Analysis Hip-hop Husky

Mini Russian Rap Analysis: About Love (Husky, 2023) Pt. 1

This is part one is a two-part series which will be looking at Husky’s newest track “About Love” and the relationships between music, text, and music video aesthetics. Check part two for “video life,” “collective analysis,” and “final conclusions.”

Buryatian rapper Dmitry Kuznetsov, otherwise known as Husky, released his first 2023 track entitled “About Love” (O Lyubov). In this post, I will conduct a preliminary analysis of the music video, text, and musical of Husky’s new song and musical aesthetics in-line with the theories of multi-semiotic analysis (Baltar et al, 2022), music video analysis theory (Baxter et al. 1985, Cook 1998, Taylor 2007), as well as multimodal discourse analysis, or MCDA (Cara 2017).

Table of Contents [to find each section, use your browser’s search function]

  1. Some Theory
  2. Textual Life
  3. Musical Life

Some Theory

During my Masters education at University of Bristol, I devised a list of components critical to the analysis of the music video from available literature, both historical and contemporary. From that list, some of the pivotal are:

  • Behaviours, actions, emotions of in-video personalities
  • Worldviews and ideologies exemplified through statements, aesthetics, actions
  • Extension of textual syntax through visual and musical aesthetics
  • Intertextual (textual relationships) and hypertextual (extension of texts) allusions and relationships
  • Expressions of experiences both personal and abstracted
  • Meaning creation and “textual semiotic” epistemological creation
  • Extension and comments of sociocultural and political discourses

I am most struck by Suarez (2015) and their focus on linking musical aesthetics and text. They reference the “Goodwin Methodology,” sourced from Andrew Goodwin’s 1992 monograph, “Dancing in the distraction factory : music television and popular culture.” In it, he describes the linkage between the aural image and the internally induced image. This then creates a mental comprehension that conjoins the visual and the aural, thus rendering any differentiation in the process of meaning making null and void.

However, it is what occurs within the spaces of this assertion that is most pressing for the analysis of musical aesthetics and the video medium. Goodwin addresses this quandry, “To be precise, the process is one in which an aural signifier generates another signifier, which is visual, simultaneously with the mental production of the signified. What is problematic here…is the question of which signifier attaches to the signified.”

Others have argued along similar lines, Björnberg (1992, 1994) arguing that the music video is more so governed by the textual syntax of the words rather than the opposite way around. While I tend to agree here, the music video draws out of the text a very particular meaning that audiences are ipso facto expected to agree with as viewers, even if just subconsciously. Suarez proposed an “extratextual analysis” approach, where factors that lead to the decisions made in the music video are studied in correlation to their on-screen demonstrations.

This approach dovetails well into MCDA and multisemiotic analytical approaches by foregrounding the contextual parameters that color both the language of the screen, the music, and the textual substructure.

MCDA, as Stefano Cara notes, takes into account how meaning is created across modes of personification and the ways in which meaning is both socially, culturally, and individually created. Yet, at the heart of the theory lies the conundrum that one discourse (argumentation for meaning and knowledge) is not directly antithetical or independent from other meanings and discourses. Thus, “discourses are always intertextually related to and dependent on other discourses” (2017, pg. 6). How is language and meaning personified across the many layers of musical content? Where is the meaning being created, sustained, or challenged? How do we, as viewers and consumers, buy into the process of meaning that society imbues within us from the moment of birth?

A final element is the multisemiotic nature of musical/visual/textual analysis, and the cross relationship between these mediums. In terms of meaning, the “multisemiotic” nature of music is the places in which meaning can be found, a “semiotic” (sign capable of dissemination something) which can articulate meaning. As Marcos Antonio Rocha Baltar et al. addresses, a song is a highly complex medium of multisemiotic convergences. While aesthetically, cadences, harmonies, tempo, and other musical components provide meaning, a lot has to do with the social and cultural implications. As they write,

With the socio-situational component, it becomes possible to analyze the intergeneric interactions, the multicultural and chronotopic (worldview as shaped by external events, time period, and place) interweavings of the song, which manifest themselves in different spheres of human activity.

Baltar et al. 2022, pg. 8573

With that all being said, let us jump right into the analysis itself.

Textual Life

The track talks about the complexities of love, focusing on an autobiographical depiction of Husky’s journey towards love. His wife, Alina Nasibullina, and daughter Katya, are seemingly antithetical staples in the existentialist and borderline nihilist rapper’s life. Yet, as this track and another one (Song for K) demonstrate, Husky’s worldview is rapidly changing from only two years prior (i.e., Revenge). Verse one talks about an unmet need for love after his mother left, although this is not quite true as he had a strong relationship with his mother before moving to Moscow for school. Nevertheless, “And now I’m looking for it among the salty crowd” denotes that his search for love is doomed from the start, his depiction of mankind as dogs a prevalent and constant symbol for the hedonistic and self-centered nature Husky sees in the human race.

The chorus is a testament to Husky’s newly renovated worldview, seeing hope in the conception of devotion, he triumphally and humbly beckons us to believe in love. The chorus’ most formative line, “Without love, life means nothing at all. Come to me, don’t be afraid, I won’t eat you,” showcases this dangerous/sensitive duality that lies at the center of Husky’s entire image. A trusting yet forever temperamental demeanor, the selfless core and interiority of Husky’s personality bubbles to the surface. A career plagued with controversy and antagonism, this track exemplifies a new side of Husky that fatherhood and married life has seemingly gestated from within. Turning another corner, Husky’s texts usually never talked about love and yet here we are, at the precipice of a revitalized sense of purpose and self.

