At Germany’s biggest hip-hop festival, splash!, scandals are common. The organizers can lose track of the provocations that suddenly escalate among the American rappers, played out backstage. This has more than once resulted in violence.
The German rap scene at the festival takes everything a notch slower. Some rappers are indeed from sketchy neighborhoods, but the extent of violence is nothing compared to notorious gang-infested areas such as Compton, California.
This explains how comparatively harmless disputes sometimes make for huge scandals in the German rap scene: In 2015, the Viennese rapper Money Boy came one on stage during a gig of the Stuttgart-based rap crew Die Orsons. Seemingly out of it, Money Boy spilled two bottles of Fanta onto the stage, resulting in what could have been a proper fistfight, had the security guards not intervened. Subsequently, they banned the lumbering two-meter-tall rapper not only from the stage but eventually from the entire event. This is how Money Boy – the founder of the German subgenre Trap and today’s most influential figure in youth slang – was exiled from Germany’s biggest hip-hop festival. On his way back through the audience, he received several slaps on his head. He didn’t seem to mind.
Show Me Your Swag
The widespread disregard with which Money Boy is treated – some of it is occasioned by his questionable actions, such as recommending the consumption of heroin in a TV interview – is astounding: In the past decade, three expressions directly rooted in his slang were selected as German Jugendwort des Jahres (Youth Word of the Year). And yet he is ignored.
“He is the most important German rapper in the last ten years,” says Michael Rubach, who writes for the German magazine HipHop.de. But the only time Money Boy entered the charts was in 2011 and, while many rappers have been directly influenced by his work, many still regard him as a joke.
To understand how Money Boy – the Austrian with the most influence on the German language – became both a punching bag an an icon you have to listen to Dreh den Swag auf: The single went viral in 2010 and the term swag became Money Boy’s first expression that made Youth Word of the Year. What makes it so unique is Money Boy’s almost Dadaistic way of rhyming worlds like block and cock, his mixing of German and English, and his nasal and sometimes broken voice that strangely fits the feel of this extremely bizarre song. Many people who heard the track thought it couldn’t be serious.
“I was skeptical at first,” says LGoony, a German rapper who has followed in Money Boy’s footsteps, launching a successful rap career of his own. “Many people thought this guy was a joke, but we were a group of fans from Germany and Austria who understood what he was doing,” he said in an interview with TV channel Puls 4.
Money Boy’s Lingo Is Everywhere
“I think he is a mad genius,” says Markus Kunzmann, a linguist, who was a juror when they selected the coined term “I bims” as Youth Word of the Year in 2017. I bims is a deliberately misspelled variation of “Ich bin’s,” meaning, “I’m it,” or “It’s me,” which Money Boy uses in his endless stream of tweets, records and Facebook posts. This expression is part of the Money Boy lingo that often makes use of derivative constructions such as “Der Boy ist am fly sein” – an intentional mistranslation from Black American slang, “That boy be fly.” These constructions have entered into youth expressions that come from the Austrian dialect – hardly ever do.
“The general assumption, for which I’ve found proof in my own studies, is that there are more expressions traveling from Germany to Austria than the other way around,” says Kunzmann of the University of Munich, who studies cross-border language movements. For example, the German expression for horseradish, Meerrettich, is now occasionally used in Austria, particularly in recipes and cook books for Asian food, while its Austrian counterpart, Kren (from the Czech), is only found in neighboring Bavaria, which Austrians joke is, “is any case, a suburb of Salzburg.”
While this makes sense, considering the sheer number of Germans compared to Austrians, Money Boy seems to be single-handedly reversing the trend. In the past ten years, the Austrian’s lingo has been everywhere on social media, and it can be found in campaigns of Sparkasse and Vodafone.
Whose Language Is It Anyway?
“There’s nothing specifically Austrian about him,” explains Kunzmann. He is, in fact, Viennese – grew up in Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus the son of a teacher and an entrepreneur – which even some Austrians consider a foreign country. So how exactly can his influence on German culture be traced to his roots?
“If you listen closely, you won’t hear ‘The Boy’ (as he often refers to himself) using words like Schlagobers, the Austrian word for heavy cream. He says Sahne, just like the Germans. And you’ll often catch him using the typically dragging Viennese pronunciation, that can be likened to the southern accent in American English and fits quite naturally with the American Trap style he’s imitating in his rap songs.” So he doesn’t seem to use many of the typical Austriacisms. If anything, his influence might derive from the fact that, through his tweets and Facebook posts, he operates a lot in written language. “He knows how the internet, how social media work,” says Kunzmann. “And since so much communication is written, especially among the younger generation, with his extraordinary writing style, he stands apart.”
Riding on the viral success of Dreh den Swag auf in 2010, Money Boy, signed with Sony Music. When the contract ended, he went on to produce his own music. There are times when he releases a mixtape a week, alongside countless social media posts and videos. Now, ten years after Dreh den Swag auf, he regularly publishes full albums in addition to mix tapes, as well as doing a cooking show so popular that it crashes his label’s homepage every time a new video comes out.
“His importance cannot be overestimated,” says Rubach. “He functioned as a kind of wave-breaker when it came to bringing Trap to Germany. All this hate and ridicule he let roll off his back is why Money Boy, who is now almost 40, became an idol to the 20-year-old Trap generation.”
Still, despite his massive output and influence, he is not exactly successful in the traditional sense. The German rapper Capital Bra for example, has amassed some 4.1 million followers on Instagram, whereas Money Boy has only 210,000. “He is not the typical, cool Instagram bro,” says Rubach. “His appearance is too nerdy with the underground artists he does features with – many people just don’t understand that. He will never be a pop star in the traditional sense.”
But he doesn’t have to be a star. Visionaries seldom are, because they’re ahead of their time. And that, say his fans, is definitely true of Money Boy.