Friends or Enemies: Politics & Poetry in Contemporary Russian Rap

The spoken word has always
held a special place in the hearts of Russians. From the poetry recitations
of Yevgeny Yevtushenko in the 1960s that filled
stadiums, to the inspired lyrics of Russian bards
like Vladimir Vysotsky, Russians have sought
not only beauty, but also repose in
artistic literary forms. This is unsurprising
given Russia’s troubled political history
over the centuries, which reached its height
in the 20th century with the repressive Soviet era. I often say that rap is,
first and foremost, poetry. So today, I’ll examine Russian
rap from this literary angle and place it into a Russian
political and cultural context. What sets rap apart from
other literary forms in Russia is its place in time. It really took hold
only in the 1990s, immediately after the
fall of the Soviet Union, so one cannot really speak
of rap as a genre influencing political events in the USSR. The first rap in Russia was
entitled, unsurprisingly, Rap, from 1984 by the group
Chas Pik, an unabashed rip off of Sugarhill Gang’s
Rapper’s Delight from 1979, widely recognized as the first
commercial rap tune ever. So I’m going to play these
two just a little bit. I have many clips
and musical examples as we’ll go through
tonight, and I’ll talk over them a little bit. I’ll try to control the volume. By the way, this
is the volume here? Yeah, that’s right. To save a little bit of time. So you all have heard
Rapper’s Delight, I hope. Here’s Wonder Mike, Hank, and
Master Gee, The Sugarhill Gang. The hip, the hippie to the hip,
hip hop, and you don’t stop– So what happened with
Rapper’s Delight is they took a disco tune
by the group Chic, the song is Good Times. And we’ll just keep going. And that’s Wonder
Mike, and there’s also a Big Bank Hank and Master Gee. And this was the first rap tune
that made it into the top 40. It became a hit because
it was the first time that rap kind of came to
the American consciousness. Let’s just wait to hear
from Big Bank Hank here. And next on the mic is
my man Hank, come on, let’s sing that song. Check it out, I’m Imp
the Dimp, the ladies’– That’s Big Bank Hank. He died about four
or five years ago. And this became a little bit
popular, his rap right here, because he’s said to have
just stolen those rhymes from another rapper. His name was Grandmaster
Caz, who’s still alive. When you steal
somebody’s rhymes, you’re biting their rhymes. That’s the term
that they would use. Well, it didn’t take
long for the Russians to figure out that this was
an interesting thing to do. So this group,
Chas Pik, which was a big Soviet group in the ’80s,
they just ripped this off. Now, you couldn’t
do a remix the way you can do today where you
just upload all of the files and you just cut and
paste and do all that and you have the same beat. They just had to
listen and then they made the beat with
instruments, you know, those things you used
to play on that we had? And then they rapped. This isn’t the greatest– this is not the
greatest recording, but it’s from YouTube. So this is just players
playing instruments. And here’s their
beat, their bass. It’s almost the same as Chic. [MUSIC – CHAS PIK, “RAP”] – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] OK. So you can go to
YouTube and find all of these things of course. It was not until the 1990s that
Russian rappers and rap groups such as Bogdan Titomir
[INAUDIBLE] MC– “Bahd” “Bah-lahnce”– Bad
Balance and Malchishnik became widely known in the former
Soviet Union and, with them, the rap genre itself. The fit was perfect
for Russia with its rich literary tradition
and its strong history of performance art. But 1990s-Russian rap simply
copied American forms. The era of Vladimir Putin
began on August 9th 1999, when President Boris
Yeltsin appointed him prime minister of Russia. On New Year’s Eve of that
year, Yeltsin resigned and Putin became acting
president until his election to the presidency
a few months later. Thus, for 20 years now, Putin
has been the undisputed ruler of Russia and,
during this period, Russia has seen
tremendous growth. In the past few years,
however, and especially after Russia’s annexation
of Crimea in 2014, it has also seen enormous
tension between Putin and the Russian populace. This tension is also
manifested in the work of several Russian rappers. More generally, one could also
say that rap as a genre finally found its footing in Russia
during Putin’s reign and broke away from its blanket imitation
of American artists that defined it in the 80’s and 90’s. One of the best-known,
socially-activist rappers today in Russia is Ivan Alexeyev– Ivan Alexeyev– whose hip
hop moniker is Noize MC. Noize began his musical
studies in classical guitar at the age of 10 and was soon
performing with various hip hop artists and, by
the time he was 20, he had already gained
notoriety as a rapper. He is generally considered the
best freestyle rapper in Russia and comparisons with
Eminem are frequent. Early on, his music was
labeled “controversial” because of its explicit lyrics,
and political and cultural content. So he could, therefore, not
get played on the radio. He then wrote his “Song
for the Radio” rap in 2009 in which he satirized the