The second verse echoes the track’s autobiographical nature. However, instead of pure love, what it does is contextualize the entirety of Husky’s musical and philosophical persona. The first few lines, “Manual cutting knife, Nurturing resentment, I was looking for revenge,” speak to the reason why most of his oeuvre is so caustic, destructive, and violent in tone. He was looking for absolution by fire, retribution for something that the world had taken from him, anger at the God who caused him harm. Yet now, he has reflected and let go of his original raison d’etre and become a, if you will, reborn individual with a refreshed purpose. He had come to Moscow in search of something, first as a journalist then a rapper, yet in the process had become hooked on payback. This forced him into many a dark corner. As the conclusion of the verse reads, “So in search of love I found myself in a war…So I was looking for love, but I woke up in addiction.” This concept of love then is a synonym for fame and success, or perhaps revenge itself. Revenge against the rich, a coopting of affluency in order to dismantle it from the inside out. But he got distracted and instead got hooked on something else, returning only much later to his true intention, his real self mired by external excess.

Musical Life

The track’s musical life is relatively typical for Husky. That’s to say, simple but consistent construction featuring an intro, chorus, usually two verses, and an outro. This is significant because the predominate trend now a days is to not use an outro or introduction but rather have an abrupt beginning or drastically downplay the formal construction of a rap track. Evidence of this can be drawn from the trap genre which tends to operate around an ostinato which is then built outwards and given a flimsy beginning and endings. Artists who use this form tend to be from the younger generations of rappers, predominately the “New School” including those from Big Baby Tape, Yanix, Obladaet, Morgenshtern, FACE, and MAYOT, among MANY others. Further, the track uses many signature elements found within Husky’s aesthetic vocabulary including a constant ticking sound, a syncopated boom bap texture (famous in the Old School tradition), melodies and countermelodies, as well as a very distinctive chorus juxtaposition much like Oksimiron, Noggano, and the group Triagutrika. When it comes to the rap flow, Husky excels at modifying the voice’s timbre and pitch in order to convey meaning and point the listener more towards the meaning or the emotion depending upon the situation.

The track is in the key of A minor, a common key in Husky’s musical output. Generally speaking, most rap tracks are now in minor with exceptions being in major. The existentialist, often nihilistic, orientation of rap tracks use minor in order to encapsulate the listener into this sense of dread, despondency, disillusionment, and general fear of the unknown. But here, I think the A minor is in reference to something else. If one checks the symbolism of key as proposed by Schubert (1806), one sees that A minor is the key of tenderness, sincerity, fidelity, and….love. While others keys like Bb major, G major, and A major denote the joyous sides of love, it is A minor that speaks to the sanguine realism of love’s true nature. Instead of something to exclaim celebration about, love is hard won and something that is as fickle as it is stalwart when found. Husky’s usage of A minor echoes the more Nietzschean perspective of love, something that forever straddles animal eroticism and the disintegration of authentic friendship. Yet, Husky never endorses this but instead is working against this idea, instead seeing love as a restorative, clarifying force for good. Love, in the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky, is something that brings both great fulfillment and great sacrifice. Something not separate from suffering but not all around futile if truly worked for throughout one’s life, “To love is to suffer.”

I want to point you in the direction of two other components in the track of significance due to their placement and aesthetic identity. Firstly, during the introduction Husky uses a more liturgical, sacred-styled choral voice texture. Other rappers like Oksimiron have used female chorus textures in their songs as well in order to invoke a very particular meaning. In Oksimiron’s “Oida,” Oksimiron uses a folk-styled chorus in order to draw him more towards the Russian people, the narod of the pre-Imperial Russian lands. Here, Husky uses a quasi-religious choral sound to potentially harness the sacred theurgy of love, echoing the Symbolist’s conception of love as a spiritually purifying force for the cleansing of one’s soul and reunification with God. Love was also a way of overcoming death itself, purging oneself of all that made them human as to transcend the fabric of the earthly domain and enter into the majestic realm of the spiritually enlightened. Love as sacred service and ultimate selflessness. He also uses a circling A-B-C-E motif during the outro, perhaps an allusion to the wheel of fate or Rota Fortunae in Latin philosophy. A constantly ensnaring, destructive, restorative, regenerative, dispassionate force that does not care one way or the other. A force that binds everyone, who gives both mercy and punishment. The giver of life and the taker of life.

Russki Rap Review

Russki Rap Review: FACE’s “Prada” (2023)


Having left Russia in January of 2022, Russian trap rapper Ivan Timofeyevich Dryomin (otherwise known as FACE) has released his first post-emigration track. Entitled “Prada,” the barely three minute track is entirely consistent with the bold, heavily trap-inspired, sound of FACE. Talking about his negation of female advances and personal access to power and sexual activity, the track is a vengeful “F— you” to those who sought to vilify FACE for leaving Russia. Using his signature aesthetic, a dense texture of overlapping layers and heavy minor aroma, FACE’s heavily rhythmic rapping style is accompanied by a recurrent minor ostinato (or repetition of notes or pattern) of C to C#. With a hue of C minor, a music key known for its dual-sided nature[1] of love and lamentation, the track is upbeat and energetic, negating the idea that FACE must despair in his forced exile.

