Propaganda, protest and resistance are three of music’s many functions. Russian music is no exception. But aside from ridiculous songs featuring laughably pro-Putin lyrics like “Putin did not betray Russia” and “Vladimir Putin is a good guy,” mainstream music is usually apolitical. The exceptions to this rule are Russian rap and indie rock. Among the two, protest rap has become more popular in recent years.
Rapper Oxxxymiron has become one of the symbols of the Russian protest movement in 2015 after his song “Where we are not” skyrocketed in popularity on Russian radio and TV. His album “Gorgorod,”(“Citcity”) which first became popular via social networks, is in some ways a rap-novel. It tells the story of a small propagandist who, despite his will, is caught in a power struggle against the depraved and omnipotent mayor of the city. The album tells the united story from the moment when the writer has an idea to write an anti-government book to the moment where his image becomes a tool of anti-propaganda. The name of the album was chosen to resemble the city of Mordor from “the Lord of the Rings” to symbolize the evil nature of the city. Oxxxymiron is famous for participating in rap battles; a video of his recent rap battle got 13 million views.
Oxxxymiron may be the most famous and influential protest rapper, but he is certainly not the only one. Russian rapper Basta’s track “You can’t even see the sun here” or rap group Kasta’s single “They” all address the disconnect between the Russian government and ordinary people, who suffer just trying to get by. Dissatisfaction and aggression towards the Russian government are well expressed in the song “Jordan” by Noize MC and Atlantida Project. The song is a poetic story about “the naked king” who starts a senseless war and blames his “evil enemies” for his people’s suffering. The song uses elements in Arabic and Hebrew to convince listeners to choose pacifism over war. The music video was inspired by the novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and the visual component advances the lyrics’ message even further. Many see this song as a protest against Russian involvement in Syria.
One of the rising stars of Russian rap – Husky – is the most open when it comes to criticizing the regime. His debut single “7th October” features open criticism of Putin and his circle. He uses colloquial language to criticize the regime through the lens of irony:
“The king has a birthday today!
Forget about everything you had on your to-do list, people
Let’s drink a glass for his patience
That he will not throw us, the cattle, away
Forgive us, poor ones, the tsar-father
We promise to work more for you!”
One of Husky’s common topics is the despair of life in Russia. The song “Apartment” rethinks life and death in a small apartment complex. The black and white music video exaggerates the desired effect of hopelessness.
With the new protest movement rising, these songs are becoming more and more influential, partially because it is hard to censor them. The message in most songs is hidden behind careful wordplay and rarely stated explicitly, making the lyrics more difficult to censor. Only time can tell whether the poetry of protest rap will bring new inspiration to the Russian protest movement; certainly, the music has already become an essential part of the movement.
What to watch and listen: