Turkey’s romantic rap and R&B

Turkey's rising rap star Murda shows that the local scene is growing. And with it comes the North American blend of rap, pop and mawkish R&B.

Feb. 14 was a good day for Turkish pop music. At midnight on Valentine’s Day, Netherlands-born rapper Murda (Önder Doğan) released his first full-length album in Turkish. Meanwhile, the rising R&B star Seda Erciyes released her long-awaited second single. Murda’s album Doğa proves once again that rap has gone full pop in Turkey. Meanwhile, Erciyes’ “Başa Sarıp Dur” (Rewind and Stop) indicates that R&B is also beginning to makes its way.

Murda burst onto the Turkish rap scene in September 2019 with the single “Aya” (To The Moon). This song and its accompanying music video were the product of a collaboration with Turkish rap superstar Ezhel. With its syncopated reggaeton beat, catchy chorus, and code-switching English/Turkish lyrics, the song became an instant hit. It racked up 50 million listens in the first two weeks alone. 

Murda struck again this past January with another Ezhel collaboration (”Bir Sonraki Hayatımda Gel”/Come in My Next Life). With the release of his album, his appearances on the famous music competition O Ses Türkiye, and a Turkey-wide tour planned for spring 2020, Murda is set to conquer hearts all over the country.

Though few in Turkey knew Murda’s name before last year, he’s long been a sensation in the Netherlands. Born in Amsterdam in 1984, Önder Doğan released his first EP “Turkse Pizza” in 2008. He continued to release songs in Dutch under the influential label Noah’s Ark. In 2010, Doğan embraced an acting career playing the lead role in the film Gangsterboys. In 2016 he even enjoyed a #1 hit on the Dutch charts with “Rompe.” 

Teaming up with Ezhel was another turning point in Murda’s career. With the success of “Boynumdaki Chain” and “Aya,” this child of Turkish immigrants realized just how big the market for rap was in the motherland. With a full album of Turkish-language songs, Murda rapidly gained fans across Turkey. 

While Murda has put in his time as a rapper, “Doğa” is as much pop as it is rap. The catchy hooks, melodic beats, and cheeky lyrics in Murda’s songs show that he’s inspired by figures like Drake. This Canadian rapper proved that the distinction between pop and rap has now become tenuous.

Like the “pop rappers” of North America, Murda adopts the persona of the sensitive lover with a sprinkling of casual sexism again reminiscent of Drake (the songs are filled with “bitch,” “mamacita,” “baby girl”). Love songs like “Şimşek” are pure candy: not necessarily nutritious but highly addictive. The single “Nereye Kadar” alternates between promises of lifelong devotion to his lover and dirty talk. One of the highlights of the album is Ezhels’ guest verse on “Pırlanta” (Diamond), where he name-drops Halil İnalcık (a historian of the Ottoman Empire) in describing his own history with a lover. 

The break-out single of the album is “Güneş” (Sun), a duet with YouTube-celebrity-turned-pop-singer Zeynep Bastık. The lyrics show Murda’s characteristic wit and slangy code-switching: “Hastayım mami no Acıbadem / Ne bu hâlim gördü bütün âlem / Büyüledin beni, fly sanki KLM“ (I’m sick with love for you, mami, no Acıbadem [a Turkish healthcare company] / What a state I’m in, the whole world has seen / You’ve enchanted me, fly like she’s KLM). 

As for the music video, Güneş offers a pastoral love story packed with gurbetçi (Turks living abroad) clichés: the young couple sneaks off to the big city to wander hand-in-hand through the Grand Bazaar, drink tea, and stroll through the picturesque neighborhood of Balat. 

As if trying to make up for this sensitive side, Murda’s other tracks make copious reference to the luxuries that fame has allowed him: Mercedes-Benz, champagne, Gucci, diamonds, and so on. In terms of the music, “Eşkiya” and “Halter” are less pop and more trap, with their auto-tuned vocals, minor-chord melodies, and slapping high-hat drums.

Despite moments of lyrical unevenness and abrupt tonal shifts, Doğa is eminently listenable, even if it falls (for this critic at least) somewhere between a guilty pleasure and an actual pleasure. 

The other important Valentine’s Day release was “Başı Sarıp Dur” by up-and-coming singer Seda Erciyes. Born in Istanbul in 1993, Erciyes got her start providing back-up vocals for singers like Elif Çağlar. She was also a finalist in the Young Jazz and Nardis Jazz Vocal competitions. 

She’s now single-handedly working to bring R&B into the local music scene. While musicians like Tinashe, Solange, Kali Uchis, and FKA twigs have been successfully integrating R&B with the independent music scene in North America, neither original R&B nor its new generation have had much of a counterpart in Turkey. 

Erciyes’s first single, “10:50,” came out in July 2019 under the label Epic Istanbul, a subsidiary of Sony Music Turkey. Channeling R&B legends TLC’s classic song “No Scrubs,” “10:50” was a love song about rejecting toxic lovers. The sleekly produced music video showed Erciyes and her crew of back-up dancers enacting solidarity among women who have no time for nonsense. 

As Erciyes said in a recent interview: “In our country, in particular, we have the need for women musicians who can live their own femininity freely, not recognize barriers, and tell their own stories without hesitation.” 

“Başa Sarıp Dur” picks up where the last single left off. Erciyes again worked with the producers Flytones, who are responsible for the smooth electronic beats that are now characteristic of her sound. While the lyrical tone is again romantic, the song focuses as much on the necessity of knowing when to pack up and leave: “The marks you left on me, the promises you didn’t keep, ya ya / The paths we choose ourselves, completely different endings, ya ya.” 

The lush music video for “Başa Sarıp Dur” demonstrates painstaking attention to visual detail. The costumes, sets, and editing all make for an immersive melancholy. The video reverses the male gaze with images of muscular, scantily clad men wearing angel wings. One of them is bounded and gagged in the trunk of Erciyes’s car—another love story gone wrong. Time to start over. 

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