Casting off the idea that Russia was where his fame lied and without the country he’s nothing, “Prada” is the immortalization of FACE’s maturity as both a rapper and a human being. Stepping out of the shadow of Russia, FACE has now substantiated himself as not a Russian trap artist but an independently great trap artist. Generally, the dynamic back-and-forth of the rhythms that FACE uses is exceptional, and while the music is quite simple in its construction, FACE’s consonant-heavy rapping style more than makes up for the discrepancy. Shifting between textures, call outs, more intimate moments, and bass punches, I feel extremely proud for what FACE has accomplished and endured during the past decade and certainly the past year. Kudos to you FACE, очень молодец! It’s also important to note that the track is in Russian although FACE has stated that he’s finished writing his texts in English[2] much pop rapper and similarly Ufa-born rapper Alisher Tagirovich Morgenshtern (otherwise known as Morgenshtern).

Musical Analysis

Although the music is relatively simple, although a main attribute of trap is its usage of basic harmonic movement and melodic repetition, there are at least two interesting things going on in the music that any listener can benefit from knowing about. FACE is using the device known as an ostinato and shifting between textural density to give his track a structure.

Firstly, let me define an ostinato for you if you are unsure what I mean. An ostinato is described by the Oxford Dictionary of Music as a “persistent musical phrase or rhythm” composed of “repeated thematic fragments.”[3] Simply put, these musical parts repeat and then are used as layers in the music that can be manipulated and changed depending on how the musician wants to use it. In “Prada,” FACE is using a two note ostinato [C and C#, or Middle C and the black note to the right of it] in order to give his track a form. A form, mind you, that is quite simple already. Because it’s simple, and the ostinato is only two notes, FACE has to think of something. The first version, what I call the “lower end” version, can be heard at the beginning of the first iteration of the chorus. The second version, what I call the “higher end” version, can be heard at the beginning of the first verse. Each version is defined by the way the ostinato is being used and what part of the texture it finds itself in. If you can hear, during the first version the ostinato is primarily in the bass parts of the sound whereas in the second version the ostinato is higher in the texture, what we would call the treble range of the texture. This purposeful usage of the ostinato in two different sonic forms helps give FACE something to give his music a shape. 

But there’s more!

Another technique used by FACE is oscillating, or changing, between the density of the track’s musical texture. If you listen to the end of the first verse, a major change in the feeling of the music is present. This is because FACE has changed the makeup of the texture. At first, the ending feels more spacious, lighter even. He then deepens the texture and after the first boom, a drop can be felt and the texture changes. This kind of technique is helpful in generating momentum and building energy in order to give music which is rather repetitive some type of forward momentum. You can hear this kind of thing in lots of techno and electronic dance music, or EDM for short. Colloquially, it’s called the drop or the bass drop. FACE uses this well-known technique several times during the track, although modifying it a bit. During the first chorus [:016], you can hear how the texture gets deeper and more complex. Well, he adds the robust bass beat and the treble ostinato which gives the music a feeling of enlargement. Then, when the first chorus ends, the texture becomes a bit smaller, signaling a new section of the music has begun. However, skip ahead a bit to the tail end of the second verse [1:52], and it is clear what this technique does to the music. Moving between intimacy and excitement, FACE is playing with tension and release, giving his musically simple track a feeling of anticipated spontaneity.

Final Thoughts

As The-Flow noted in their announcement article on the track, FACE has begun to write his raps in English although this track is in Russia.[4] Considered “a banger in the spirit of the old FACE,” “Prada” is the rapper’s appeal to his listeners that he’s not gone but changed. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has upturned the Russian rap community in many ways, forcing many to leave the country, being given the title of “enemies of the state,” and being labeled “foreign agents” in many cases. Currently, FACE is residing in Greece having left the country back in January in very mysterious circumstances. Having confirmed that he will never again return to Russia.[5] What the future holds for FACE is unknown but one thing is sure. He’ll continue to release music on his own terms, in his own way, beholden to no one but himself.


PC: Sergey Savostyanov / TASS

They have not been formatted for the sake of time…..sorry about that.



[3] [specifically pages 93, 647]



Analysis Uncategorized

The Politics of Place in Big Black Boot’s “My Street” (2000)

To locate oneself in a particular place, to espouse one’s connection with that place, and to define your identity in context of that place, is one of the most predominate themes in hip-hop. As Dr. Murray Forman notes, within the context of hip-hop “space and place” are never casually used as metaphorical language. Rather, “they are also deployed discursively as part of a much more complex project of identity formation and cultural critique.” (106). Further, the localities where rappers position themselves as their “hood” (short for neighborhood) quite literally defines their personalities and worldviews, in-turn shaping how they view themselves in opposition to the outside world. In short, they create a home-base, a place which they belong in order to define who they are and what they stand for. The following quote seems to summarize the importance of place in hip-hop,

Individuals chart their course and navigate their lives around sites of reproducible intensity which, like ports in the storm, provide a position or location to anchor oneself, a mooring of relative security”

“The Hood Comes First: Race. Space. and Place in Rap Music and Hip Hop, 1978- 1996” 1997, 27.

Thus, when a rapper announces that they belong somewhere, that they represent a specific location through their music, and that they are considering themselves vocal representatives of their ‘ghetto’, a profession of locational pride and, “an empowering reaction to the shame of the ghetto” as Richard “Frosted” Shusterman states. This term is a charged term to use here, as the word ‘ghetto’ has for so long been a pejorative, a cloistered no-touch area where the supposedly ‘unclean’ leave away from polite, ‘clean’ society. But as that ‘clean’ society becomes ever more dirtier as communities across the globe continue diversifying (although stratifications are becoming equally as common), anyone’s neighborhood can be seen as a ‘ghetto’ if compared to the next level up. For those above you, your home is a ghetto, and for those below you their home is a ghetto. But the importance of place goes deeper than emancipation from shame, as connecting one’s rap identity to a location creates an intimate connection with the people who call that place home, not only giving the rapper an ethos of the elusive “authentic” but literally rooting their development and rap “persona” [note: persona vs. identity] in a tangible place. This then ‘authenticates’ the persona with the identity, making the off-stage ‘I’ the same as the on-stage ‘I’, a human being proud of their home. In more common thought, “Maintaining a connection to these “streets” is crucial for the perceived authenticity and relevance of artistic interventions as perceived by the respective community,” that’s to say “street consciousness” (Johannsen, 2019).

