Denis Cuspert – from rapper to IS spokesman
One week ago, a video with a propaganda song for the Islamic State (IS) featuring German lyrics was released on the internet. Its author is likely to be Denis Cuspert, a former German rapper who left Germany in 2012 to join IS ranks under the name of “Abu Talha Al-Almani”. Who is Denis Cuspert and what got him to join the IS? This article contains an excerpt of an essay written as part of a seminar at the Hebrew University Jerusalem with the title “Confessions of a rapper – The representation of Islam and religious experience within the German Hip Hop scene”. A German version of this article can be found here.
From Denis Cuspert to Deso Dogg
Denis Mamadou Cuspert was born in 1975 in Berlin. He has Ghanaian-German roots and grew up in a district which was characterized by criminality, gang wars and drugs racketeering. According to Cuspert’s narration, his parents did not have enough time to care for him. He grew up on the street and got involved into criminal activities at an early age. The first time that he ended up at the police station because he tried to steal a car was at the age of eleven. Cuspert said that his father used to beat him to bring him back to terms. But instead of the aspired improvement of his situation, Cuspert ended up in a vicious circle which was marked by robbery, stabbings and drug dealing. He was sentenced to four years in jail due to his committed crimes. Cuspert decided to start an apprenticeship as a carpenter. However, he did not stop to be in touch with old gang members, who convinced him to re-enter the drug business. Cuspert resigned from his apprenticeship and returned to illegal businesses. Multiple detentions and the assassination of several friends led him to the decision to start something new. Another stay in jail motivated him to start writing rap songs.
Deso Dogg the rapper
The musical career began in 2002 under the stage name Deso Dogg. Deso stands for devils son, whereas Dogg is a dedication to American rappers like Snoop Dogg or Nate Dogg. Moreover, the “og” in the word Dogg refers to “Original Gangster”. In his songs, Cuspert wrote about his life and experiences on the street. He began to put all his effort and energy into the music. According to an interview, he stopped to care about his family and became less criminal because he was so busy with his career. Due to the rough lyrics of his songs, mainstream media did only broadcast his music for a very short period of time. However, he was successful within the Hip Hop scene and became the supporting act of the American rapper DMX in 2005. Apparently, a lot of teenagers identified with his biography and idolized him.
Cuspert comes from a Muslim family. His second name ‘Mamadou’ is the West African version of the Arabic name ‘Muhammad’. Cuspert referred to his religious belief and conviction in numerous songs. At that time, Cuspert did not hesitate to combine music and religion:
“Please, Allah, forgive my sins, help me out of the dirt
I am desperate, every day I am searching for paradise
I wish I’d be dead because my life was horrible
I lost my family, lost my love, lost my brothers
I wish I was never born
It is naseeb and I hope that I will stay there
In all my steps and deeds and also in my rhymes”
From Deso Dogg to Abu Maleeq
The death of a very close friend and a life-threatening car accident led to new decisions. According
to Cuspert’s later report, he forgot numerous lyrics of his own songs due to a serious head injury which was caused by the car accident. The experience of the accident was later depicted as a illuminative moment. Cuspert reported in interviews that he began to fear the moment of the Last Judgment. He stated that he was unsure whether he could still reach heaven in spite of his criminal activities. This led him to the decision to finally refrain from criminality and music. In November 2010, Deso Dogg announced that he would leave the music business.
He turned toward a German Salafist movement and began to preach under a new name: Deso Dogg became Abu Maleeq. When asked about his greatest motivation for his change of mind, he mentioned the war in Gaza in addition to his accident. Cuspert argued that he was not able to comprehend why neither the Western nor the Muslim world effectively tried to change the situation of ‘his brothers and sisters’ in Gaza. His anger regarding the political situation in Gaza was already expressed in a song in 2009:
„I pray to Allah, the time has come for the Muslims
together towards God in times of war
Why are Muslim states accepting
That Saudis and Egyptians betray Palestine?”
