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