situation and this actually became quite a famous rap. One of his most
famous from 2009. It’s got a very poppy chorus
and he explicitly says, oh, there’s no drugs
here, no profanities, nothing to ban me
from the radio. But you can see in the
video that he still pushes the envelope a little bit. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – NOIZE MC, “PESNYA DLYA
RADIO”] [MAN LAUGHING] – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] You have the words in “Example
1” if you’re interested. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] Noize MC often
voices his dissent from official views of
the Russian government. As is well known, there’s been
a strong surge in nationalism under Putin’s tenure in office
and, often, this nationalism manifests itself
in racist activity. One arena for racism
in post-soviet Russia is the soccer stadium. In specific, Saint Petersburg
“Zee-knit”– or zenith– soccer team is usually
considered the worst in Russia. In March 2011, in response
to the first non-white player to play for the
team, Roberto Carlos, a fan brandished a banana,
a common racist meme against players of color playing
in European soccer leagues. Noize MC’s answer to this
and other overt racist acts was “Pushkinskiy rep”
or the “Pushkin rap.” Often considered the greatest
Russian author of all times, Alexander Pushkin had
a great grandfather who was an African moor
and, by all accounts, Pushkin himself had fairly
non-Russian physical traits and slightly dark skin. Noize MC uses this
fact and this rap to answer the racist fans of
Zenit in the “Pushkin rap.” [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – NOIZE MC, “PUSHKINSKIY
REP”] Notice, Deutsch TV was the TV
station that this was aired on. No longer exists. Putin took it down
four or five years ago. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] This is “Example
2” in the handout. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [SINGING ALONG] – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] So I’ll try to go through
the chorus of each song if I have the time. Noize’s lyrics are
decidedly anti-racist and he challenges the overt
racism of Zenit’s fans in this rap. Noize is famous for his
social-activist songs and it’s worth
mentioning that he has a massive following in Russia. This points to the
fact that in the face of a repressive vertical power
structure in which freedom of speech is under attack
and racist acts often go unpunished, there is a
need for legitimate sources of information that deviate from
official versions of events. Russian rap often bridges
the gap between reality and the Russian government’s
retelling of an event. When asked about his anti-racist
and antifascist songs, Noize said in a 2012
interview, quote, “it upsets me that these racist
views are gaining popularity. I get the chance to hang out
with many different people. Currently, it’s not shameful
to be a xenophobe or a racist as if it’s OK to think that way. Too much time has
passed already. The generation that
remembers World War II is gradually fading away. Also, there are concrete
political figures who through their actions,
consciously or unconsciously, exacerbate the
situation,” close quote. Clearly, Noize MC
considers Vladimir Putin to be one such figure. So one can call him an enemy
of Russian power structures. Vasily Goncharov, known by
his moniker of Vasya Oblomov, is a Russian rapper whose lyrics
are even more controversial than Noize MC’s
and often challenge Putin directly, making him,
arguably, Putin’s worst rap enemy. His first mega-hit as Oblomov,
“Magadan,” was released in 2010 and won several awards. The song displays his keen
sense of satire and humor as he ridicules many current
memes of contemporary Russia. The song also– let’s see here– the song also represents
his first foray into rap. Though his style can
certainly be described as rap, he prefers the term “songs
of a conversational style” and he often mixes
these songs with interesting and introspective
musical soundtracks. I’ll jump ahead a
little bit here. This is, in your
handout, “Example 3.” This was the song that put
Vasya Oblomov on the map and I’ll get through
the first chorus– [INAUDIBLE] Magadan. As I think I told
someone earlier today, we, here in Tucson, may
be closer to Magadan than they are in Russia. It is actually–
longitudinally-speaking, it’s actually east
of Japan, Magadan is. And this song speaks
to Russians’ views of the provinces,
gulags in the provinces. Yes, there was one
of those in Magadan. And there is– in
the chorus, you’ll see this person
sitting in a bar. This is somewhat
autobiographical for Vasya Oblomov. He’s saying, I was just a lounge
lizard playing in this bar and then there’s this
drunk Russian guy, who’s a bit of a bandit,
who comes and starts saying these things like,
hey, who’s singing that song. And it spoke to Russians. This is one reason why this song
became so incredibly popular. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – VASYA OBLOMOV,
“MAGADAN”] I’m going to jump ahead
just a little bit. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] I composed a song– – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] –about how they
