The Turkish hip-hop star discusses censorship in his native land, the might of Eminem, and his own influences.
A history of criminal activity has yielded some pretty unexpected results for Vardar. If his long and steady track record as a juvenile delinquent is as scandalous as he claims it to be, he should have been locked away behind bars by now.
“I was quite a troublemaker," Vardar explains, “and I think I earned my boldness and self-confidence with it. If I tried to make a list, I wouldn’t remember most of it. When I was in primary school I set the science lab on fire. A couple of years later I burned the classroom as well. There are many times that I used fake documents for several exams and other situations. I don’t even count the cars I crashed."
Instead of spending the rest of his youth dreaming up new scams and dodging authorities, he hooked up with some of Istanbul’s most elite music producers and a Grammy award-winning mastering engineer to produce one of the more exciting albums to come out of Turkey this year. It’s quite the career leap.
Vardar’s longstanding passion for hip-hop and rap began when he first heard the music of Eminem, who left quite an impression on the budding, hopeful rapper. From there, Vardar would twiddle knobs in home studios and record demos, trying to capture something special on tape. “I met Sinan Ceceli, Serkan Hökenek and Cüneyt Tatlıcı this way," he says, citing three of the more notable producers and arrangers in Turkey and Switzerland, respectively. “Then it was just being in the right place at the right time, though I waited quite a lot for the right time."
After recording an underground album in 2008 that went nowhere, the 25-year-old would spend the next few years cultivating material for his proper follow-up and commercial debut, Kötü Adam (“Bad Man”), released earlier this spring. The album, a furnace blast of unruly testosterone heat, is sated with thick, rubbery synth-basslines, plenty of hip-hop attudinizing and enough electronic squelches to gum up a car engine. All thirteen tracks are rapped in Turkish, with Vardar delivering his rhymes with whiplash acuity. At all times, he wears the influence of American hip-hop culture on his sleeve, eschewing the influences of traditional Turkish music favoured by his contemporaries (Turkish female rapper Sultana, Turkish-Swiss hip-hoppers Makale).
“I’m creating music according to my liking and influences," he says. “I’m influenced by the American culture because I listen to American music. For me, music is not something to be explained, it’s all about action. You either enjoy listening to it or not. The explanations you make after the performance don’t mean a thing. Pop, rock, rap… it’s either good or bad. Some may deny it, but American hip-hop culture influences Turkish youth in all aspects. The ones who say 'I’m not influenced by America but other cultures' are wrong; most countries are also influenced by America in the first place. Everybody shapes and delivers hip-hop in their own unique way, for sure, though truly everybody listens, watches and gets inspired by American culture indirectly.”
So what exactly is the hip-hop scene in Turkey like? Vardar elaborates: “In Turkey, hip-hop is improving quite fast but it hasn’t achieved the value it deserves yet. We still don’t have really professional studios with strong equipment and music experts that run them. And people don’t accept the genre; they still think it’s just foolish music for children."