Coming from the “second wave” of Russian rap (i.e, 2000s onwards), rapper Guf (Aleksey Sergeevich Dolmatov) has become a well-known staple of the Russian “Old School” sound of rap. Having begun in the now closed Rolexx group back in 2000, rap sound/looked much different than it does now. Best known for his work as the co-founder of the group Centre (2004-2016), going on to collaborate with other esteemed “Old School” groups and semi-underground figures like Basta, Slim, Smoky Mo, the Baltic Clan, and Murovei just to name a few, Guf has cemented himself as a historical figure in Russian rap history. He’s also worked with the “Old School,” Azerbaijani duo Caspian Cargo (2000-), a favorite of mine.
Having consistently released music and music videos since his beginnings in the early 2000s, Guf has already released the track “About the Poodle” and has been featured on Smoky Mo’s latest album, “Alpha.” This latest “Old School” release in collaboration with Princip (Nikolai Nikulin, fellow co founder of Centre), the track entitled “Sobriety,” is a reggae/rock inspired ode to the tribulations that alcoholism brings and each rapper’s journey in reclaiming themselves and their post-alcohol identity. The track harkens back to the “Old School” with a more mellow ambience and slower tempo, inviting listeners to ponder on what’s being said instead of pure aesthetic pleasure like other genres like trap and EDM. There’s no rushing, and both rappers invite listeners to really mesh with the melodic comfy-ness of the track while also internalizing what’s being talked about. Life is hard, sobriety takes work, freedom isn’t guaranteed, but you can’t forget to smile when shit hits the fan. With a twanged-out guitar, somber but steady bass drums, and a reggae sway to the beat, a sense of lull and relived nostalgia washes over you. But it’s artificial nostalgia and soon, the lofi push and pull begin to corrode your better judgment and the masculine safety exuded by Guf and Princip tricks you into submission.
By the conclusion, as the twangy guitar, keyboard, and drums begin to fade away you’re left alone with the sounds of the past and you’re own experiences, the realization of the “Old School” and its fall from the spotlight, and the memories of a closed chapter of rap music history. It was good while it lasted I suppose, and now the present must be embraced. As one commenter on YouTube said, “The topic strengthens, gives revelations that I am not the only one such addict.” Rap is such a special, people-oriented genre in that it gives struggling people a voice.
Guf and Princip have given them a voice.