So what happens when Russian rap does it and what does it mean to root your identity in a location within a country where ‘location’ seems to be the least of your problems when it comes to hip-hop “authenticity”? In this blog post, I will look at the track “My Streets” by the Russian rap group Big Black Boots in order to understand how “street consciousness” (Keyes, 2004) is being conveyed through the track’s musical life. Piecing together the puzzle of how this group espouses their identarian connection to the streets of Moscow, I will attempt to more fully understand how locality is used in the creation of (Russian) hip-hop authenticity.


The track itself is unequivocally G-funk in its construction. Everything from the synth melodicism, female vocals which border on R’n’B, turn-tablism, funky bass guitar and motif, soft percussion, as well as the rhythmic-lyric rap flow, paints the track as “authentic” given the time period. At the time of the track’s release, the aesthetic evolution of rap was in the midst of an identity change, as rappers like Detsl, Seryoga, and Timati were shaking up the game with their more pop-party rap style alongside the growing trend of R’n’B-meets-rap during this time, while G-funk and gangster rap were becoming the ‘underground’ phenomena (the split wasn’t so obvious until the late 2000s to early 2010s). In any case, the way the music is formed reads as “authentic”, and while more research is needed to say if its G-funk aesthetics were indicating a locational awareness, it does stand to note that a strong majority of Russian rappers come from either St. Petersburg, Moscow, or Ufa, with many more coming from other locations across the southern hemisphere of Russia.

However, despite this missing piece, one can root this track in the hip-hop sound of the late 90s and early 2000s (i.e., G-funk, R’n’B, melodic gangster rap, smooth funk as opposed to party funk). The politics of place arise when taking into consideration where Big Black Boots were at the time. This song was released on their 2001 album “New Music,” although in 2000 the group was undergoing serious tension as the member Andy B had left the group, and DJ Slon had taken his spot. Thus, it was necessary to reaffirm the group’s “authenticity” in the wake of such upheaval, and thus the G-funk atmosphere reads as the group’s attempt to secure their “realness” amidst tenuous circumstances that could have spelt the end of the group’s popularity. Thus, aesthetics defined the group’s “realness” and as a result, was the group’s attempt to align themselves with the ‘streets’, ‘ghetto’, real life.

However, yet another interesting point arises, and that is the title of the album itself, “New Music.” One critic by the name of Alexei Eremenko had written in a particularly caustic way,

This is hardly new music. Vice versa. This is music that is already established and determined, made according to clear aesthetic criteria. If you are not able to perceive this aesthetic, then you will not find anything for yourself in what the BBBs do. Recitatives full of naive, barbaric pathos will seem ridiculous to you, music – banal and simple, image – too cheeky. But if you remember that this is the music of the street, cheerful street companies, it will become clear where, why and why BIG BLACK BOOTS came from and what they still had in mind” [bolds my own]., 2007

This quote is incredible in its transparency, and its relationship to the present thesis on the politics of place. Eremenko notes that the music of the album is “hegemonic” (read: traditional) in its construction, yet he also admits that the group is purposefully doing this as to relate themselves to the “cheerful street companies” and the musical reality of the everyday rather than doing something inherently ‘new’ as the album’s name suggests. His review makes the aesthetic points that, “This disc is made with strict observance of all the canons of hip-hop style. It’s just archetypal.” Ergo, the track “My Streets” (as well as the grosser album) is the group’s attempt to validate their hip-hop existence, and secure their musical identity as “real”, “authentic”, of the people, crafted from the reality of the streets themselves. Thus, to be aesthetically “hegemonic” in this sense is to be aligned with an aesthetic place where the “real” hip-hop lives, and to be “anti-hegemonic” is to be anti-“real”, a state that would delineate Big Black Boot’s as outside the landscape of “authenticity.” They would uprooted, location-less, floating in a void of hip-hopness without a home or place of refuge, no “ghetto,” no hood, nothing. And at such a crucial time for the group’s career, this could not be played around with. The usage of “hegemonic” aesthetics gave Big Black Boots a home to call their own, and a place to locate their identity within, no matter how typical or mundane.

In Conclusion

In this post, I have attempted to answer the question, “How is the politics of place mediated in Big Black Boot’s track ‘My Streets'”, and “How is the locational politics manifested in Russian hip-hop culture?” As my reading of the track’s musical aesthetics has shown, one’s connection to place extends far deeper than actual geographical placement and can manifest through the concerted utilization of aesthetic genres as opposed to other ones, irregardless of their supposed antiquarian nature or “hegemonic” (read: traditional) identity. By using the genre of G-funk and R’n’B as the track’s aesthetic core, Big Black Boots succeeded in valorizing themselves as “real” rappers as opposed to pop-rappers like Detsl, Timati, and Seryoga, who were quickly defining a new generation and new ‘sound’ of Russian rap away from the one constructed in the 90s. The group positioned themselves as “authentic” by using the technique of turntablism, analogous with “Old School” rap (at this time it would have been the 90s), as well as fully embracing the G-funk style, whose uncomplicated lethargic (i.e., West Coast sedateness, think Snoop Dog) feeling was a strategic choice of self-valorization. The politics of place presents themselves in the attempted rooting of Big Black Boot’s in the aesthetic sphere of “authenticity” as espoused via the G-funk genre and the utilization of R’n’B singers and turntablism. While I originally had thought the politics of place is refined to text-based considerations, much like the dialectic of East vs. West Coast, so too in Russian do aesthetic localities present themselves, albeit in a less regional and more ambiguous modality (not all the time however!).


