Hip hop dominates Turkey’s music scene in 2020 and threatens the state’s cultural dominance

Half of the top 10 most streamed artists in Turkey on Spotify in 2020 were rappers. The list included artists Ezhel, Sagopa Kajmer, Patron, Murda and Gazapizm.

As well as the continued domination of Turkey’s music scene by hip hop, the Turkish market is also largely dominated by homegrown artists. Korean pop superstars BTS were the only non-Turkish group to make the top 10 most listened to music groups list, and Dance Monkey by Tones And I was the only non-Turkish song to make the top 10 most streamed songs list in Turkey.

Underscoring his continued dominance of Turkey’s hip hop scene, three albums by or featuring Ezhel were among the top 10 most streamed albums in Turkey this year. On Apple Music’s chart, Ezhel featured in 4 of the top 10 songs of the year.

Turkish rap and hip hop has gone from a mostly underground musical culture to dominating Turkey’s mainstream charts within the past 10 years. In making this shift, rap has jumped across traditional social boundaries, from being a working class culture to being consumed and made for the middle and upper class.

A 2019 Mangal Media article on the ‘gentrification of Turkish rap’ noted that “As with the arabesk tradition of the 80s, Turkish rap is derided by the Turkish upper classes for allegedly being of “poor quality”. Rap’s rageful lyrical discussion of money (or lack thereof), family issues and social misfitting contain swearing and misogynist lyrics. These factors are behind the upper-class contempt towards rap music. This is also a key element in understanding Turkish Rap’s close relation to arabesk and hence the sub-genre arabesk-rap.”

Author Pinar Üzeltüzenci noted about the success of Ezhel’s 2017 debut album that, “Turkish rap’s class-transcending success may be due to the fact that it speaks closely to young communities who are considered second class citizens.”

There is a huge generational-cultural divide in Turkey now, and the growth of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music has happened just as that generational divide is becoming more clearly defined. Another factor in the growth in streaming services is that they are one of the last broadcast channels not directly or indirectly controlled by the Turkish state, although this may be changing as internet broadcasters have also been forced to apply for broadcasting licenses over the past year.

Heinz Ickstatd, writing in 1999 about the development of hip hop culture among Germany’s Turkish immigrant community, said that “In appropriating American hip hop, young Turkish-German rappers make use especially of black cultural assertions of protest and ethnic difference to express their own cultural state of ‘in-betweenness’”. The appropriation of these forms by Turkey’s youth in the past few years is an extension of this trend.

One producer, label owner and artist manager I spoke to told me that "the popularity of hip hop in Turkey definitely demonstrates a generational difference but not only between young people and their parents but with their teachers (how to behave) bosses (how to dress up) etc. The language of hip hop is a direct tool for Turkish youth to find themselves a community to feel they belong to. It’s an alternative way to express that you do not totally accept longstanding traditional pieces that define being a “proper Turkish citizen””.

 These trends will probably see music becoming an increasing site of cultural conflict in 2021 in Turkey. There are a number of Turkish rappers who may release significant albums with political lyrics which strongly criticise the Turkish state. A repressive response by Turkey’s police to musical criticism is just the kind of oppressive overreach which could see Turkey’s youth galvanise to resist state power, as they did at Gezi Park in 2013.

The Turkish government may also pick fights with internet streaming services who host songs with lyrics they don’t like. They may well start asking internet broadcasters to censor or block particular songs they take offence at. 

Ezhel’s dominance of Turkey’s music scene is also a reminder of the country’s ongoing brain drain, with over 330,000 people having left Turkey in 2019 alone. Ezhel is possibly among the most annoying of these Turkish exiles, who no longer reside in Turkey due to being targeted by the state, because his voice continues to be so influential in Turkey. Turkey’s AKP government must wish its propaganda had the reach and influence among Turkey’s youth that Ezhel’s lyrics do.

According to Statista, the market for music streaming in Turkey has almost doubled since 2017, and is projected to increase from $109 million in 2020 to $170 million by 2025.

Away from the government controlled mainstream Turkish media, younger generations are finding new languages and modes of expression to create a culture which is not defined by the conservative wishes of the state. President Erdogan has long harboured a desire to create a ‘pious generation’ of young Turkish citizens. Turkey’s hip hop stars are here to remind the state that culture is something created from the bottom up, not imposed from the top.


Spotify's top music of 2020

Turkey’s most listened to artists:

  1. Ezhel
  2. Sezen Aksu
  3. Murda
  4. Sagopa Kajmer
  5. Patron
  6. Yüzyüzeyken Konuşuruz
  7. Zeynep Bastık
  8. Emir Can İğrek
  9. Gazapizm
  10. Dolu Kadehi Ters Tut

Turkey’s most listened to female artists:

  1. Sezen Aksu
  2. Zeynep Bastık
  3. Billie Eilish
  4. Sertab Erener
  5. Sena Şener
  6. Göksel
  7. Tuğçe Kandemir
  8. Dua Lipa
  9. Sıla
  10. Lana Del Rey

Turkey’s most listened to music groups:

  1. Yüzyüzeyken Konuşuruz
  2. Dolu Kadehi Ters Tut
  3. Duman
  4. Pinhani
  5. Adamlar
  6. Mor ve ötesi
  7. maNga
  8. Perdenin Ardındakiler
  9. İkiye On Kala
  10. BTS

Turkey’s most listened to songs:

  1. Bi Sonraki Hayatımda Gel - Murda, Ezhel
  2. Unutulacak Dünler - Gazapizm
  3. Uslanmıyor Bu - Zeynep Bastık
  4. Leila - Reynmen
  5. AYA - Murda, Ezhel
  6. Sağı Solu Kes - Gazapizm
  7. Kazılı Kuyum - Yüzyüzeyken Konuşuruz
  8. Nimet - Didomido, Eglo G
  9. Dance Monkey - Tones And I
  10. Kafamda Kentsel Dönüşümler - İkiye On Kala

Turkey’s most listened to albums:

  1. Made In Turkey - Murda, Ezhel
  2. HİZA - Gazapizm
  3. Lights Out - Ufo361, Ezhel
  4. DOĞA - Murda
  5. Akustik Travma - Yüzyüzeyken Konuşuruz
  6. Dünya Günlükleri - Adamlar
  7. Müptezhel - Ezhel
  9. Karanlık - Dolu Kadehi Ters Tut