Why Can’t I Stop Listening to Russian Hip-Hop? Or Why The New Cold War Will Be Fought With Diss Tracks

It was a couple nights ago and I was browsing through the Youtube music related bar, as is my natural stasis when I’m avoiding obligations. Once I saw a song named after the popular Russian streetwear brand, Gosha Rubchinskiy (Гоша Рубчинский), you know I had to click it. I figured I would find some funny, corny rap by dudes who were dressed by the internet. Truth is, I was just not prepared for what I was about to see.

My roommates are so sick of this song

Tracksuits, a ton of dudes crammed into a soviet-style apartment block (could have been filmed at UIC), haircuts that are almost fashionable. The music video looked like the living hyperbolization of every eastern European meme I’ve ever seen. All of this was set to bassy cloud beats and the rapper, FACE, speaking about his love of Gosha. The song was reminiscent of the type of internet trap Lil B popularized: most of the song consisted of FACE repeating Gosha’s name over and over to compare himself to the designer.

I initially laughed the song off, but found myself revisiting it throughout the night. There was something strangely alluring about it, though I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I scrolled through the comments and found them to be nearly exclusively in Russian. I tried to google the guy, and could find very little information about him in English except that he was from a small town near the Ukranian border.

Even though what the song is doing is clearly derived from American trap, it feels weirdly unique. Many times when I’ve heard foreign rappers on the internet, it feels like they’re just trying too hard to sound exactly like what is buzzing in the states. I had just as much fun with Keith Ape’s “It G Ma” as everyone else, but you can not tell me with a straight face that it wasn’t just a rip off of “U Guessed It”, by OG Maco. Even if we look past the identical song structure, it just feels to me like It G Ma tried a bit to hard to appeal to Americans.

In Contrast, “Гоша Рубчинский”seems largely inaccessible to an American audience, maybe intentionally so. FACE is speaking about a successful Russian clothing brand while hanging out in humble Russian style apartments and drinking Russian beer. I ended up google translating the lyrics and he even takes shots at American fashion labels and alludes to Russian alliance with China.

“Hey Hilfiger, get back, I now famous.”

“My dawn is not far away, they know it.

Flag of Russia and China, they are discussing.”

It seems that in a time when music is often about trying to be someone you’re not, FACE is proud to be exactly who he is: Russian. The song doesn’t focus on being too wealthy, going overseas, or any other trope of American rap. The dude is just stoked to be hanging out with his friends in a normal environment while wearing Gosha, a brand that has brought a ton of nationalistic pride to Russians like himself.

With my interest piqued in a music scene I seem to have entirely overlooked, I started clicking the related links and listening to snippets of songs: the videos were endless. Even compared to something as large as the UK Grime scene, the amount of related videos with new Russian songs and artists left me overwhelmed. I noticed a song with at least 10 times the amount of views of any other and knew I had to click it.

Immediately, the presentation felt more polished. The setting was less commie block, more boujee night on the town. The lyrics seemed more complex, and the video’s aesthetic was actually stunning. If FACE is Russian Lil B, these guys are their A$AP Rocky. In addition to being impressed with the song itself, I couldn’t believe when I saw it had almost 24 Million views. At first I figured the song must be poppin and I’m just late on it, but I did a search on a couple American hip-hop forums and there was just about no recognition of it. Once again, the YouTube comments were exclusively in a language I couldn’t even sound out.

In a world where music and culture are increasingly globalized, I guess I just found it surprising that there exists this flourishing music scene which is entirely separate from anything going on in America. Maybe my mindset is too western-centric, maybe they’re just overlooked, or maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

Just about all of the songs posted by artists on the come up like PHAROAH, FACE, or Boulevard Depo are pretty new; I couldn’t find one older than 2013. During this time period, there has been a ton of talk about the changing identity of Russia. Recent events like Russian annexation of Crimea, the proxy war in Syria, and the DNC hack have complicated the United States’ relationship with Russia to say the least. Mutual disapproval between our countries is at it’s highest point since before the fall of the Berlin wall.

These geopolitical issues have brought with them a resurgence in the kind of mainstream anti-Russian propaganda that Americans haven’t seen since the cold war. I swear the ghost of Joe Mccarthy is present in every newsroom in this country based on the way that Russia is talked about. In the days after the DNC hacks gained attention, I remember The Economist posting a 10 part snapchat story just talking shit about the Russian economy, and they weren’t the only ones running random smear campaigns.

This phenomenon of changing, and in many cases deteriorating, international relations isn’t exclusive to that of the US and Russia. Countries all around the world seem to be increasingly subscribing to isolationist ideology. Brits decided to Brexit, France might be next, and of course Americans just elected Cheeto Benito, who has somehow already managed to piss off more people than expected.

Amidst this global rise of nationalism, maybe the most logical thing to happen to music scenes around the world is for them to exist more within their specific bubbles. To me, Hip Hop is an art form of the common people: it generally reflects youthful cultural phenomenons in a very direct way. It seems that another effect of rising international tensions is a ton of new music that featuring kids just repping the hell out of Russia.

Though, In these uncertain times, there is something hilarious about seeing these dudes making the Russian analogue to American trap. Russian’s have been painted as enemies for as long as I’ve been alive, and the anti-Ruski rhetoric has been turned up tenfold within the last couple months. Yet, here are people my age in the heart of their country just flexing like any whack soundcloud rapper in America would be. It’s actually comforting. I ended up google translating the lyrics of this song, too, figuring I might find more political statements.

Things didn’t go as I expected, but I truthfully I don’t know why I anticipated anything different than what I found.

5-minutssss

It’s heartwarming to know that trap is the same no matter what language you’re speaking.

If you want to prepare for the inevitable soundcloud cold war, check out Russian artists FACE, PHAROAH, Boulevard Depo, Jeembo & tveth, or just buy some Gosha.

 

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