charts as local-language hip-hop becomes a force in Europe and other parts of the world.
On Spotify alone, Summer Cem songs have been streamed more than 570 million times, according to his label, Banger Musik, a Düsseldorf-based indie imprint founded by rapper Farid Bang, distributed by Warner Music Germany.
“Hip-hop is dominating the German market now,” Toraman says. “Before it was like black metal, really niche underground music. Now it’s mainstream.”
The rapper says his songs connect with young audiences because they present an aspirational image of the gangsta rap lifestyle.
“It’s about guns, sex, violence — the good life,” he jokes. “I’m not giving any political messages. Maybe you get them, but not directly. I’m not a preacher. I’m just rapping about my lifestyle.”
One of his biggest tracks is “Taman Taman,” a dark and moody trap song that reflects the artist’s roots by using Turkish words in its catchy title hook. Since its release last year, the video for “Taman Taman,” roughly translated as “Okay, Okay” has 190 million views, making it the most-viewed video by a German rapper of all time, according to Warner Chappell, Toraman’s publisher.
Other hits include “Casanova,” a collaboration with fellow countryman Bausa, and “Chinchilla,” featuring KC Rebell and Capital Bra, which has had more than 27 million views on YouTube. While successful in German at home, he says he would welcome the chance to collaborate with U.S. and international hip-hop artists.
“Streaming makes it easier for artists to collaborate because we’re sharing the same market. It’s not a small [scene] anymore for German rappers. We don’t have to hide before other countries.”
He identifies Ghanaian-German rapper Serious Klein as one of the most exciting new acts breaking through. As for Toraman, he releases his seventh solo studio set, NNN, on Banger Musik Nov. 8, featuring guest spots from KC Rebell, Farid Bang, Luciano and Capital Bra, and produced by in-demand German production team Miksu & Macloud. Live dates will follow in 2020.
One thing that you won’t see him doing, however, is swapping his mother tongue for English (a language he speaks relatively well) to appeal to a bigger international audience.
“The public would see through it,” he says. “You wouldn’t buy a Rolex made in Thailand over one made in Switzerland. You would always buy the Rolex made in Switzerland, because you know it’s an original.”