Don't call her "hip-hop." Don't ask her what it's like being a female MC. And search for evidence of her German-ness at your own risk. Ina Rotter (a.k.a. Quio) has little interest in the categories we use to make sense of the world. She prefers to be taken "unseriously." That's just as well, because her sophomore album, Phiu, is profoundly silly. Seriously.
"I'm really into things that stay open for other people to decide what they mean," Quio (pronounced "key-oh") says. "Misunderstandings can create something new, something surprising." The misunderstandings come fast and furious, right from Phiu's opening track, "Bratwurst," which Quio overloads with cliché German cultural references to Kraftwerk and Hitler. "My cultural disconnection?/A permanent infection/My heritage?/My image?/Threw it in the sewage!" she raps, as African-American writer Darius James (author of That's Blaxploitation!) struggles to shout out German words in his American accent.
"I just never found myself anywhere in typical German culture," Quio says, explaining her distaste for rapping in her native language. Ever since she took her first handle, MC Looney Tunes, public in 1997, she has found language a touchy subject. "In Germany, the hip-hop scene is really happy to be independent from the American scene, and people can get really pissed off when you rap in English. But I never really considered myself as being from hip-hop in that way," she adds. "Once you say you're hip-hop, then you're in the shits, because then there's this armada of people coming to tell you what to do. And I don't really like people telling me what to do. Therefore I try to deny the definitions that are being used to control us."
Quio need not fear stereotyping. Not many MCs bring their children into the studio, as she does on "Chilaine," a sunny dub with a warm acoustic guitar melody titled after her three-year-old son's imaginary friend. What's more, Quio's abilities leap from fierce, like the rhymes she delivers over duo Audiotaxi's tech-y beats and rushing string-orchestra samples on "Rising Tide," to fragile–check the vocals she lays over "I Jump"'s deep, atmospheric bass and spare rhythms, courtesy of producer Antye Greie (a.k.a AGF).
Known for her experimental albums, AGF distills the catchier, dancier elements of her style as Phiu's executive producer, aiming, she says, "to accept repetition and things which are just pop but are still interesting and surprising." Quio and AGF bonded in 2000 over a shared love of dancing to 2-step. They first collaborated on Quio's boisterous debut LP, Like Oooh!, on which Quio compares herself to Mother Goose over glitchy hip-hop and drum & bass tracks.
By comparison, Phiu feels smoother, more intense, and–dare I say–more serious, an impression Quio is only too happy to seize upon. "That the album seems darker maybe proves finally that I am German, for the Germans were known in the old days for being deep and somehow dark." Confusing? That's just how Quio likes it.