closed the city off. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] And they’re going to Magadan. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] So it’s the chorus. And here’s the drunk guy
in the corner, bandit. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] I love that part because he ends
by saying, [SPEAKING RUSSIAN].. This song’s a piece
of crap obviously. [LAUGHTER] But people seem to like
it, so I’m going to play it and that’s how he becomes
famous in this song, by singing this song, I’m
going to Magadan, like way– 11 time zones away
from Moscow, I’m going. Oblomov’s songs deal
with the many injustices in the Russian political system
and the various peculiarities of Russian culture. Three particularly
contentious songs are those written by
Oblomov and performed along with two famous political
activists and television personalities, Ksenia
Sobchak and Leonid Parfyonov. The first, “So
long, Medvedev!” is an open letter to then-president
Dmitri Medvedev, which openly mocks him and the decision
that allowed Putin to return to the presidency. The second is
about Putin himself and is not so praiseful
of the leader, which is to say quite enough
about that song. While, the third,
“Rap Prayer,” is about the craziness surrounding
the now-famous Pussy-Riot episode. On February 21,
2012, five members of the punk-rock
collective Pussy Riot staged a mock concert
in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior,
demanding, among other things, the removal of then-prime
minister Vladimir Putin from power. The ensuing court battle
and incarceration of three of the five, and Putin’s
personal involvement in the case, garnered
worldwide media attention. This event put all Russian
artists on notice– you can either play by the
rules or go against them and face the consequences. I presume you’ve all
heard of Pussy Riot but I imagine that
you’ve not all seen the clip of what
put them in jail– of why they put them in jail. So here it is with an
English translation. It starts with a
Eastern Orthodox “Ave Maria,” which is actually
from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. [SINGING IN RUSSIAN] “Virgin
Mary, drive Putin out of power” is what they’re singing
there and then drops the punk beat,
where they sing more and you can see
the English here. I think it’s important. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – PUSSY RIOT, “MOTHER OF
poetry actually. I mean, it’s hard to even sing. [SINGING IN RUSSIAN] It doesn’t
roll off the tongue so well. But that is, in fact, what
happened on February 21, 2012, and it took them about
a week to incarcerate these three of the five. Three, whom you saw there. One of whom got out of prison
pretty quickly after that and two of whom
stayed in jail until, in an act of magnanimity,
Vladimir Putin released them before
the Sochi Olympics. Didn’t want to have
people in prison during those feel-good
Olympic games. Vasya Oblomov’s
response to all of this was a brilliant trio, again,
with Sobchak and Parfyonov entitled “Rap Prayer.” So this is “Punk Prayer” and
Oblomov wrote “Rap Prayer.” The video begins– oh. Hang on. Oh, I think I was already there. Yes. I think this is right. The video begins with an
Eastern Orthodox Ave Maria again and three rappers dressed
in black religious garb. The rap is addressed
to the Holy Mother and simply goes through all
of the events surrounding Pussy Riot. Let’s take a little listen. OK. Let’s try this here. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – VASYA OBLOMOV, “RAP
PRAYER”] – [SINGING IN RUSSIAN] A different Ave Maria
but another Ave Maria. – [SINGING IN RUSSIAN] This is– I put a
translation here. You might not be
able to read that. So the handout “Example 4.” – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]
“Evil bloggers are trying to flip the boat over.” So the “evil
blogger” in this case is Alexei Navalny, Putin’s
main political opponent, who’s constantly
under house arrest and whose brother is in prison
not because he did anything but purely as leverage. So that Alexei Navalny
behaves himself. As with any rap tune, there
are numerous allusions to current events in this rap. For instance, the
“foreign enemy” is the United States,
while the “someone” from “demanding immediately
to drive someone out” is Putin since Pussy Riot
was demanding his departure from government in their song. But, as Oblomov points
out, he’s simply commenting on what happened
recently and is not making anything up. So through his satire, Oblomov
is able to address injustices in the Russian system. Pussy Riot challenged
Putin directly, while Oblomov does
so indirectly. This distinction
represents the fine line that opposition artists must
walk in contemporary Russia. In an interview with
the BBC from 2014, Oblomov discussed
the protests of 2012, when large numbers of
Russians took to the streets to protest disputed elections. Here is my translation– [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] –underneath. – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] It might be hard to
read the translation with the little video thing. – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] “And that, which has been going
