No one could have foretold the recent popularity of Russian rap and hip-hop. Of course, rapping in Russian is not a brand-new phenomenon, but in the last two decades, we’ve been seeing more and more people from all over the world falling in love with this genre.
In Russia and CIS, rap, and hip-hop developed into one of the most popular music scenes. It isn’t a niche musical genre anymore: it’s mainstream now, too. And it’s not about American rappers. Russian artists are flourishing every year, conquering the music scene, and writing a new chapter in the history of rap and hip hop.
Straight outta Kazakhstan
The Republic of Kazakhstan, a member of the CIS and ex-Soviet Republic, is the homeland of at least two of the most popular Russian-speaking rappers: Scriptonite and Jah Khalib. They have very different perspectives and styles: Scriptonite writes about life in Kazakhstan’s remote corners, while Jah Khalib’s identity is more a Central Asian one with Turkic and Islamic roots. Another rapper from Kazakhstan who’s worth mentioning is Natan, who seems to search for Russified identity in his songs.
It’s almost like they’re describing different parts of today’s Kazakh culture.
His real name is Adil Oralbekovich Zhalelov and he was born in Kazakhstan’s northeast in 1990.
Just like many American rappers, Scriptonite started to approach rap music to escape from the poor and economically depressed region where he lived. Especially in his early songs, his style is like the “trap” one and he wants to express the struggles of a life in a desert and poor corner of Kazakhstan.
We first heard about him in 2014, with the song “VBVVCTND”, although he had been making music since he was 11. In 2015, he released his debut album “Дом с нормальными явлениями” (Dom s normal’nymi javlenijami/House with Normal Phenomena), that became one of the most successful Russian-language rap albums of that year. He now boasts over 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify and incredible worldwide success.
Bakhtiyar Mammadov, known as Jah Khalib, was born in Almaty in 1993 to an Azerbaijani dad and Kazakh mom. He’s been a student in musicology and management in the Kazakh National Conservatory and he’s currently a rapper, singer, and record producer.
He released his first album in 2016: “Если че, я Баха” (Esli che, ja Baha/What if I’m Bach). In 2017, Jah Khalib won the Muz-TV 2017 Prize for the “Breakthrough of the Year” nomination. One year later, he received a Golden Gramophone Award for “Медина” (Medina), in Moscow.
Meanwhile in Russia…
At the moment, he’s one of the most successful Russian rappers. Born in the old Leningrad in the 80s, he had to move to Germany with his family and then settle in Slough, England. He studied English Literature at Oxford University and when he moved to East London, he started battle rapping while working.
In London, he discovered new aspects of the city, and his unconventional, complex, and intellectual songs started reaching millions of views on the web.
Vakulenko was born in Rostov in 1980, in an army officer’s family, and he started writing rap when he was 15. In 1998, he recorded his first solo single “Моя Игра” (Moya Igra/My Game). He later assembled his own band, “Уличные Звуки” (Ulichnye Zvuki/Street Sounds). In Moscow, Basta began collaborating with other performers like Smoky Mo and Guf.
In 2008, Basta created a new stage name: “Noggano” – which is an allusion to the legendary revolver. With that name, he recorded two albums “Ноггано первый” (Noggano pervij/Noggano. The First) and “Ноггано теплый” (Noggano teplij/Noggano. Warm) in parody style.
Basta before Noggano was actually quite romantic, while, since Noggano, he’s more a “gangsta” who sings about criminals, sex, and drugs.
Timur Ildarovich Yunusov was born in Moscow in 1983 to a Tatar father and a Jewish mother. He is a Russian rapper, contemporary R&B music producer, and businessman. He’s very popular in Russia and abroad, he worked with some famous artists such as Snoop Dogg, P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Xzibit, Craig David, Fat Joe, and DJ Antoine.
Timati first became popular with an R&B quartet “Банда” (Banda/Band), but his true success came in 2006 with the release of “Black Star” – his debut solo album.
Timati is one of the most successful Russian artists, but not everyone is sure that his success is well-deserved: he’s been criticized for plagiarism and some critics think that his success is just the result of “manipulative advertisement”.
What’s sure is that he’s successful all over the world and he boasts over 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
Check out also
If rap and hip hop in Russian language caught your eye, you might want to check out the following artists as well: Feduk, who mixes Russian pop (and some sort of Soviet vibes) with contemporary trends; Face, whose lyrics are a mixture of hedonism and nihilism; Miyagi & Andy Panda, a Russian hip-hop duo from Vladikavkaz with the absolute success of “YAMAKASI”; Pharaoh who, with an emo rock influence, is really redefining the genre.