Part of an ongoing project to understand the musical aesthetics and subtleties of the musical vocabulary of philosophically-tinged Russian rapper Husky, I have begun with his earliest (official) release in order to piece together how elements like key, tonality, sampling, and especially melody and musical themes are used to create very particularized sound worlds and feelings. It was clear from my research on his aesthetic language in his 2020 album “Hoshkhonog” that certain choices were conscious on his end but how far they extend into his discography, and how close they are to the fundamental language of Husky ‘the person’ is unknown yet. Thus, my analysis is an attempt to answer such questions.
Further, what they mean in context of larger discourses like nationalism, neo-Slavophile affinity, identity creation, and nationhood retaliation/endorsement is also unclear just yet. But as I will show in this post, from preliminary analysis of his first album, several elements stand out that position Husky as a “Cosmopolitan” (and perhaps “Enlightened”) figure, far more than perhaps he’s willing to publically admit. Within 13 tracks, influences of both the German 1790s and American 1970s are referenced through particular samples, while every single one his tracks are placed in a minor key, accompanied with a very particular theme and melody. Again, such things are not uncommon for Husky (see Vandevert 2022), but what’s curious is that it seems that the importance of key, texture, and sampling were (and still are) intrinsic to Husky’s musical vocabulary as a whole. Obviously, this doesn’t preclude other artists from doing the same but in the case of Husky, everything means something. In this case, it is imperative to properly decode his aesthetics.
As you can see, there are idiosyncrasies with this album, and many unanswered questions. Firstly, where would he have learned about Betty Wright and Mozart’s Requiem? Who is responsible with choosing the song’s keys and especially putting them in the particular order they are in? How were the musical themes for each track determined and created? Why were samples limited to two tracks and not used in more tracks? What is the connection between the themes of the tracks and their keys? Is the entire album situated in one key, or is a conscious plan being made? A hard hitting one is what is the symbolic function of pairing classical music with R’n’B? What was Husky trying to do? Does race, class, and gender play a role? Why pair Germany with America with Russian?
- Minor Key used in every track
- A – A – E – Db – Ab – D – D – A – G – E – Ab – F# – C
- Two samples featured
- Mozart’s Requiem [Sequentia: Lacrimosa] (1790s)
- Betty Wright’s “I Love the Way You Love” (1972)
- Each track has its own theme and melodic identity
- Downward thirds [track 5] vs. three-note motif [track 10]
Exploration: Sampling of Betty Wright
For the remainder of this post, I will explore one of the samples, its connection to Russia, and its theoretical connection to Husky, trying to answer along the way the “Why” to its presence on the album. It beggars belief that Husky would have found this track all by himself given the novelty of its selection. Given that most of his current music is co-produced with his beat maker QT, perhaps this was not his own choosing. However, this was his debut album and thus, the infrastructure he has now may not have been in place at the time, leading to the assumption that it was a conscious choice on his part. If this is the case, where would he have learned about this artist and the particular song? Can a theoretical historiographical account be created that would explain how the track could have struck an encounter with the artist? How can we explain its presence on the album using history, context, and music history?
Firstly, her 1972 album “I Love the Way You Love” was Betty Wright’s first album with Alston Records (founded in 1964). Recorded in her late-teens, this album would help cement her popularity, and color her a highly mature artist for her age. Outside of album-specific histories, having released in the early 1970s it is plausible (although unprovable) that the album could have made its way into Russia during the late-Soviet discotheque period of the mid-late 1970s, whereupon it became infused into the culture of the day. It could even have influenced the creation of Russian rap, although again such assertions are difficult to prove. Her death in 2020 at the age of 66 was reported by various Russian news outlets, but coverage on her influence in Russian music is next to none.
A small bit of information from an article by Olga Vorobyeva possibly articulates her (invisible) influence and legacy in Russia. As she notes, Betty Wright was an instrumental force in the disco, soul, and R’n’B movements of the late-1980s alongside names like Donna Summer, Diana Ross, and Madonna. If we understand Wright’s place in music history, then when Donna Summer reigned supreme over the Soviet disco landscape in the 1970s and 80s, there is reason to believe that Betty Wright’s name was there as well, even if proof is unavailable. Oleg V. Sinyeoki notes how in the late 1970s, despite anti-disco crackdowns Donna Summer could be heard in discotheques alongside groups like Boney M. and La Bionda (2015). What does this mean? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps it means that between the cracks of scholarship on Soviet disco lies Betty Wright’s name, and that through the epochs her influence gradually grew to the point that Husky (or someone related) became a fan of her music and wanted to use it in their own music. More research is needed to answer these questions but a trail, albeit a small one, is there.
Lots of unknowns arise when attempting to understand why Husky chose to put all his tracks in minor, use two antithetical samples of pieces of music far from rap, and in what ways do these elements come to represent higher-level discourses about what Husky believes and exemplifies through his rap. It’s critical that the musical elements within rap music be adequately understood outside of purely textual considerations, as these samples (and the usage of minor and definable musical themes) be understood as representative of something deep within the mind of rappers. Research on sampling is easy enough to come by (Lena 2004), but when it comes to Russian rap it is absent. In my doctoral thesis, I am hoping to get into it a bit, as well as write a stand-alone article on sampling from Russian rap. For the time being, try listening to rap with your ears ever wider. Listen for those things that lie deeper than text, the musical exemplification of the mind itself.