Analysis Hip-hop

An Analysis of The-Flow’s “Top 50 Albums of 2022”

General Info

This basic study documented the demographic spread between the 50 chosen albums of 2022 as reported by The-Flow, using the findings as a metric of the current tenor of the Russian popular music community. As the findings demonstrate, there is significant overlap of genres within the contemporary popular music climate, artists routinely using various genres on the same album, some rooting themselves in one but using others for color. Based on previous research on the aesthetic trajectory of Russian hip-hop,[1] trap has become the default for modern Russian hip-hop, while the genre itself has been infused with several different elements, leading to a rich ecosystem.

Another metric the study took account of was gender, although it is unsurprising that the majority of the artists featured were men. Of the 50 albums mentioned, 7 were exclusively women, with two mixed groups featuring both men and women. Female rapper Instasamka has risen in popularity in recent years, having come from the social media personality realm, using her sexuality as an advantageous way for increased public notability. Her presence on the list may convey The-Flow’s views on Instamsamka as a rapper, equal to her male counterparts. Other female artists like Dora, Missu, Zemfira, and Maybe Baby are representated in the aesthetic terrain from R’n’B and rock to trap (i.e., rap) and pop music.


Many of the names chosen by The-Flow who situate themselves within the rap purview are more mainstream (or domestically popular). Artists like Kizaru, Loquiemean, Morgenshtern, and Scally Milano, represent a wide range of rap expressions, although falling predominately within the “New School” generation.[2] “Old School” artists are infrequently represented, Smokey Mo, 1996, and Vladi representative of a different aesthetic universe. Their infrequent mention provides an interesting perspective into what is considered “popular” within the Russian contemporary music space versus, although more concrete research is needed.

As the study showed, the predominate genre among The-Flow’s 50 albums of 2022 was rap, with various subgenres and genric varieties falling within its purview. For example, “trap” (inspired by the Atlanta-based scene), “boy rap” (in Russian patsansky rap) and “hookah rap” (kalyani rap) were featured alongside aesthetic mixtures with pop, reggae (another “Russian” characteristic), and jazz (harkening back to the 2000s with the infusion of R’n’B). Another subgenre that the list showed was “cloud rap,” its main practitioner Pharaoh (alias of Gleb Gebbadyevich Golubin) having effectively established the genre in Russia in the mid-2010s. Other aesthetic subgenres present on the list were drill and garage, two United-Kingdom based genres, whose appearance is connected with the growing network between UK-based and Russian-based rappers.

One album was labeled as “New Rap,” although based on previous research the main aesthetic of post-2010s Russian rap seems to be trap, with heavy influences of electronica, IDM, and rock. The relationship between rock and rap greatly expanded during the mid-late 2010s, and there is speculation that the relationship will only strengthen as time progresses. The study exposed the dominance of the “pop rap” (i.e., rap aesthetics situated to popular treatment), many artists choosing to make their music more accessible to larger populations by reducing the aesthetic barrier-to-entry. By consciously reducing the “gangsta” and grittier elements of the rap aesthetic lexicon, artists can enter new markets and reach wider audiences, although the question of “authenticity” is inversely raised when such changes occur.

One rarity on the list is the Soviet/Russian rock group Aquariam, whose seminality in the Russian rock’s history falls outside this study but has been the focus on concerted research by scholars like Artemy Troitsky[3] and others. One of the lead singers of the group, Boris Grebenshchikov, outside of his participation in the group, has formed a close relationship with Russian rap culture. The cover art for politically-active Russian rapper Oksimiron (Miron Yanovich Fyodorov), was created by Boris, the art causing a stir due to its semiotic ambiguousness.[4]

Of notable absence is the Buryatian rapper Husky (Dmitry Nikolaeyvich Kuznetsov) and his recently released album named “Russian Album,” although due to his beliefs around Donbass, given The-Flow’s internal politics, there is room to speculate on the motivations. Other hip-hop artists notably absent from the list include “Old School” names including Guf (Aleksi Sergeevich Dolmatov), the groups The Chemodan, AK-47 and Triguktrika, the rap project Krec, and Noggano/Basta (Vasiliy Mikhaylovich Vakulenko).[5] While the orientation of The-Flow is situated within the contemporary period, given the disparity between those “Old School” rap and rock figures named versus those not named, more research is needed to determine the true aesthetics demographics of Russian popular music released in 2022 and its status as a whole.