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.

Analysis Uncategorized

Key Relationships in AA Language (2022)

Because rap music is primarily a highly constructed beat with a rapping ‘flow’ over top, it’s easy to overlook the complexities of the musical fabric when attempting to understand the ‘language’ of rap music. It’s far too easy to treat rap as simply a poetic genre with music thrown in, or a flow-focused art form where music then plays a subservient role rather than having any individualized value of its own, worthy of deliberate and isolated evaluation and study.

When thinking about rap albums and their language, it becomes super important to take a deeper look at the manifold ways in which meaning is created and the role of symbolism in the fabric of a rap album. While the textual life of an album can, and usually does, have micro and macro arches and narratival stories, so does the music (at least in my opinion). So, when time is taken to try and understand these possible musical ‘arches’ (or long-range arches), a whole new world opens up that helps the researcher understand what the rapper is trying to say musically speaking with his tracks and albums. When it comes to popular music analysis, and especially rap music analysis, considerations of the genre’s musical nature are hardly foregrounded. Rather, attention is primarily put onto the idiosyncratic natures of the flows, textual themes, and broader discourses on sociocultural and political influences. However, this is to the detriment of the genre, as without the musical backing (more specifically, a key), the track has no ground to stand on. After all, last time I checked rap is a music genre after all, no? Ergo, an effort must be taken to fix analytical procedures to highlight this.

In this post, I will argue for the position that a more improved way of understanding rap music can be realized through foregrounding the role of musical key and their relationships to each other as colored by contextual parameters like artist, genre, and most importantly textual theme. Marrying the parameters of musical key and textual theme can provide a rich avenue for the comprehension of how rap albums make complex networks of narratives and stories, utilizing the music as a way to render tangible the story that the lyrics are offering. Work of this nature has not yet been academically prioritized, and in my Doctoral work I hope to argue for this type of methodological practice. Namely, coalescing musical analysis with linguistic and contextual analysis in order to more accurately understand how rappers create and espouse their worldviews and thoughts through their work and chosen “language.”

Having conducted a very brief analysis of the debut album “AA Language” (2022) by Mircea Papusoi (or Aarne more colloquially), a Romanian-born rapper residing in London, I will demonstrate the benefits of key-based study in partnership with wider influences such as textual themes, artist, and even language.


As you can see from the chart below, eight parameters were used in the study of the album, and what was found proved that the important of key choice was a tenant of considerable importance, as the presence of a singular major key was an indicator that the minor tonality was no accident. Rather, it was a deliberate choice on the part of Aarne, and as such it had to be treated as a significant conveyer of meaning. Further, only one track is in English, while the predominant genre of the track is trap, with Latin-inspired infusions as well as drill and house/EDM as well. Also, the sheer amount of artists on the album also was a significant contributor to the intentionality of the minor tonality.

[To see the full chart, click here]

However, for the sake of this analytical post I will refrain from going too far into the findings themselves, and instead focus on their relationship to the main parameter of this study. Namely, the role of key relationships and the advantageousness of leading an analysis by a focus on their role in creating meaning on the album. As can be seen in the secondary chart in the bottom left, while there were nine keys presented on the album, only five were repeated more than once, leading to the realization that they were, in some way, connected with each other. However, it was unclear in what ways their relationship was being formed. If the chords are isolated (in the order as they appear on the album), the read as follows:

Cm – Gm – Am – Bbm – Em

[Song no. 1, 2, 3, 4, 10]

These five chords clearly demonstrate that the ‘tonality’ of the album lies in C minor, although the usage of the E minor rebels against the standard conventions of the C minor, as the b3 and b,7 are not respected in the E minor key. However, there is Eb minor on the album, although only belonging to a singular song as the chart demonstrates. Whether this methodology is the best solution towards the comprehension of album-wide key progression is unclear, yet there is a strong argument that the first track more or less defines the tonic (central tonal focus) of the album. The progression of these keys can be seen in the notation below:

After having isolated the main keys of the album, I wanted to understand how the keys were being manifested on the album through different ways, namely through the artists, textual theme, language, and other contextual parameters to the tracks. When the track’s respective themes were put together, they created a narrative that spoke to a thematic telos of personal development and achievement. As the hero goes through the stages of life and the tests they face, he soon overcomes the temptations and rises to the occasion, finally coming to terms with life’s many obstacles and winning in his desire to succeed:

[The top most is track no. 1, and the rest follow in sequential order]

As is demonstrated, the usage of key can be the manifestation of a very clear thematic progression of ideas within an album. Disregarding the symbolic nature of keys as espoused by Schubart (1806) in his famous evaluation of the subject, the rapper’s choice to set tracks in certain keys as opposed to other ones plays a huge part in the tangible embodiment of narrative, meaning, and ultimately the personal philosophy and ideology of the artist, even if those things are not inherently clear in the album or track itself.