The connection of political and religious subjects appeared in several songs. Another example is the song ‘Angels are crying black blood’:
„So much war on the world and the sea turns red
The angels of God lost
and the devil plays the death
Are you still unable to realize that hell is coming closer
People start to kill each other
and the climate is going crazy
it does not matter if you’re a Muslim, Jew or Christian
As soon as you know too much – they turn off your light [lit: kill you]
A suicide, an accident, just away
If there is no other way they stage it and they know how to do it perfectly
Secret intrigues everywhere – widespread on the world
They kill everyone, children, old people, invalids – ruthless for money
Because they don’t believe in God or any virtues
Their religion is money and the way is the devils track
I learned enough, whether it was Kaplan,
And there is only one and that’s for sure
The greatest, the king, the only one Allah“
The messages that Cuspert tried to convey in his songs were similar to the ideas that he started to spread as Abu Maleeq. However, he did not want to use his music as a means to transmit his thoughts anymore. On the contrary, he asked his former audience to stop listening to his music and to delete his songs from various internet platforms. A video was published by the Salafist movement ‘The true religion’ which showed Cuspert saying amid tears that music ruined his life. Moreover, he asked the Muslim community to keep away from the music business. ‘Abu Maleeq’ began to accompany various Salafist preachers. Some of them were roughly criticized by the German media since their expressions incited violence and hate.
A good example is Pierre Vogel, who converted to Islam at the age of 22 and became one of the most influential Salafist preachers in Germany. Vogel uploaded a video which shows him in a conversation with Cuspert. It is Vogel’s greatest concern to convince his environment of the validity of Islam. He offers non-Muslims to convert in public events and presents the conversions on Youtube. Moreover, he explains Islam in a range of videos. Both, Cuspert and Vogel are convinced of a literal exegesis of the Qur’an and support a radical interpretation of Islam. In the conversation, Vogel asked Cuspert to get in touch with other famous Muslim rappers, to dissuade them from Hip Hop and the entire music business. Moreover, Vogel told Cuspert that he would like to organize a huge event together with a number of rap musicians with the goal to persuade more teenagers of the ‘truth of Islam’.
Until 2012, Cuspert was willing to support the Salafist preachers in Mosques and in the internet. In the same year, a right wing citizen’s initiative demonstrated before the elections and got into riots with the Salafist movement in Cologne. The initiative is clearly islamophobic and was criticized from many sides. The riots put Salafist movements into the center of media attention. In the heat of the moment, Cuspert submitted a video to the television channel ZDF which was broadcast shortly afterwards. In the video, Cuspert called for Jihad in Germany. He justified his opinion with the presence of German troops in Muslim states and stated that the Germans would conduct ‘Jihad’ towards the Muslim population in these countries. Moreover, he announced that he would not reside in Germany anymore at the date of the broadcast.
As a matter of fact, Cuspert left Germany in 2012 and hid underground in Egypt because the German Verfassungsschutz [federal office for the protection of the constitution] is searching him actively. Already in 2011, the police had found a weapon in Cuspert’s apartment which was not registered. Moreover, an explosive west was found in 2012 in the house of an Islamist. The newspaper ‘Die Welt’ assumes that Cuspert was the producer of the west. Little is known about Cuspert’s current situation. Numerous Youtube commentators wrote that Cuspert died in the underground. The rumor of his death is spread all over the internet. However, there are no facts which could prove the assumption.
Two years later
Today, and therefore two years after this seminar paper was completed, it is known that the rumors about Cuspert’s death were proven wrong. In early 2013, the former rapper traveled from Egypt to Syria in order to join the IS.
In the summer of the same year, the former rapper published a Nasheed in which he expressed his wish to end up in paradise as a suicide bomber. In the following months, the number of video messages which were uploaded on the internet increased continuously. They informed the viewers about his clear commitment to the IS as well as about his willingness to combat. According to a study by the Verfassungsschutz, Cuspert gradually turned into kind of a German poster child for the IS, where he holds a high rank. The US State Department classified him as an IS terrorist in February 2015, and put him on their global terror list.
Recently, the IS fighter Cuspert, who nowadays calls himself Abu Talha Al-Almani, clearly called for terrorist attacks in Germany. Since Cuspert could be seen next to beheaded victims of the IS in prior videos, the German Bundesanwaltschaft [federal prosecutor’s office] has launched preliminary investigations into possible war crimes commited by Cuspert.
It remains questionable, whether Cuspert plans to return to Germany one day. It is clear, however, that Cuspert is known enough in order to spread his call against “the infidels” among young Muslims in Germany also from Syria.
Although Cuspert underwent a huge change and gave up his rap career in order to commit himself to his radical faith, he did not cease to adress himself primarily to young people.
While the rapper Deso Dogg never reached a broad audience, his new persona Abu Talha al-Almani appeals to many young people, who seek for simple answers to complex questions.