Relationship To Current Trends

In February of 2022, a joint study by Artyom Rondarev and Ivan Napreenko was released,[6] studying the practices in and around music from both the non-specialist listeners and industry insiders in a variety of positions.  Among the many elements of the study, and there are many elements directly related to this research, the section specifically looking at the genre preferences and trends of Russian music listeners hold significant power in validating the research of this study.

However, there are easily discernable inconsistencies with The-Flow’s tastes and the surveyed tastes. According to the survey, the three most listened-to genres are rock (57%), electronic (46%) and classical (33%), whereas the top three most disparaged genres are none (36%), chanson/author song (33%), and rap (20%). But how can this be? If one only looks at the stats from The-Flow, it would seem that rap is the most liked genre within Russia, whereas the figures from Rondarev and Napreenko’s study would seem to suggest the complete opposite. According to the researchers, anti-hip hop sentiments are most common in populations above 35 years old, whereas those at The-Flow, we can assume, are generally younger. This poses a huge challenge if one is attempting to gauge the climate of listeningship in the Russian nation, as overemphasizing of one genre over another may skew actual results from larger studies whose age demographics are wider as well (i.e., mid-20s up).

An interesting statistic comes from the study’s beginning. This quote shows that there is still a hesitancy to listen to hip-hop and other genres which could be perceived as anti-cultural or culturally pollutive. It does stand to note that hip-hop and R’n’B are predominately black-based musical genres, although the value of this observation would need further solidification:

“Only for 44% of the respondents, the decisive factor in choosing what to listen to is the genre affiliation. Prejudices against specific genres are relatively common (only a third of respondents say they don’t have such prejudices), with chanson and art song being the most prejudiced (33% say they won’t listen under any circumstances), hip-hop and RnB (20%), metal (18%).”

Rondarev and Napreenko, 2022

Is there any value in this observation, that rap is actively disregarded, is not even in the top five most listened-to genres, and is relatively scorned among listeners? One of the obvious issues is the quality of the study, the demographics of those polled and interviewed a topic of concern. Most of the respondents were women (54%/46%), with ages ranging from 19-45. Although this seems like a diverse range, the fact that the majority of voices against genres like hip-hop and metal came from older populations shows shows that the study was a flawed one. These older populations do not participate, likely, in the youth culture of today, and therefore should have been disregarded from the study (if the point was to understand the youth culture and not just ‘listeners’ en masse).

Further, most of the respondents lived in Moscow and had received higher education. The latter does not mean a great deal, as many rappers themselves have received higher education. However, I speculate that geography may have power over the results. Also, socioeconomic status may also play a role, the majority of responses coming from those with limited capital to spend but not at risk of starving or homelessness. Perhaps these populations are more critical of pleasure and thus distrustful of music such as rap.

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that the gender imbalance is still a huge problem within the world of Russian popular music. However, to address this concern other areas need to be touched upon as well, mostly the overabundance of rap in popular music coverage yet lukewarm sociocultural reception.

Further, the genric diversity displayed in the fifty albums chosen by The-Flow conveys a sense of listlessness and/or late-stage development in the evolution of Russia’s popular music culture. That we have representatives from post-punk, alternative hip-hop, trap, rock, post-rock, and even IDM and electronica on one list shows the breadth of influences available to artists at the moment. It also speaks to the degradation of genre-specific labels by which artists must abide.

Albums like “AA Language” by Aarne show the evolved nature of an album, and the creative freedoms available to artists at present. But as rock becomes increasingly more potent, what will the fate of rap be? These two genres sit uncomfortably in Russian popular music history, but the cross between them is interesting.[7] Moreso how will the UK influence in Russia change over time with the increasing influence of garage?[8]

So many questions, so little time. Until next time!


[1] Vandevert, John. “A Contemporary Analysis of ‘Musical Russianness’ as Evidenced in Husky’s Album ‘Hoshkhonog’ (2020).” Researchgate, 2022.’s_Album_Hoshkhonog_2020.

[2] The terms “New School” and “Old School” when speaking about Russian hip-hop is not entirely clear, as some refer to the period of the late 1980s to 1990s as the latter, whereas the 2000s onward are considered the former. Here, I am referring to the post-2010s as the “New School” and the pre-2010s as the “Old School.” For a clearer dichotomy, see; Sobaka. “РЭПОПИСЬ.” Issuu, October 11, 2011.

[3] Troitsky, Artemy. Back in the USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia. Boston, MA: Faber and Faber, 1988.