More connections can be drawn from my findings such as the artists who are connected to these themes, the genres that are used to invoke the themes, the psychological influence of the tonality on the reception of the track, the language used in conjunction with key and themes, along with how these keys relate to the other ten tracks and their keys not included in this ‘progression.’ Other avenues include how “Russianness” and domestic aesthetics are expressed on the track, a clear indicator of this being the almost ubiquitous influence of trap and trap-related musical textures, a clear sign of the album’s and the artist’s fidelity to the aesthetic ethos of the “Russian New School”. For now, it’s enough to say that this album is definitively a “New School” member.

Thank you for reading, and if you have thoughts then I’d love to read them.


“Russian Paradise” (AK-47, Noggano): The Curious Case of the ‘Kitschy Underground’

“Just look in my eyes and you will see Russian paradise”

[Chorus: It serves as an homage to Coolio’s 1995 track “Gangster’s Paradise”]

When it comes to hip-hop, authenticity comes through the proximity to the nitty gritty, and the difficulties of the working man’s worlds, the minority reality, and the inner city left to its own devices. However, when it comes to Russian rap (ESPECIALLY) mid-2010s rap, it seems to create ‘underground’ rap doesn’t necessarily mean one thing anymore. Rather, it’s easier to ascertain what underground rap is through what it’s NOT, although even the determination of what is and is not mainstream is a tricky and not all together easy task. So what happens when a rap track uses many of the aesthetic elements of the ‘underground’ and yet is relatively ‘above ground’ when it comes to publicity, allusions, commercial popularity, and even language itself? Further, what should be understood when a hip-hop tracks purposefully pokes fun at the serious nature of the genre itself, and parodies itself to the point where a listener doesn’t know whether to laugh at its humor and jeer at its juvenile nature? Well, let me introduce you to one of the most peculiar Russian rap tracks that I’ve come across. Namely, “Russian Paradise” by the ‘Old School’ Russian rap group AK-47 (comprised of Vitya AK and Mitya AK).

What The Heck is “Russian Paradise”?

“Russian Paradise” was the 17th and final track on AK-47’s 2015 album “Third” (or in Russian Третий), released on June 16th, and reaching fame only three days later.

The larger album is very much conventionally ‘rap’ in aesthetics, replete with texts about the underbelly of the everyday grind, the difficulties of youth and Russian life itself, maturity and the realization of existential mortality, and a whole lot of braggadocio and signifying. The track features many names from the ‘Old School’ and ‘Pre-New School’ eras of Russian rap including Triagutrika, Tony Tonite, and Noggano, and reads as very much an attempt to prove the viability of hip-hop in Russia OR substantiate the existence of Russian hip-hop as its own unique phenomenon. This notion of “proving one’s worth” when it comes to the purposeful attempt to construct a hip-hop aesthetic divergent from, but inevitably reliant upon, Western hip-hop forms is a hard issue which all Russian rappers deal with.

The way they choose to go about its answer is another matter, and in this album it can be understood as the use of geographical placement, nationally-specific existential reality checks, and experiences so culturally personal that only one from the country being referred to would comprehend the magnitude of the polemic. But this is to say nothing of the track’s musical life which is heavily steeped in a (harmonically) minor world outfitted with G-funk sobriety, accompanied by a conversational rap rap flow that read in a pedantic but firm rhythm, with all the necessary inflections and articulations needed to really sell the story being told.

Based on popular reception and its place on the charts (apparently reaching the no.1 place as the best-selling album), the music critic Boris Barabanov deeming the album “philosophical and patriotic” with verses bathed in “ease and grace.” In short, the album did really well domestically, and despite the album’s inordinate reliance on ‘Old School’ techniques like turntablism, slow tempos, melancholic soundscapes, transparent musical texture, and at one point “Old School trap” if that’s a thing, it can’t rightfully be called underground. It’s fully mainstream.

But What About The “Kitschy Underground”?

Having briefly introduced the track and its grosser album, I want to explore this term and what I mean when I say this track is the arbiter of the notion of the “kitschy underground.” This term is useful in understanding the essentialization, and subsequent exploitation of hip-hop music aesthetics for very nefarious means.

In a way, all I’m saying is that this track embodies Old-School techniques not as a mode of authentic music making but as a way to purposefully align themselves with a certain aesthetic ideology which, through the utilization of boom bap and G-funk, paints their music as more authentic than say a contemporary Atlanta trap track. Due to the proximity of the latter to the mainstream world than the former, Old-School techniques are no longer innocently used and are instead tools for the purposeful exploitation of authenticity discourse through the mode of musical aesthetic alignment. In this light, the New-School (of which many Old-School rappers are a part of) have reduced the latter’s musical traditions to a set of aesthetic parameters which prove themselves lucrative among hip-hop fans in Russia who gravitate towards more “authentic” forms of hip-hop musicking.

It’s all rather fascinating but the point here is that the “kitschy” element arises from the surreptitious exploitation of Old-School, underground, techniques for the purposes of mainstream, or New-School, success. Reducing the Old-School to a set of devices and then using them in order to legitimize New-School musics seems a ubiquitous trend in modern Russian rap if you listen closely. You could argue that the rappers involved were themselves part of the genuine era of the Russian hip-hop ‘Old-School’ but to naively assume that they aren’t capable of essentializing the Old for the lucrative New is by default essentializing Old-School rappers as somehow faithful to a very normative conception of “hip-hop authenticity” (or as most Scholars and hip-hop practitioners refer to the quality as, realness).

In Conclusion

The phenomenon of an Old-School rapper becoming a mainstream rapper through the process of their career only to subvert the binaries of Old-School vs. New-School, and underground vs. mainstream through the purposeful usage of former’s technique and yet have said techniques render the music thoroughly within the purview of the latter is research worthy.

