Rethinking Exoticism in White Punk’s “God Father” (2019)

“Cultural Exoticism“, as defined by Dr. Marius Mihet, is explained as the, “highest note of capitalist consumerism” (2014, 35). As a consequence, this type of cultural relationship resembles the attempted utilization of cultures outside of one’s own space in order to discover something, to renew oneself, to achieve something by forceful interpolation of culture into culture. Following the traditional lines when one thinks Exoticism, the ‘othering’ of a foreign culture to the ideals of another.

This type of Exoticism, one of ten types of Exoticism as delineated by Mihet, underscores the predominant method by which artists across the globe have made sense of cultures unlike their own, using fanciful ideations of what they must be in order to espouse very particular ways of being and thinking about their own culture and its importance. However, Mihet notes something that must be considered when thinking about Exoticism’s role in the realm of Russian hip-hop and the ways Russian rappers relate themselves to non-Russian cultures, “a vehicle for knowing…requires a simple participation, but… a totalizing participation of the human being…invites man to playing.” What’s being said here? He notes a bit farther in that, “If otherness gets too assimilated, exoticism is in danger”, noting the importance of Exoticism in providing a space for cultural exchange, for without it the desire to learn about cultures other than your own is diminished and globalization-cum-homogenization sets in. No one wants that, but as many like Baudrillard have argued, does Exoticism actually exist in the age of modernization, commercialization, mass sameness, when everything seems to be the same? Can there be ‘authentic Exoticism’ in the wake of uniformity of such an epic scale?

In this post, I’m going to argue for a reshaping of how we think about Exoticism in Russian hip-hop music using the “New School” rapper White Punk’s 2019 track “Godfather” (in Russian Крестный) in order to argue for a rethinking of Russian rap’s reliance on American tropes. Why is this track an example of Exoticism, and what does it mean for a Russian rapper to, quite literally, fetishize one of American cinema’s most important movies (The Godfather, 1972) and desire to emulate it?

The Track’s Music

The track’s musical foundation is a three-note (D – F# – G), B minor motif that evokes the soundtrack from the The Godfather, composed by Italian composer Giovanni Rota Rinaldi (Nino Rota), whose relationship with music stems far into his childhood and whose work has been praised by composers of many kinds including Soviet composer Sergei Slonimsky, and is notable for having used classical music. He also wrote an opera, “Il cappello di paglia di Firenze” (The Straw Hat of the Florentine), a four-act opera which had its debut in 1977 and was most recently performed in 2013 by the Wexford Festival. Much like the film’s opening waltz, a hauntingly beautiful yet somber prophecy of what’s to come (“The Godfather’s Waltz”), so too does the track’s theme take on this feeling of unease, longing, despair, drive, desire, and wistfulness for a life not truly lived. Throughout the track, this theme resounds in the background as a trap texture overtakes the atmosphere. Yet, read between the lines, and one feels almost sympathy for White Punk. He attains his desires but at what cost, can he truly think about what the ramifications of his choices will be? The track’s motif is noted below, note the minor sixth jump. In this way, White Punk’s music utilizes the nostalgic feelings of the minor sixth and the B minor key as a musical allusion to The Godfather’s soundtrack without truly using the soundtrack. Thus, he exotifies the music and weaponizes its aesthetics in order to personify a very particular aroma and worldview analogous with the film. However, it’s merely skin deep and the motif doesn’t grow nor shrink. Thus, it is rendered ‘exotified’ as it is not a fully formed belief of belief or heavily detailed musical statement but a piece of kitschy clothing. Yet, the choice to use the musical identity of The Godfather through the minor sixth renders the subject of White Punk’s track an “Other”, as the entire identity has been boiled down to one interval. And yet, it does its job no? Exoticism has fulfilled its aesthetic purpose.

This repeats just like this continuously throughout the track without much change

The Track’s Text

However, allusions to The Godfather are much more overt than simply musical allegories and mimetic minor contrivances. If one looks into the text, you are greeted with allusions to the Godfather’s reckless and demanding way of life, where he is granted everything he desires without question. The texts demonstrate a fierce relationships with drug consumption, sexual gratification, the usage of guns, and White Punk’s unquestionable authority and control over his “house.” The entire track reads as a sycophantic parody of gangsterism and the glorification of the mobster mentality. In the final line of the track, White Punk compares himself with the main protagonist of The Godfather series Don Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) who is known as a morally upstanding family man and masterful criminal. One can make the argument that this track by White Punk is the standard peddling of ‘New School’ rappers alongside ‘gangster rap’ lines in order to espouse some type of credibility and “authenticity” at the heart of much of rap’s aesthetic core. But given the relationship of the gangster culture to post-Soviet Russian culture, it’s far more than that. Exoticism of this type, playing the “American gangster” in the ‘Russian way’ is at the heart of the post-Soviet Russian mind. Thus, although in a way White Punk’s unapologetic fetishization of The Godfather, wearing this mindset like a costume in order to espouse his value and importance as a Russian rapper, it’s rooted in Russian socio-political history, as in the 1990s you had to do what it took to survive and to live. Even now, a Russian rapper must be aware of his image as a man, and to do this one must cater to stereotypical ideations of the dream of manhood in order to be rendered attractive to mass markets. Thus, White Punk wears The Godfather as a historically-charged costume in order to protect his honor as a Russian rapper, and to gain the necessary income to sustain his career.

“I’m like fucking Don Corleone”

White Punk “Крестный” (2019)

In Conclusion

In this post, I have attempted to answer the questions, “How does Exoticism play a part in this track”, and “Can Exoticism be reworked in order to better understand its place in Russian rap?” Thus, I argue that in the music, by creating a motif that is highly reminiscent of The Godfather’s musical identity, yet inherently novel, White Punk has both exotified (or engaging in “Othering”) the film, thereby prescribing to the standardized ideations of Exoticism in music, as the entire film was boiled down to a particular mindset, one of longing and somber nostalgia. In the textual world, I argued that Exoticism came through White Punk’s unapologetic adoption of the tropes of gangster culture, mob mentality, and the attraction for drugs, women, and overt demonstrations of aggression, dominance, and masculinity. By reducing the film to a thematic stereotype, it is easier to don the mannerisms and qualities of the film, thereby rendering the film a ‘costume’ that can be worn in order to elicit a very particularized result. However, White Punk’s exotifying of The Godfather is historically connected with post-Soviet determinism and the fight for survival in the wake of declined social order, and the consuming anomie of the post-Soviet 1990s. Further, as a “New School” rapper, White Punk is resigned to having to show his masculinity and prove his manhood through his music. Thus, this track is both musically and textually saturated with Exoticism if one reads the track as an attempt to negotiate ‘authenticity’ and ‘self-determinism’ abreast the winds of a (post) post-Soviet landscape, where to survive is to be masculine.

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