[4] Abanin, Lyosha. “Boris Grebenshchikov As an Artist: What is the Cover of Oksimiron’s New Album?” 2×

[5] Based on other lists akin to The-Flow, a picture of which artists were considered most popular during 2022 can be gleaned. For another example, see: “List of the Best, According to RAP.RU, Russian Rap Albums for 2022!”, 2023.

[6] Rondarev, Artyom, and Ivan Nepreenko. “Practices of Musical Consumption of Russians. Main Features and Trends.” Institute for Cultural Studies. 2022.

[7] Resonance. Review – Will Russian Rap Save Russian Rock?, YouTube. 2018.

[8] Gorbash, Lesha. How UK-garage became No. 1 in Russia. A history of the genre with commentary by Feduk, Markul and Kuok. Afisha-Daily. 2022.

Analysis Uncategorized

Exploratory Analysis: “Russianness” in AK-47’s Track “Circle Tinted” (2009)

From an analytical perspective, to attempt to empirically deduce the “Russianness” of music created in Russia is a thankless task as you run up against the difficulty of defining your parameters. The lack of functional clarity of what “Russianness” is, although many texts, both historic and contemporary, argue otherwise, paints any analysis using this term as suppositional unless firmly rooted in sociohistoricity.

Any research methodology must be based upon several key principles, chief among them being the substantiation of the “scientific method” (i.e., observation, hypothesis, implication, testing) [1]. However, when it comes to more musically-oriented analytical procedures, where it is far less based on stringent methodologies and more on the detection of constructed formulas as set by historical principles and/or constructed epistemic and analytical frameworks (e.g., Ruwet’s “Methods” based on semiotics [2], Middleton’s theory-by-gesture [3], and A. B. Marx’s “Formenlehre” [4, 5]), analysis becomes rooted not in hypothesis but in schemas. Therefore, when attempting to understand the “Russianness” in the repertoire of Russian hip-hop, it’s not enough to note cursory observations in the track’s timbre, texture, rhythm, instrumentalism, and textual theme.

Rather, because of the epistemological difficulties in ascertaining what “Russianness” actually is from a phenomenological [its appearance to observers] and even ontological [fundamental] standpoint, it’s not possible to make just one schema of “musical Russianness.” However, as my Master’s dissertation is hopefully demonstrating, by reviewing what was historically understood as musically “Russian” (e.g., moods, theory, semantics), a piecemeal methodology forms that can provide a possible in-road into the construction of a functional methodology. Essentially, systematically tracking the qualities and theoretical aesthetics that were (and are) commonly attributed to the “Russian character” [6], the “Russian soul” [7], if you will, I argue that you are left with a succinct list of tenants that can be adequately used for analytical purposes. Perfect? Not at all, but at least what this method gives you is an analytical base that is advantageous in “first-order” observations (i.e., superficial aesthetics and structural considerations).

It’s also notable that due to the relationship between “Russianness” and “musical Russianness” and the ‘politics’ of 19th c. Russia, the aesthetic delineation of the second as educated by the first, gestated itself from national discourses, is not simply musical. Thus, “musical Russianness” is as much about implication as intention, where masculine voices could be a convention or supercharged semiotic. In short, how you read “Russianness” in music is a strong factor in what you’ll find, which Helmers (2014) address when he calls for the foregrounding of reception.

In this vein, using previously collected notes, I will attempt to do a very brief musical analysis dedicated to revealing the “musical Russianness” within the track. However, I will be looking at one layer in particular, and that is the connection to folk music that the track professes in its base ostinato pattern [see figure one].

Via Music

As is evident if you listen to the song, the music is comprised of, essentially, a highly repetitive ostinato with a secondary melodic ostinato overtop. Musically speaking, the track is very typical for the Russian “Old School”, the track having been released in 2009. One can’t quite call it completely boom bap but rather a “Russified” rendition of the boom bap texture, as there is no overt syncopated bass underneath the rapping. However, the “Russian” element comes into play as an isolated analysis of the base ostinato reveals something very interesting indeed:

Fig. 1: Main theme of the track and the underlying ostinato

What is this, you might be asking, and how is this an example of “Russianness” within the track? For starters, it reads as very much ‘Russian’ due to its clearly minor tonality of Db minor (or C# minor, dependent upon your view), and it’s very slow within the song, which colors the ostinato in an introspective tenor. However, this ostinato is also connected to Russian folk music more tangibly and perhaps is connected to the “protyazhnaya” (or the ‘drawn out song’), a historical folk song form intimately connected to the legacy of Russian music. M. Locanto explains,

The protyazhnaya was a type of slow, melismatic lyrical folk song which in the mid-nineteenth century came to be seen as a paradigm for all Russian folksong, or even as the essence of Russian creativity and the ‘Russian soul’ itself.”

