Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hip Hop World: Russia and Uganda Edition

The website GlobalPost recently reported on the rap scene in Russia under the title “Can Rap Change Russia?”; the subject of the piece was Russian rapper Noize MC, who just spent ten days in jail for insulting police officials in Volgograd. While politically-charged rap is nothing new in the United States (think Public Enemy and NWA among others), Noize MC is blazing a new path in Russia by writing songs about corrupt officials and abusive police officers. His biggest statement to date is the song “Mercedes S666” a rap about a mother and daughter killed in a traffic accident by a bureaucrat's speeding Mercedes. The story caused national outrage in Russia over the use of flashing blue lights attached to the top of a car – the blue lights are only intended to be used by only official vehicles in emergency situations, but they have been doled out to thousands of petty bureaucrats who use them to flout traffic laws, sometimes with disastrous results.

Noize MC was jailed for ten days after performing an impromptu rap about police abuse; he was convicted of “disorderly conduct” two days later and jailed. Since his release, he has seen some of his concerts canceled, likely due to official pressure. While Noize MC may be taking Russian rap to new places, people familiar with the Russian music industry interviewed by GlobalPost say that he is the exception to the rule, and that most musicians today are content to not make waves when it comes to criticizing the government. Perhaps there's no better indication of that than the fact that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was actually nominated for a rap award earlier this year for his appearance on “Battle for Respect”, a sort of American Idol for aspiring Russian rappers and breakdancers. Putin appeared on the show to give rap and breakdancing his seal of approval for promoting a “healthy lifestyle” among young people; Putin's appearance was subsequently nominated for “Event of the Year” at the first annual Russian Street Awards, a show dedicated to rap, breakdancing and graffiti art (to their credit, the Russian Street Awards organizers decided to limit the butt-kissing to the nomination stage rather than giving Putin an award).

And while we're on the topic of world leaders and rap, Uganda's 65-year old President Yoweri Museveni could become rap's latest, and most unlikely, star. A rap of a campaign speech Museveni gave earlier this year has been set to a beat and is currently burning up the charts in Uganda. The lyrics include the lines: “harvesters, give me millet that I gave to a hen, which gave me an egg that I gave to children, who gave me a monkey that I gave to the king, who gave me a cow that I used to marry my wife,” and are based on a Ugandan fairy tale. Museveni busted out the rhymes during a campaign stop with young supporters.
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