By exploiting the aesthetic principles that the Old-School hip-hop world were made of in the pursuit of realness within a musical world where realness is no longer tied to the Old-School, AK-47 is participating in what I call “de/re-contextual aesthetic synthesis“. This means that the original manifestation of a certain aesthetic (and its wider sociocultural biome) is removed for a new aesthetic reality (and sociocultural biome), although the base functionality of the original aesthetic is used to put the new into the old’s ethos.

Cosplaying as “authentic hip-hop”, New-School rappers use the aesthetic language (or “intonational vocabulary” as B. Asafiev would say) of the Old-School in order to be taken more seriously, or gain a fanbase untapped until now. This should not be considered only applicable to New-School rappers. Instead, now that we are more than 15+ years out from the end of the Russian Old-School and even longer for the American Old-School, in order to maintain their popularity and aesthetic appeal, Old-School rappers are forced to parody their original realness in a form that is both sardonic towards themselves, those who force them to do it, and those who consume their music ONLY because they are parodying the Old-School.

By treating Old-School hip-hop aesthetic to the polluting mechanics of “kitsch”, rappers gain realness and their music becomes real. However, a very tainted kind.


Timati’s Art Collection: Thoughts on Taste

Perhaps one of the most controversial rapper within the Russian hip-hop mainstream, Timati is a thoroughly Slavophile rapper whose affinity for state politics and homogenous aesthetic characteristics cast him in a very…particular light. However, it’s wrong to assume that there are no more dimensions to his personality nor his interests as an artist (yes, an artist). Thus, when the article, “What Timati’s contemporary art collection looks like“, I realized that this was an opportune time to look at the aesthetic preferences of Timati from a much different perspective than before. Rather than look at him as a hedonist rapper mogul, whose sole interest in life is to create capital for himself and live a life of affluency, one can see Timati as a strategic musician whose cultivated a very particular type of aesthetic taste, one that is just as valid as other, more nuanced individuals and intellectual personalities. In this post, I am going to explore the article above, and take a closer look at Timati’s aesthetic tastes and art preferences through the lens of Dalhaus’ writings on music aesthetics, applicable in the determination of what someone’s aesthetic opinions says about them and their mindset.

The article begins by echoing a sentiment that will be clear as this post unravels and Timati’s collected art is identified. Namely, Timati notes his taste in contemporary art as, “a classic taste of a Tokyo hype beast“, and this refers to a person whose aspirations include acquiring fashionable and trendy clothing items and other material items deemed valuable due to their sought-after (and usually rare) nature and general allure as fixed by its price, popularity, and aesthetic draw. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the term as “a person who is devoted to acquiring fashionable items, especially clothing and shoes“, although the term has evolved to encapsulate more than clothing items and refers to one who collects all manners of accessories, art, and other exclusive items that hold high aesthetic appeal and social interest.

Timati’s Art Collection

However, the “Tokyo” element comes in after he talked with his friend about his trip to “Toy Tokyo store” in New York (owned by Lev Levarek). After this, he began making his first purchases at Sotherby’s, and eventually began to create his own taste modeled around this initial peak of curiosity. However, as he notes in the Telegram article, his “hypebeast” aesthetic taste is not widely accepted, and instead is relatively looked down upon. He expresses doubts as to his collection’s popularity not connected to Timati’s name but rather as a genuine collection of artistic pieces:

“In our country, it is shared by a few, it is specific. Therefore, I see no reason to exhibit my collection anywhere – who will be really interested in seeing it, not just because Timati collected it? [Italics my own] If I had Russian impressionism or a serious classic, for example, it would be another matter. Louis Vuitton asked for my collection of chests for the exhibition, I have rare ones with color monograms, but they were also refused.”–o-svoej-kollekcii-sovremennogo-iskusstva-08-02

Overall, his aesthetic preferences for art seem rooted in pop-art, whimsical cartoons, and other forms of highly exaggerated and comic-based modalities, evidenced by the pictures of his collected works. Pieces like an Invader Pixel Mosaic, and art work by Guzman and Murakami, along with a large collection of Karimoku “Bearbrick” figures, demonstrate his tastes stem from a place of childlike whimsy and sincere enjoyment of aesthetic ‘fun’. Other pieces include a Kanye West stained glass window created by Misha Libertee, a life-sized statue of Mario by artist Ron English, an abstract expressionist triptych by Russian contemporary graffiti artist Misha Most, as well as more conventionally and recognizably ‘luxury’ items like Louie Vuitton suitcases, Supreme handkerchiefs, and collectable Hermes bags. But he expressed his interest in acquiring a painting from graffiti artist-turned international icon Jean-Michel Basquiat, the eminent 20th century African-American figure whose regarded as the main instigator of graffiti art’s rise in social prominence in the American 1970s in conjunction with hip-hop’s development. Basquiat was excoriated by critics then and still today for being nothing more than the product of “hype” and commercial greed.

Having briefly introduced Timati’s eclectic aesthetic preference, I will now interpret such a dichotomous view through the perspective of Dalhaus.

The Aesthetic, Functional, and Historical

Dalhaus specifies that there are three kinds of aesthetic tastes, the aesthetic, the functional, and the historical. However, the teleology that he lays out is applicable here to the understanding of how Timati is understanding and conceptualizing his aesthetic tastes. A brief understanding of each step is key before applying the teleology to Timati’s aesthetic tastes itself.