on for the last half year, has been a nightmare.” So that was the annexation of
Crimea, he’s referencing there. Just one second. A final recent song by Oblomov
shows how he’s developed. He often has alternate
personas in his raps and in “Life’s
Complicated,” he has three. Expressed in three
different verses, each persona complains about
how Oblomov’s songs have become so political, anti-Russian,
pro-Ukrainian and urges Oblomov to take an alternate path like
those from his breakout hit “Magadan.” So the three personas, we can
only listen to the first one. I call this my
brother-in-law, Deema, who’s a police officer in Tula. This is like, hey, what
happened to all your good songs, why are you doing all
this political crap, come on, go back, stop
talking all this politics. The second persona is like my
sister-in-law, Tanya. (LAUGHS) Like, we can change from inside,
we don’t want to protest, our government is
going to stop stealing, let’s work with the authorities
and make things well. The third persona is– I’m calling the
Marianne Williamson. Just, think positively! Just– it’s self-help, you know? It’s just, everything’s
going to be fine, just don’t think
about negative things. And that’s the third
persona in the third verse. We’ll listen to the
first verse here and the chorus is sung by
Andre Makarevich, who’s one of the most famous
rockers, old school. He’s got to be 75
now, I would say. His band was called
Time Machine– Mashina Vremeni. Very much a Bob-Dylan-type
figure in Russia but, also, an opposition figure to Putin. So they’ve stripped him of lot
of his awards and distinctions because he’s spoken out. He sings the chorus in
this particular song. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – VASYA OBLOMOV, “LIFE’S COMPLICATED”] And “Example 5” in your
handout has the words. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] So this is Makarevich
are Vladimir Putin’s worst enemies in the world of
rap, Putin’s best friend among rappers in Russia
is Timur Yunusov, whose moniker is Timati. He is an artist in the
party camp of hip hop and his lyrics are, for the
most part, uncontroversial. Before the Russian presidential
elections in March 2012, Timati famously filmed
an election commercial in support of Putin’s candidacy. And you can see a picture of– with Putin there and you can
also see him with Snoop Dogg here. He comes from money, Timati,
and that money buys him access. Even more famously,
Timati’s support for Putin resulted in an invitation
to a post-election party commemorating Putin’s victory at
which only 40 such guests were invited. Timati’s involvement in politics
does not endear him to Russians culturally. But it need be said that
he, more than others, is a true hip hop artist. By this, I mean that he
uses all available channels at his disposal to further his
career and achieve his goals. There are those who would
call this opportunism as well as those who might call
him a sellout and that might be a fair judgment for Timati. But no one can deny that in
the face of keeping it real, the most successful hip hop
artists in the United States are, to one extent or
another, opportunistic. That Timati has branched out
to start his own clothing line, his own production
company, his own craft beer and burger franchise is in
line with many of the biggest names in American hip hop. Timati’s alliance with
the current Russian power structures has proven
quite beneficial for him. All channels are open
and he is free to pursue any project he desires. Noticeably, there
is a strong audience for this brand of
hip hop in Russia and many interesting new
artists have aligned themselves with Timati, an
artist who represents an antipode, in many ways,
to Noize MC and Oblomov. “Best Friend,” a rap shot on
Red Square with Timati and Sasha Chest is a good example
of how accessibility is tied to politics
and Putin in Russia. It’s a quite frightening
work with racism, sexism, and many
homages to Putin for whom the two rappers made
this rap as a birthday present in 2015. Of course, one cannot
shoot on Red Square without Putin’s signature, so it’s clear
he signed off on this work. Most frightening, to my
eyes, are the Putin masks that various figures
wear in this rap. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] Black Star is the production
company that he started. There’s St. Basil’s on the
left, the Kremlin on the right, this is Red Square. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] “My best friend is
president Putin.” – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] This is supposed to represent
Putin walking to the DJ table, the soundboard. And there he is. It’s Putin. Let’s party. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] [LAUGHTER] I thought it would–
so, I thought it’d be interesting just to
think of the poetry explicitly, and so, I’m going to
read two excerpts. I’m going to read the
third verse of Oblomov’s [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] just to
get a sound for the Russian and then I’ll read the second
verse of [SPEAKING RUSSIAN].. So page 7 has the third verse
of the Oblomov-Makarevich song that we listened to and we
can just compare these two pieces as poetry because that’s
