According to an interesting Wall Street Journal piece last week, underground rap is stoking a protest movement in Russia with songs “on such hot-button issues as drugs, police brutality and the immense power of the Kremlin-backed elite.” One of the genre’s rising stars is Ivan Alexeyev, who—under the name Noize MC—drew widespread attention with his song “Mercedes S666”, which excoriates a Russian oil executive for allegedly conspiring with police to cover-up a deadly car accident that he caused.
To a menacing beat, Mr. Alexeyev takes on the persona of the oil executive and raps: “Get out of my way, plebeians, don’t get under my wheels / Tremble, pitiful rabble, there’s a patrician on the highway / We’re late for hell, make way for the chariot.”
The song soon went viral after a friend created a South Park-inspired music video and posted it on YouTube.
To date, the YouTube video has had more than 700,000 hits, and it has helped fuel an outcry that ultimately led President Dmitry Medvedev to order a new investigation. Afisha, a popular entertainment magazine, praised Mr. Alexeyev’s song as “the most effective musical act of civil resistance in Russia for the past 10 years.”
But Alexeyev isn’t the only rapper causing a stir in Russia.
Timur Kuzminykh, who goes by the name Dino MC 47, heaped scorn on Russia’s leaders in a song about the March 29 suicide bombings that killed 40 people in the Moscow metro. Attacking officials with “insolent fat faces” who, he alleges, are more concerned with enriching themselves than fighting terrorism, he raps: “Their kids are in London and their money is in the Caymans / But what are we supposed to do, where can we run?”
This surge in politically aware rap combined with the outreach power of the Internet has led many Russian music critics to hope for an end to the vapid commercial pop of the mainstream.
“The Internet is now a much more powerful media resource in the music scene than television or radio,” the critic said. “We are seeing more and more how certain performers are popular purely thanks to the Internet, without any LPs or any support from the mass media.”
Alexeyev, however, isn’t as optomistic about the longterm strength of underground rap in Russia.
“It will probably become like American [rap], where you have some underground labels producing one thing, while TV channels choose songs for their entertainment value,” he said.
This is certainly a valid criticism. Hip-hop in America is probably as far from its socially conscious roots as it has ever been. Hopefully this is one area where Russia won’t follow in our footsteps.