It is to no one’s surprise that censorship of Russian popular music, especially rappers, has not stopped. Rather, since the war its cultural presence could be argued to be stronger than ever. In my ongoing study of the censorship of Russian rap, and Russian popular music more broadly (I have submitted one article on the topic for publication so far), I have collected the recent updates since February of this year. As recent as yesterday, censorship against artists has become a malicious attack on not only freedom of expression but freedom of opinion as well. This, as some of the examples demonstrate, also extend to those who had previously aligned with state ideologies and political positions. This is concerning. Russia has entered the phase of eating its own, not only those who are more Westernized in their vantage point but those who are both a-political and politically aligned with the state. Further, updates to the stipulations regarding LGBT and drug propaganda have also changed the aesthetics of Russian rap permanently. I will share recent developments and my thoughts on the matter as well.
This will eventually become an article, so forgive the messiness.
In April, numerous things collided all at once. None, I should add, which were neither foreseeable nor predictable based on previous activities. Major artists like Guf, Shokk, Instasamka, Grot, Scally Milano, and Jahh Kalib were censored in various different ways. This is a significant development as Kalib and Milano are both relatively a-political rappers of two different aesthetic worlds. For Milano, a child of Russia’s booming trap scene, he had primarily stayed out of politics and focused instead on his base and becoming commercially popular. Kalib, who comes from the ‘hookah rap’ line and more dance melodicism route, was also not as political but a bit more vocal than Milano. Later, the banning of rappers Yegor Kreed, among others, for violating terms of service [although prompted by the Russian government] displays the interpolation of governmental desires with private companies. This is hardly unseen in the American and Russian contexts but it again shows the unescapable hand of government in every facet of the Russian contemporary. On the 19th of April, the stipulations on what LGBT propaganda is was finalized, and only six days later upon Scally Milano’s flight from the country a criminal case was opened against the rapper shortly after. This makes a confirmed 15 individuals, including Morgenshtern connected to Russian hip hop that have left. I suspect more are on their way out. Another major event of the month was the censorship of Arbenina who, in February, had succumb to censorship alongside Instasamka. However, in May she had scheduled some concerts in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) in response so her career seems adequate, although labeled a ‘foreign agent’ like Oksimiron.
If we go back to March, we see a whole different set of artists censored, although the names may not surprise you. Figures and groups like Ani Lorak, Andro, Valery Meladze, AK-47, and Kis Kis, representative of both Russian pop, rock, and rap genres, were censored in various degrees. This is heavily significant for several reasons. Chief among them, however, is the fact that censorship has now permeated the fabric of Russian popular music for everyone. This, in and of itself, is not surprising but what is surprising is the speed and range of artists that are becoming targets of governmental restriction. Both Gone.Fludd, a predominately trap-based “New School” rapper, was censored on March 14 and seven days later, the Soviet/Russian rock band Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine) was later censored. The latter were a VIA-band, or Soviet state-sponsored rock band who, although state-sponsored during Soviet times, were vocal in their opposition and targets of censorship throughout the 2000s and 2010s. However, the end of March was essentially defined by the events surrounding Guf and the cancellation of his concerts for various reasons. Outside of him, Lorak was forced to renounce her support for Ukraine on fears of domestic persecution, while the crackdown on bars have begun in Russia in a more decisive and concrete manifestation. On March 19, two bars were shut down. Later, on March 22 several more were on the chopping block. What is to come for Russia?
End of February (2023)
There is lots to talk about if someone looks at the censorship of Instasamka at the beginning of the month but I want to focus on two events that happened towards the later parts of the month because of the implications they hold for the rest of Russian popular music culture itself. Firstly, on February 18 the Russian popular singer (or estradnaya musika pevyets) Phillip Kirkorov, a flamboyant singer of the homosexual persuasion, was finally pushed back against. Not for his political support of Putin, however, nor his repudiation of Zelensky. No, it was for his status as a homosexual that the Russian public have now grown distrusting of and vocally against. As reported by several sources, a concert that was to take place on the 25th of the month was being protested and asked to be cancelled by the public of Kazan. Kazan, my dear readers, is a popular place for censorship as previous research has demonstrated. In 2018, IC3PEAK were censored there along with Schokk in 2023 and Aigel in 2022. Thus, a research project is unfolding as to the documentation of censorship of Russian popular music (or just rappers) as defined by their place orientation. The second is the censorship of singer Shaman (Yaroslav Yuryevich Dronov) for having released the song, “I am Russian.” Meant to be a more supraethnic battlecry designed to bring together the disparate peoples of Russia, rejection of the song lies on claims of ethnonationalism and extremism. Whether true or not is up to you but the post-post-Soviet sensitivity towards ethnocentrism is palpable.
The future of Russian popular music culture is currently being shaped and academics [like myself, or at least I’d like to think so] are tasked with understanding and ultimately documenting, and researching, what happens. In this ongoing research project, which I hope to formalize into a book at some point, I am keeping eyes on the censorship and shaping of this culture. One must remain vigilant in their documentation of culture as it is being shaped.
If you would like to look at the database, you can visit this link!