what it is or trying to be. So this is the one, it says– the English is honestly– I don’t really get it, right? Page seven. And here’s the Russian. [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] This is the
Marianne-Williamson one, right? By the way, that– (LAUGHS)
just bear that in mind. [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]
That’s funny. (LAUGHS) [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] So that’s the
third verse of Oblomov and this is the second verse– the next page, page
eight, this is Timati. We didn’t hear this part. It’s verse 2, it’s the
one in Russian that says, the Russian product is the
hit of the market, again, and I’ll read that
just as poetry. [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] So I don’t know what you
think about those two poetry recitations but rather
than opening up to you, I’ll finish my talk
here and I’ll just say, I think my 9-year-old could
write better Russian poetry– [LAUGHTER] –than Timati or
Sasha Chest, who have a hard time putting
two sentences together. Not exactly the sharpest
tools in the shed there. But they’ve got
their Lamborghinis and their Ferraris, so
they’re doing just fine. Another rap tune from Timati,
this time with his friend Alexey Domatov, known
by his moniker, “Guf,” backfired on September 7. Just six weeks ago, they
released the rap, “Moscow”– Moskva– on YouTube as
an homage to the city on its birthday, which is
celebrated in the first week of every September based on its
founding in 1147 Common Era. In the video, Timati
raps that there are no gay parades
in Moscow and how he doesn’t go to protest meetings. I’ll give a little
bit of this here. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – TIMATI, “MOSKVA”] That’s Guf on the right,
Timati on the left. It’s Moscow State University,
Moscow River, a new bridge– [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]
if I’m not mistaken. St. Peter. Oh, it got better. The Bolshoi Theater
of opera and ballet. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] There’s the Red Square. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] By the way, what
we just saw there, the cathedral where Pussy
Riot took place and I didn’t really want to watch
that much more of that. Rather, I would rather get
to this news clip which talks about the reaction to
this rap, “Moscow,” and the fact that they took it
down three days after they put it
up, on September 10. And I’ll just do a
simultaneous translation here. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] The clip of rapper
Timati and Guf, “Moscow,” has been
taken down from YouTube. By latest statistics, more
than five million people watched it and it garnered
a record number of dislikes. 1.5 million dislikes
and only 85,000 likes. In the rap, he talks
about there are no gay parades in Moscow, how
the tiles are going everywhere. He’s a fifth-generation
Muscovite who does not go to protest meetings. He says that he
will eat a burger to the health of
Sobyanin He says that he is not ashamed
of his actions, that he’s proud of his city. He said that he took down the
video because he didn’t want to promote [SPEAKING RUSSIAN]—-
negativity– Guf gave his own public
apology and this is Guf. – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] I’m very sorry that I don’t
watch political situation in my country or in Moscow. I did not know that there
were mayoral elections the day before yesterday and I was
very enthusiastic to film this clip about Moscow
because we’re Muscovites. I didn’t get a penny for–
kopek– for filming this. [LAUGHTER] So it was a pretty bad
backlash as you could tell. Immediately after they put
it up, they took it down. But as I tell my 9-year-old,
when you put something on the internet,
you can take it down but you haven’t taken it
down, let’s just– (LAUGHS) I found it. (LAUGHS) [LAUGHTER] OK. Another rapper who’s
caused something of a stir recently is Dmitry Kuznetsov,
who goes by his moniker, “Husky,” and his lyrics are
not directly challenging Putin but he speaks generally of
hardship in Russia, which has put him in the sights
of government censors. Here’s a sample of Husky’s rap. He’s from Ulan-Ude, the
capital of the Russian Republic of Buryatia, directly
north of Mongolia. And this is in handout
“Example 8” and let’s listen to a little bit of this rap. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC – HUSKY] – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] This is the chorus here. – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] And there’s a second verse. Life is hard in a far
off province like this and Husky’s lyrics
reflect these troubles. Consequently, many of his recent
concerts have been canceled and in November 2018, he was
detained with other rappers on trumped up charges
of hooliganism. This episode famously made
it to Vladimir Putin’s annual New Year’s Q&A session
with the Russian people. So he was detained for
12 days in November 2018, and there were many
instances of other rappers whose shows get canceled, and
there is some detention always, and so it made it into the
very famous, end-of-year press conference that Putin holds. It’s entirely staged if
