Multilingual rappers: How hip-hop inspires ethnic minorities in Russia

Hip-hop unites the world. The same can be said about Russia, where sometimes, artists from ethnic minorities perform in their native languages, breathing new, fascinating life into a worldwide phenomenon. Watch out – the best of the best are listed below to show you what true diversity and creative freedom in Russia are.

Tatar vibes

Tatars are the second largest ethnic group after Russians, with more than 5,5 million people, most of them living in the Republic of Tatarstan. Traditional clothing, folk songs and a rich culture are united in modern Tatar art. ‘Tatarka’ (whose real name is Irina Smelaya) represents a new-school of hip-hop, masterfully mixing national sound-elements, the Tatar language and mellow beats. Her main hit, ‘Altyn’, already has 47 million YouTube views since 2016. Irina is still active today and even has a collaboration with current Russian sensations Little Big on her list of achievements.

From Caucasus with love

Stas Bokoev was not born in a family of musicians or artists., He found his destiny through negative experiences. Back when he was just a teenager from Ossetia in southern Russia, he was one of the lucky kids who survived the tragic Beslan school siege in 2004, despite receiving a wound in his neck. After rehabilitation, he moved to Moscow where he faced another setback – pneumonia and it’s complications. He barely survived, again, and decided to dedicate himself to the music that helped him to get through all these hardships.

Now Bokoev’s hip-hop/reggae, inspired by Bob Marley, delivers a message of courage and hope to every listener. The rapper performs in his native Ossetian language, but also in Russian. All of his tracks are dedicated to different types of love: love for the family, love for children, love for his girlfriend, and, of course, love for life itself.

The Kalmyk melody department

Kalmykia is a unique region in the south of Russia with steppes, arid terrains and semi-deserts. That’s why the Kalmyks have a knack for writing original verses and making an unparalleled hip-hop sound.

Adian Ubushaev (better known as ‘BodonG’) was born in Elista, the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia. He fell in love with hip-hop, but wanted to do something bigger, rather than just copying the Western MCs. That’s why he chose to use his mother tongue and folk music to create a perfect formula of sound. His songs about life and ancestral heritage are where East and West unite in a perfect mix of cultures, languages, and nature.

Mari, Mari, Mari

Huge forests, beautiful plains and the longest river in Europe, the Volga, are necessary elements of the Mari people’s daily life in Central Russia. Their mother tongue is related to the Finno-Ugric language group and it makes a great tool for making a soft rap. 

That’s what the ‘У ЕН’ band did with their sound and an ironic way of self-presentation. The rappers combine mumble rap and reformat it according to their reality. That’s why their videos depict a grotesque countryside with modern people and pure nature to let you know what a downshifter party really looks like.

Deeper than Lake Baikal 

There are many wonders in the Russian Far East. The Buryats live among them, looking at Lake Baikal and walking along the streets of Ulan-Ude. 

Many of Buryats practice Buddhism or Shamanism, and harsh natural conditions and tough urban life over the years has made them strong – strong enough to deliver almost battle-like folk-inspired hop-hop. That’s why ‘Хатхур Зу’, a local rapper, found his fame and his track ‘Уги Няс’ (meaning “there is no death”), won its place in the charts.

Bonus track

It takes a Russian to depict the whole of Russia. Виталя Альбатрос (aka “Vitaly the Albatross”) does his job with aplomb. Is he laughing at stereotypes or is it a post-ironic message? It’s up to you to decide!

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