Rap has always been a tricky fit with Eurovision. The two rap songs in 2014 both had their fans (including many on Team Wiwi), but neither scored especially well. “Rise Up” gave Greece its worst placing since the 1990s, and the deux points of “Moustache” was France’s worst score ever.
So is rapping cursed? Is the sound of a few rapped lines enough to have viewers hurling their phones across the room in disgust? Or is there more to it than that? Let’s take a look at 11 iconic rap performances in the 20 years since an MC first hit the ESC stage.
1995 United Kingdom
Love City Groove – “Love City Groove” 10th (76 points)
Rap entered the Eurovision Song Competition in 1995, thanks to the UK. The romantic pop-rap song with an early ’90s flavour was the people’s choice, having won the UK national selection with a strong margin. Male and female MCs (Jay Williams and Yinka “Reason” Charles) rapped the verses, joined by Stephen “Beanz” Rudden for a sung chorus. Jay is the stand-out performer – when he’s rapping he has serious flow, y’all. And I’m going to call it now – he’s the best rapper who has performed at Eurovision.
Sample lyrics: What the hell, I’ll admit it: love was the target and you hit it
Sertab Erener – “Everyway That I Can” 1st (167 points)
There’s the idea that rap never does well in the Eurovision, but in 2003 a song with rap just happened to win. “Everyway That I Can”. Is an upbeat dance-pop song with elaborate staging and dramatic diva vocals from Sertab Erener. But about two minutes into the song she busts out a rap. It’s pretty basic and very repetitive, but it fits in well with the structure of the song.
Sample lyrics: You make me wanna huh-huh, make me wanna huh-huh-huh
Waldo’s People – “Lose Control” 25th – last (22 points)
Finland only placed 12th in their semi-final but won a place in the final by being the jury selection. Sadly the voting public didn’t agree and Waldo and his people found themselves placing last in the final. “Lose Control” is like a decent Eurodance tune ruined by Waldo shouting over the top of it. He’s not a great rapper and it doesn’t work having him as the focal point of the performance.
Sample lyrics: Like Peter Piper I take control, put a spell on the mass
Who See feat. Nina Zizic – “Igranka” SF 12th – semi-final 1 (41 points)
Damn, this is a killer song and it’s a crime that it didn’t qualify. Who See rap the verses of the song, but it’s the fierce production and power vocals from Nina Zizic that takes the performance to the next level. While the rapped parts are fairly unremarkable, they help ramp up the tension so when Nina kicks in with the chorus, the song explodes.
Sample lyrics: Gradele, cesan, petrusin, riba, danu svega da se pokidam [Grill, garlic, parsley and fish, give me all so I can overeat]
2004 United Kingdom
Daz Sampson – “Teenage Life” 19th (25 points)
The UK’s second attempt at rap came from the Mancunian MC Daz Sampson and his bittersweet reflection on school days. The weirdest thing is the adult backing singers dressed as sexy schoolgirls. Ew. And then there’s the giant blackboard with DAZ SAMPSON written on it, just in case anyone thought he was called Dan Simpson or something. With the emphasis being on the performer at the expense of the song, it just doesn’t come together.
Sample lyrics: Thinking of those sixth form chicks that misbehave
Kraljevi Ulice and 75 Cents – “Romanca” 21st (44 points)
75 Cents was the stage name of 75-year-old Ladislav Demeterffy, whose role in the song is doing a few shouty raps in Grandpa Simpson style, reminding listeners that nothing changes in the world of music. It’s played for laughs (he ends the song by scratching on an old gramophone), but 75 Cents certainly adds a lot of spirit to what would otherwise be a very average song.
Sample lyrics: A ja sam bio prvi internet na svijetu [And I was the first Internet in the world]
Kølig Kaj – “Stemmen i mit liv” 16th (25 points)
By 1997, using the live orchestra was optional, but Denmark nonetheless made use of the brass section for rapper Kølig Kaj’s performance. The result was a toning down of the cool groove of the studio version, with the bold brass section dominating. Maybe this is one of the reasons why rap was largely avoided in the ’80s and ’90s – it was too difficult to arrange rap songs to work with the orchestra. Sadly EBU regulations still permit the wearing of leopard-skin-print trousers.
Sample lyric: Skylder folk penge, og mit liv er lidt kokset [I owe people money, and my life’s a bit of a mess]
Stefan Raab – “Wadde hadde dudde da?” 5th (96 points)
Ah, the enigma of “Wadde hadde dudde da?” There’s Stefan Raab with an over-the-top cheesefest, complete with a rap that makes about as much sense to German speakers as it does to non-German speakers. And yet because Stefan puts so much energy and spirit into the performance, it transcends the multiple crimes against music and just ends up being really fun. Its fifth place remains Germany’s second highest score of the century so far.
Sample lyric: Hadder da watt glatt, oder hadder da wat Haar da? [Does he have something bald there, or rather some hair?]
GreenJolly – “Razom nas bahato” 19th (30 points)
So, what song did Ukraine enter the year it hosted the competition? Why, only the unofficial anthem of the Orange Revolution. GreenJolly switched the verses to English and toned down the more political lyrics, but it’s still very much a political anthem. The song might not have resonated with international audiences (the rapped English verses aren’t easy to understand), but for Ukraine, it was their moment.
Sample lyrics: Lies be the weapon of mass destruction
The Superstar DJ
Ich Troje feat. Real McCoy – “Follow My Heart” 11th, semi-final (70 points)
After coming seventh in 2003, Polish trio Ich Troje returned for another shot, this time with German Eurodance producer Real McCoy (aka Olaf Jeglitza) on guest rap vocals. He does all his multilingual rapping down in the audience, leaving Ich Troje on stage with their super camp extravaganza. It’s all a bit of a mess, but Real McCoy’s sleazy rap style surprisingly complements the golden drama on stage.
Sample lyrics: Ven, toma mi gasolina [Come, take my gasoline]
Trackshittaz – “Woki mit deim Popo” 18th – last, semi-final 1 (8 points)
Not only did Trackshittaz have the first song to be fully rapped (no singing) but it was a booty song and performed in the Mühlviertlerisch dialect. Actually, that’s probably also why it came last in its semi. Manuel and Lukas are skilled MCs and performers and they brought a high energy, super fun performance with great audience connection. And hey – glow-in-the-dark pole dancers aren’t something you see every day.
Sample lyrics: Und jetz außa mit de Depf jetz kummt de Nudlsuppngang [Unpack your pots, here comes the Noodle Soup Gang]
In 2009 Gipsy.cz scored a semi-final nul points with the Broadway style “Aven Romale”, and in 2012 Rambo Amadeus from Montenego had the political jazz excursion of “Euro Neuro”. And while not quite strictly rap, a popular Eurovision style is ska-punk bands with chanted vocals – Israeli band Teapacks performed “Push the Button” in 2007 and mad Moldovans Zdob si Zdub had “So Lucky” in 2011.
What do you think of rap in Eurovision songs? Do you have a favourite performance? Or should ESC artists stick to singing?