you’ve seen any of it or even just read
about it and it goes on for three or four hours. Edward Snowden famously Skyped
in to this press conference 2, 3, 4 years ago,
can’t remember. But there’s– it’s a press–
it’s just a photo– big, long photo-op and I’ll do a
translation here for this one too. Because it’s very interesting
that only not even a year ago, here’s Vladimir Putin
talking about the detention of Russian rappers
right after Husky was released from detention. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] With respect to the
detention of these rappers, I agree with you. There’s no point. It’s just going to
have a backlash effect. There’s no good
thing about that. Also, there’s nothing
good as you said. If they sing with
profanities, let them sing. Fine. [END PLAYBACK] I’m going to– sorry. I’m going to stop because I
forgot to mention something funny here, which
is a side note, but he’s about to mention
this famous conductor. His name is Yuri Temirkanov. And I’m a cellist and I
trained in St. Petersburg. I was able to meet Yuri
Temirkanov a couple of times in the 90’s in Russia
in St. Petersburg and I was never able
to play in orchestra– but I know many people
who played for him. He’s an inveterate alcoholic
and everybody would say, when he is drunk, he’s the
greatest conductor ever, but heaven forbid you play for
him when he’s sober because he cannot keep a beat. And (LAUGHS) I just thought
that was the funniest thing. But it doesn’t matter of course. These people are
legendary, and you’re not supposed to know those
inside stories about them, and Putin is about to
mention Temirkanov. So I’m going to go back,
and I’ll rewind 30 seconds, and play this again
with my translation. Whoops! [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] With respect to the
detention of these rappers, I agree with you. There’s no point. It’s just going to
have a backlash effect. There’s no good thing
in detaining them. Also, there’s no good
in, as you were saying, if they sing with profanities,
fine let them sing. Recently, you saw at the
anniversary of Temirkanov. He was 80-years old. He said a simple thing, nothing
special, but, nevertheless, true. Art exists not to
condone or appease the lowest common denominator,
the low profile of culture. Culture exists in order to
lift the culture of people. Of course, to grab, and catch,
and punish these rappers, it’s not true, we
shouldn’t do that. [END PLAYBACK] So he talked about that
directly on the heels of this detention of Husky. The final rapper, which
I’ll but discuss briefly, is Miron Fyodorov a.k.a. Oxxxymiron and there he is. 1703 is the founding
of St. Petersburg, the city of his birth and
the city he moved back to from England about
five, six years ago. And there he is with
Syrian-American battle rapper Dizaster after a very famous
English-language battle rap in Los Angeles. So when Oxxxymiron was nine, his
family immigrated to Germany. And when he was 15,
they moved to England, where he, ultimately, got a
bachelor’s degree in English Literature at Oxford. Thus, Oxxxymiron is
fluent in three languages and he raps in all three. When he was about 30, he
moved back to his native St. Petersburg and he’s currently
one of the most famous rappers in Russia, garnering 22,000
fans at his most recent stadium concerts. But Oxxxymiron is most
famous as a battle rapper and judging by his
views on YouTube, he’s the most famous
battle rapper in the world. Battle rap is a
distinct art form and it is rare that a
commercial artist like him excels in the art form. Here’s a clip from a famous
battle with Slava KPSS, which, at more than
43-million views, some say is the most
watched rap battle in the history of the genre. I won’t be translating this one. [LAUGHTER] It’s a little saucy. [LAUGHTER] So you can just hear
the Russian and just– if you have never
watched a battle rap, well, you can see a minute
or two of this battle rap. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – [RAPPING IN RUSSIAN] [END PLAYBACK] Ooh! Yeah, no translation
there, folks. [LAUGHTER] So a brief conclusion–
that nationalism is prominent in Putin’s
Russia is not in question. This nationalistic environment
and the backlash against it affects rap in Russia
in various ways. As a poetic art form,
rap is scrutinized to a far greater extent
than other art forms. Also, the authorities realize
that it is wildly popular. By most accounts, the most
popular music in the country. And they can see its
influence on its citizens. The sad thing about being
a rapper in Putin’s Russia lies in the fact that
one must choose sides– either be with Putin
or against him. That is, be a
friend or an enemy. To do neither is,
to a large degree, to wither away in obscurity. Of course, there are
many talented rappers who practice their
craft without getting that involved with
politics, but the fact that everyone must take a
stance on Russia’s present power structure is lamentable. It’s hard to say how
this will all play out after Putin’s tenure is
over, but there is no doubt that rap will continue
to thrive in Russia and play an integral
part in its future. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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