commentary Current Events Russia

Russian Rap Censorship Database: Some Updates

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.

  1. April (2023)
  2. March (2023)
  3. End of February (2023)

April (2023)

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.

March (2023)

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!

Analysis theory

The Trigger-Observer-Response Theory

As part of the upcoming conference, “Music and Censorship in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Historical, Political and Social Context” hosted by Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini, I will be airing my ongoing research into Russian hip-hop censorship. As part of my research, I will present a theory (read: named concept) which I argue is more accurate in its reflection of how censorship is instigated and part of a larger network. The relationship between the Trigger and the Response is central to the study of censorship. One cannot come without the other, and yet there is no prediction that the size of the trigger will match the response nor vice versa. Therefore, diligence must be taken in rationally articulating why a response is the size it is and the reasons for the decision by those holding the power to censor. However, there is another element of the theory, that of those who are watching the process unfold and who (consciously or unconsciously) hold power to change the course of the actions.

The Observer may hold significant power in shaping the outcome that the trigger will normally engender. This is not a solitary position but rather a more flexible name for those human (and non-human tools).[1] A trigger and a reaction do not take place in isolation to their surroundings. Thus, those who are viewers of the trigger may instigate their own trigger and response which may or may not influence the first trigger’s response given the severity of the trigger. As the model above may not demonstrate, this change reaction of trigger/observer/response is not a finite one. Rather it cannot be predicted how many different types of observers there are to any given situation. Any number of people (or platforms, governments, researchers, laymen) may be observing, and all will have their own influence. For example, a song about female sexuality may instigate a conservative government to censor the song from airwaves. However, in between the trigger (sexual song) and the reaction (censorship from airwaves) lies the observer(s). Given our digital age, this may include antonymous online users of internet platforms of communication (i.e., the phenomena of “cancelling” is a good example of what could be called the Observer influence potential). If the OIP is high, then the reaction may change as a result. An example of this is the resulting benefit concert “I Will Sing My Song” following the rapper Husky’s arrest in the fall of 2018.[2] This is a classical example of how the Observer can hijack the reaction.

At the heart of this theory is a point I want to take the time to stress. The trigger/observer/response relationship is not finite nor a one-off occurrence but rather a looping system that has no rational end. Despite the model’s rudimentary nature, the point the arrows are making is that while the observer has power over the original loop, their influence begins another round of trigger/observer/response. Therefore, there is no one event that prompts a response nor one response to a trigger. Rather, there is a whole network going on simultaneously, both on their own timelines and in concert with the original timeline that they entered. Yet, more meta is the awareness that said timeline is a tangent to another timeline, and so the process keeps going. The ironic nature of musical censorship is that the censoring of music is but one element in a larger network of events. Therefore, to accurately understand why a piece of music is censored, one cannot simply look at the semiotics and individual components of the song (text, theme, aesthetics, narrative, etc.) but the contexts by which the song has come into being and the ecosystem in which the song inhabits. Further benefit is gained if one peers into an ecosystem’s history. Another example would be the mass censorship campaign against Russian hip-hop in the fall of 2018. In the months leading up, there were two domestic terror attacks by young citizens. This logically caused fear of modernity and the influence it has over the minds of young adults.[3] Here, censorship could be seen as a response to wholly non-musical circumstances. Yet, without putting the period into context, much is lost regarding why the period happened.

This study takes inspiration from Edward Thorndike‘s “stimulus-response theory.”[4] However, it digresses when dealing with the proportionality of the relationship, as censorship cannot be called proportionate in many cases.


  • The Trigger/Observer/Response Theory argues that there are three parties involved in dictating the nature of any case of censorship. However, when one T/O/R cycle is occurring, there are countless others also happening at the same time, both small and large in form. These interact and influence each other and all take place simultaneously.
  • The Observer is directly involved in coloring the outcome of the trigger, although by their involvement they instigate their own T/O/R cycle.
  • If the Observer Influence Potential [OIP], then the Response is likely to be effected as a result. If it is low, then the Response may not change. However, the sheer act of involvement in one cycle of T/O/R instigates the creation of a separate T/O/R cycle by default.

Notes and References

[1] I am referring to Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and the relationship between human and non-human “actors.” Specifically, the ways in which they interact with each other and make complex webs of power relations which then interact with other, already formed networks.





The Study of Censorship of Hip-Hop in Russia: A New Avenue for Research?

In preparation for the “Music and Censorship in the 20th and 21th Centuries” virtual conference as hosted by the Luigi Boccherini Opera Omnia Study Center, where I will be presenting on ongoing research I’m doing into censorship of Russian hip-hop, a visual aid has been rudimentarily created in order to help visualize the issue.

Using Tableau Public (and some major elbow grease as I’m not a skilled Digital Humanities scholar, although I’ve written one article about it [it was a conference talk that never materialized]), I have mapped the cases of censorship which are place-specific. These date from 2010 (one of the earliest cases) to 2022 (one of the most recent cases), and demonstrates the landscape of contemporary Russia for hip-hop artists. There are some non-Russian cases (i.e., Belarus, Ukraine), and these provide a certain contextual aura to the map, as bans on entry have also been linked to political position on the Crimean peninsula and cultural influence.

As is visible, the majority of cases come from Moscow and the Western regions of Russia, although a case of censorship was recorded as far East as Yakutsk which seems a remote area for censorship. However, this map provides a clue into the geographical orientation of popular music censorship in Russia, as central Russia has had little to no cases, signaling hip-hop artists rarely venture to those areas. Are there hip-hop artists from those areas? If so, who are they and what do they sound like? Why are they not targets of censorship? Lots of unanswered questions. As the conference paper comes to be formed, I will be sharing more information on the cases recorded below including censorship bodies, reasons, outcomes, etc.

I hope this visual helps you, and click here if you’d like to check out the original.