On Thursday night, the Berlin-based culturally educational platform Urania hosted a brand new edition of its "Kontrovers" panel talk series, this time discussing the complex topic of identity. One of the invited guests was the queer feminist activist and rapper Sookee, who talked about empathy, responsibility, and activism as part of our identity.
Party and politics
Born in East Germany in 1983 and raised in West Berlin, Nora Hantzsch aka Sookee began her musical career in the early 2000s, after having completed her studies of German Linguistics and Gender Studies. Her artist name originates from Michelle Pfeiffer's role in The Witches of Eastwick, Sukie. From the early beginnings of her career on, Sookee has been using her rhymes to address complex social issues, often revolving around 'controversial' themes of sexism, racism, gender, and sexuality. With witty words and a smirk on her face, Sookee cleverly dismantles conservative arguments against emancipation and sexual freedom, all the while remaining vulnerable and self-reflective.
Between 2010 and 2017, the socially active and queer-identifying rapper has released a total of four studio albums and countless collaborative works and singles. Today, she has turned her back onto her musical career and focuses largely on activism outside the concert setting. For Urania Kontrovers, Sookee returned to a different kind of stage, this time alongside fellow activists Ferda Ataman, Ulrich Weigand, Selmin Çalışkan, Peggy Piesche, and panel host Natalie Amiri.
"We have nothing to lose but a burden."
The topic of the panel: identity and its diverse potential - who do I want to be? A brief introduction into each of the panel members' understanding of the concept of identity opened up a complex 90-minute discussion between five women of different backgrounds and social identities. Sookee, with a degree in linguistics and a career built on cleverly arranging words quickly identified the role of language when it comes to identity. Beyond social categories and the perception of oneself, she finds an important aspect of identity in inner dialogues and non-verbally definable variables. "I think that is the next level", Sookee explained. With the conversation quickly stirring towards one of the most omnipresent social issues of today, racism and anti-racist activism, she drew a similar conclusion: "It is about knowledge, but also about an emotional impact. There are areas [within the topics of identity and racism] that cannot be tackled through language - pains, that are just as difficult to express as love, for instance".
A matter of responsibility
While activism and speaking up (musically) against social injustice has been part of Sookee's identity and public persona since the early beginnings of her career, she now emphasizes on the importance of also speaking up on topics beyond the scope of one's own identity. Through her music, the queer-identifying woman has often tackled topics of oppression and intolerance she has suffered from personally - now, she also explains why anti-racist activism is just as important to her as a white woman. "It is about responsibility. For me, taking on responsibility means preventing shit from hitting the fan. I don't want to be left to fend for myself either, so I try to do my part in preventing others to be, too", she explains to her fellow panel members.
By saying this, Sookee does not just address her personal views on social responsibility, she also touches upon a highly discussed topic among artists: the responsibility to speak up and use one's platform for political purposes. As opposed to many artists, it was probably her activism that fueled her artistry and the urge to create a platform in the first place, rather than the pure interest in making music. It therefore, comes as no surprise that she stresses the importance of pop culture and social media in defining one's identity, and the fight against racism.
"Pop culture can greatly contribute to this, just like social media. Over the last three weeks, more critical reflection and social unpacking has been done than in the past ten years of high school education in Germany."
Be it through music, social media, or a critical panel discussion - we are glad to see musical artists becoming political and self-reflective. The genre of hip hop is often associated with the expression of sexist views and toxic masculinity. Artists like Sookee who speak up against social injustice and serve as role models for growing girls and young women, all the while flaunting their rhyme-spitting abilities, are starting to take the lead. "Queer-feminist rap has become a big deal in this country, and you know what: I love it", Sookee says. Beyond Germany, we can witness rap becoming more and more political all over the world, celebrating pride and diversity through artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Swiss artist Jessiquoi, openly gay rapper Dai Burger, or Brazilian trans artist Linn Da Quebrada. And just like Sookee - we love it.