commentary Hip-hop Russia

What the Self-Censorship of Instasamka Really Means for Russian Rap Culture

If you don’t keep up with the news within the Russian hip hop world, thanks to the war and years of censorship, artists are now having to make concessions in order to continue their careers. One such case involves the female rapper Instasamka (Daria Evgenievna Zoteeva) and her recent announcement that her upcoming tour will not be including salacious content nor swearing, along with a myriad of other things. Why is this significant you might ask? As this post will show, her public statement that she will refrain from openly sexuality and swearing is a tell-tale sign of the repression of free expression, anti-hegemonic articulations of self, and the continual repression of non-normative ideology within the Russian nation.

Although the proliferation of drug usage, alcohol abuse, sexual immodesty, and other superficially troubling content does pose a potential threat to minors the young of society, if America is any model the policing of such things only make the issue worse. Rather than aiding youth in making the more productive choice, youth are encouraged to seek out alternative spaces whereupon access to this publically banned content can be accessed more surreptitiously. Look at Soviet jazz culture, rock culture, disco culture. The enforcement of censorship along content-concern lines does little to address to the fundamental reasons youth are seeking out this content in the first place. Nevertheless, let us take a look at Instasamka and the recent developments in order to answer the question:

What was censored, why, and what have been some effects?

[Summarized: Instasamka’s censorship and self-censorship is a worrying turn of events, as dubious allegations and the vilification of embraced sexuality within lawful parameters poses a significant threat to the freedom of expressions encased with the Constitution of the Russian Federation]

Allegations Against Her

On the 10th, Ekaterina Mizulina (current head of the Safe Internet League, a practically governmental body created for the sole purpose of policing internet content), released the following statement:

This is significant for a plethora of reasons, most notably the exploitation of the dissemination of drug-related content to the Russian youth as a pretext for overt repression and/or suppression of content. We have already seen this tactic used with Morgenshtern, and while it may or may not be true, the point here is that the usage of anti-drug laws proves to be a convenient method to regulate Russian culture as a whole. The third paragraph is the most important, although study is necessary to gauge the truthfulness of the first paragraph’s claim. The article that is being claimed to have been broken is Article 228.1:

Illegal acquisition , storage , transportation , manufacture , processing without the purpose of sale of narcotic drugs , psychotropic substances or their analogues in a significant amount, as well as illegal acquisition, storage, transportation without the purpose of sale of plants containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances, or parts thereof containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances, in a significant amount

Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Article 228.1)

There are two allegations here but I will deal with the first.

The obvious next step is to find evidence of the drug statute being broken. It is not a secret that rappers in Russia are notorious for their consumption of alcohol and sexual promiscuousness. But drug use and drug-related content? That is something that is rarely, if ever, seen in the aesthetics and lyrics of Russian rappers. Ekaterina argues that Instasamka was publically endorsing drug stores, although provides no evidence in her Telegram post. Upon further inspection, and I do mean inspection as the missing context is really unhelpful here, there is little to no evidence for such a claim. Further research will be needed to figure the legitimacy of this claim. However, the second one is far more interesting as it opens the door towards the criminalization of sexualization itself. Just because someone is openly sexual, does that also mean lewd behaviours are being endorsed? By embracing sexuality, does Instasamka endorse others to copy in her footsteps?

The persecution (and I do mean this literally) of Instasamka’s sexual antics goes back quite far. In the fall of 2021, she was accused of promoting prostitution due to her unconcealed way of expression. Allegations of these kinds came from a myriad of regional and national voices it seems, although I will add that this seems to only be one way as other rappers (male I should add) are also sexually brazen yet receive different treatment (i.e., Timati and his rap “family”). Nevertheless, having only risen to fame in the past 4-5 years following her departure as a YouTube blogger to the world of rap and social media content, her public image has always been of a more sexualized nature. Moreover, in an article from 2019 (only a year or two after her transformation), it was revealed that her overt sexuality and exaggerated antics are purposefully orchestrated to garnish a reaction,

“Of course, this is an image”

Pushka Interview, 2019 (Timestamp 6:27)

She quickly shot to (in)famy and caught the attention of the Russian public. Shortly after, she released her first two albums, BORN TO FLEX and TRIPLE BABY, and her career in rap was secured. But the argument comes down to the policing and castigation of sexuality, and most prominently female sexuality (Muggleton et al 2018, Schneemann 1991, Escofett and Allende in Zoila 2019). Because of the conservative and Orthodox nature of Russia, the regulation on what the woman is and is not allowed to do permeates the very fabric of contemporary Russian culture. Thus, to be unremorsefully sexual as a female in Russia is itself a political statement. Commanding space and attention, Instasamka has revealed herself both physically and emotionally to hatred from her own countrymen and for what? Staying away from Susan McClary’s gendering of the musical form, her work in uncovering the hidden agenda of music’s sexual politics is a necessary frame in which to view the vilification of Instasamka in Russia today. In her landmark work “Feminine Endings” (2002) in speaking about the operas of the 19th century, specifically Strauss’ Salome

The increasingly paranoid and masochistic cultural agendas of the late nineteenth century tend to give full rein to the perceived horror of female sexual power, flirting with the possibility that it cannot be stopped except by exerting closure violently from without...The monstrosity of Salome’s sexual and chromatic transgressions is such that extreme violence seems justified—even demanded—for the sake of social and tonal order.”

Pg. 100

I quote this passage because I think it speaks to something very potent in the aspersions cast upon Instasamka. If a woman such as Instasamka is allowed to exist, then the dominant (mostly matriarchal) fabric of Russian society will be destabilized. The idea that a woman can be forceful in her sexuality and command space, attention, AND then receive it is a horrid development and an example of the degradation of moralist societal standards. To make music is male-dominated industry requires a touch of capitulation on the part of the male. The woman must be willing to give in, to succumb to the standards expected of her, in order to rise in the ranks. As McClary eloquently writes,

To create music within a male-defined domain is a treacherous task. As some women composers of so-called serious or experimental music are discovering, many of the forms and conventional procedures of presumably value-free music are saturated with hidden patriarchal narratives, images, agendas.

Pg. 154

What Now?

Having already had the scare of concert cancellations back in 2021, Instasamka (the day after Ekaterina’s post) released the following message,

Lots to address here but given the length already, I’ll refrain for here. I want to mention however that as a result of this there has been two updates that are seminal to add this final point. That is the cancellation of one concert in Pyatigorsk and the potential cancellation in Krasnodar. These two cancellations, while banal in the grand scheme of things, continues the trend of concert cancellations in Russia which has a long and winding history beginning in 2010 all the way up to the present (that is 12 years of cancellations, relatively speaking with some missing years in between). Check out my ongoing database for exact figures, but it should be concerning that such cancellations have not been curtailed even with the governmental intervention that was supposedly launched to help squash such regional overstepping.

It is also significant that the pushback against Instasamka in Krasnodar is coming from local residents which then is prompting local officials to respond. This is blatantly wrong and should be stopped as the “cleansing” of culture by the masses is nothing short of the resurgence of eerie Soviet-styled censorial practice. Cultural tailoring gone rouge! We’ve already seen Putin state (albeit back in 2018) that he desires the state to get involved in the censorship of rap music. Without a free cultural sector, draconian mundanity will quickly spread to places of power if it hasn’t already. What can be done to repudiate such a development? Leaving the country? Tailoring your expressionary voice to ensure wider acceptance?

There is no easy answer but the future for Russian rap is a grim one if artists continue to capitulate and leave the country. I fear for the art form.

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