(2021, 165)

A serious counterargument to this ostensible connection, outside of the fact that the style’s origins are from Mongolia and not Russia as some claim, (Zemtskovsky, 1967) can be drawn from the very texture of the ‘drawn-out song’ itself. From a structural level, the genre is lyrical and operates outside the conventional mode of verticle harmony (a theme commonly associated with Western music). Further, there is no underlying ostinato-like fabric to the mixture, as usually there are only a few singers, and they operate in counterpoint with each other (e.g., “All the Universe” [8]). Thus, we are back at square one. If it’s not the “lingering song” that the track is echoing with its ostinato, what is the track’s ostinato alluding to then?

Figure 2: Second melodic motif of the track, overlaid on top of the bass motif

If we go off the process of “negation”, then we can definitely say that the track is not echoing the ethos of the “Ditty” (Chastushki), as it’s not upbeat nor jubilant enough. There isn’t an accordion used as well (e.g., ‘Play Harmony!’). It’s also not indicative of the “Ritual song” as, again, it’s not celebratory, nor is the theme a match for its pragmatic usage [9]. In the long list of negations, it’s also not what is called “dance songs” (khoroddnie pesni) [10], “Cossack songs” [11], “Nagrish” [12], another strongly Russian dance style, and certainly not the “comic song” [13]. So, again I ask, what is making this repetitive melodic pattern sound and feel Russian?

I argue that within this debate on what is and is not musically Russian, therein lies a strong argument that the invocation of “Russianness” is inherently linked with the inability to cogently identify what invokes the ‘Russian’ feeling. The appropriation of ambiguity into the very schema of “musical Russianness”, even when the aesthetic is shrewdly identified, promotes this idea of exclusivity and originality, two tenants that are symbiotically connected to “Russianness” as a geopolitical and sociocultural term. If said quality is a collection of ‘cultural codes’ used to define the Russian existence and identity (Hellberg-Hirn 1998), then perhaps the foreign analyzer will always be ostracized from gaining a true picture of its existence.

Is this acceptable to state that one can endorse its presence without knowing what makes it present in the first place? Can I justifiably say that this track is “musically Russian” based on my internal feeling of “folk” rather than something substantial? Is it Academically untenable to construct a methodology on aesthetic hunches?

In Conclusion

As this hopefully demonstrated, the aesthetic deduction of “musical Russianness” in Russian hip-hop is as much a process of identifying what said track is NOT than what the track IS via aesthetic means. This type of analytical framework cannot be regarded as novel, as Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov was among many who noted that the whole method concocted by the “Kuchkists” (i.e., The Mighty Five), a collective of five auto-didactic composers in the mid-19th century, was rooted in the removal of aesthetic devices and techniques deemed too Western. Thus, in this track, there is a tension between the “boom bap” Old School of the Americas and the Russian “Old School”, similar in nomenclature but aesthetically idiosyncratic enough to warrant more research going forward. In any case, the “Russian” element is not musically clear, yet there is a fundamental “folk” quality to the ostinati. Why? What is being indicated by its usage here, and what meaning does it hold for the geo-political orientation of its artistic fabric? How is the track transformed into a player in larger networks of Rancierian-like political power exchanges through its usage?

The only way to unambiguously find out is to ask the creator, “Why the ostinato?” Without this question, I may never know exactly why this pattern was used. And here lies the conundrum between “musical Russianness” and Russian hip-hop. Unless you confirm the teleological usage of a certain aesthetic trait and stylistic characteristics, you may never actually know why something is there. Thus, the music researcher is left to cogitate their own reason, leading to the polemic state of “musical Russianness” today. Speculation, subjective readings, and theory but in the end, no one answer. “Musical Russianness” in Russian hip-hop is as much about coming to terms with the reality of ambiguity as it coming up with real answers.

In the end, there is no methodology for “musical Russianness”. All there is, however, are theories supported by the historical, social, and political track record of the Russian nation. For me, however, this is unsatisfying. I will continue to search for the aesthetic evidence of “musical Russianness” in Russian hip-hop. It’s there, within the genetics of the genre, but where those genetics begin is not yet known.