  1. When Dalhaus refers toaesthetic judgement” he is specifically talking about the ability of art (music here) to produce a pleasant experience through the observation of the object, akin to Eduard Hanslick’s concept of music’s true state as being one of ‘beauty’. Via this judgement, the quality of an object retains its aesthetic validity as it continues to hold its value in the unshakability of its aesthetic pleasure, however this is in large part determined not by the observer themselves but the gradual cementing of aesthetic fundamentals as created and substantiated throughout time. However, by the 20th century the idea of long-lasting aesthetic norms was being fazed out for instantaneousness, leading to inherited aesthetic judgments being less sought after for the embracement of the ‘modern’.
  2. However, the usage of the term “Functional judgment” instead refers to the reduction of an object to the utilitarian nature of its being, and the practical aspects of its structural makeup. He specifically references the forms of Umgangsmusik (colloquial music) and Gebrauchmusik (music for use) as examples of musical forms created not as a way to induce aesthetic pleasure but as a means to serve a greater, more civic purpose. However, this type of judgement is also didactic as it provides an instructive model for clearer comprehension of an object’s purpose. By the 20th century, Dalhaus noted how the idea of function was detached from music, where music was rendered “scientific” [i.e., serialism] and criticism reliant on history not aesthetics. However, as early as the 18th century with the separation of “ars” (creative art) from “craft” (technical craft), the reduction of aesthetics to pragmatic tools was begun.
  3. The third term introduced by Dalhaus is the “historic judgment”, and while axiomatic it must be noted that the latter two are formed from the influence of this tenant upon them. Essentially, Dalhaus argues that this type of judgement relies upon the epoch of the observer, and the many ways in which the past developments of aesthetic tastes have contributed to the present decisions being made. He alludes very strongly to Adorno concept of “stimmig” from his posthumous work “The Aesthetic Theory”. In this, the dialectic between art’s autonomic existence and its tie to the social reality of its creation as it was born of human labor and yet function as its own aesthetic unit, unreliant on anything other than itself. Art, in Adorno’s eyes, is not tied to the social fabric by way of theme but way of structure, and more specifically the structures that are used by the creator. Thus, Dalhaus echoes these sentiments by stating that judgments via the lens of history are colored by the imbricated and complex network of standardized frameworks.

Phew, that was a lot. But how does that actually relate to Timati you ask?

1. Behind the racing car – rare Kaws “companion” sculptures 2. living room with the Bearbrick collection

Timati’s Art Through The Dalhusian Lens

It’s clear from the article that Timati demonstrates a like for contemporary art that is aesthetically bold, structurally balanced, easily understood, and which hold considerable historical, contextual, and monetary significance.

These points are seminal in figuring out the true nature of Timati’s aesthetic preferences, and holds prominence in the deeper understanding of his musical aesthetics as well. His choice of art that is confrontational in color, texture, and timbre, as well as pieces that provide an immediate aesthetic response to the viewer, indicates that he is using the “aesthetic judgment” as a primary mode of epistemic choice when it comes to his collecting. However, it’s far too easy to argue that Timati is a recreational art collector with little to no actual knowledge of the art world nor the history of artists and the importance of the pieces which he collects. Rather, I profess it’s actually the opposite. Timati straddles two worlds without occupying one or the other.

By highlighting his interest in the works of Basquiat (seminal in the evolution of hip-hop), Libertee (Armenian-Russian artist), and Most (seminal in the realm of Russian hip-hop), Timati is connecting with deeper aesthetic principles and chronologies of taste, history, and culture. He is actively coalescing the ‘low brow’ with the ‘high brow’ by destabilizing the notion of the “popular” and the “contemporary” in the realm of art as something commodity-driven and inherently devoid of genuine artistic validity. He takes contemporary art and raises its aesthetic importance by not only utilizing his social position but bringing attention not to the ‘hype’ nature of the work but the genuine artistic achievement the work exhibits.

Further, there is a split in his aesthetic taste. On one end, he has his affinity for ‘art’ pieces that are created to be art pieces, while on the other end he has the drive to collect luxury items made to be used but have since been taken out from their functional premises and rendered ‘art’ by nature of their presentation by Timati. What are we to make of this if we consider Dalhaus’ ‘functional’ and ‘aesthetic’ judgment’s criteria? “Functionally” speaking, he is showing his appreciation of the craftsmanship that the item was rendered by, while “aesthetically” speaking the outward appearance of the item draws him in and provides the euphoria of aesthetic pressure that is desired in the collection process itself. Thus, there is this tension between his intrinsic respect for the item as a previously functioning, well-constructed item, and a luxury good made to impress viewers, enriching the lust for materiality.

In Conclusion

Timati is an odd figure, as from the surface he seems completely empty of intellectual sophistication and hellbent of pleasure and hedonism. YET, deeper under the surface and one realizes how erudite and nuanced his views on art, culture, politics, and aesthetics really are. His love of art of various contemporary kinds and rare luxury goods positions the rapper as a connoisseur of the “low-turned-high” brow and the genuine “high” brow. However, despite his tastes for immediacy and luxury he is not ignorant of historical flows and deeper-level aesthetic responses. By collecting a wide range of art pieces in various mediums, and espousing his appreciation of seminal domestic and foreign artists, he demonstrates how he is positing himself as an artistic cosmopolitan. Traversing the waters of national and international art markets, his collection forms a network of collaborating pieces that both challenges the notion of isolated, artistic geographies, and corroborates the contemporary requirement of a public figure to be a part of other aspects of the cultural mainstream from which one receives his fame.

1. Invader Pixel Mosaic 2. Harif Guzman 3. Takashi Murakami

[PC: @Vanity_case on Telegram]