https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MutNFE0bHdE

Watch the survey conducted on Moscow streets the other day about the “rap battle of the year” between may be the best Russian rapper Oxxymiron (the pun on ‘oxymoron’) and yet well-known Slava KPSS (a wordplay on ‘Glory to CPSU’), better known as Gnoyniy (Rotten). The youtube video has accumulated over 13.5 million views within 48 hours, and arguably has received more attention in Russian media and social media than major political events.

Discussing the legality and cultural appropriation of rap discourse, I think it is fair to bring the massive rap industry back to its roots, namely, to the leading practitioners of “zaum” poetry such as David Burliuk, Alexey Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov who comprised themselves of making-up words. Back then in the 1910s transrational poetry was meant to go beyond  intelligibility without devolving into nonsense. We can only imagine the atmosphere of futurist recitals in the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow, when literary rivals Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov -- both famous for their ability to parry interjections -- engaged in polemics with the audience.

In contemporary bravado of rap, nothing is off-limits and nothing is illegal. As rap doesn’t speak with one voice, the battle between the two soloists and their complementing areas of expertise is seamless, yet demonstrates some friction between their tastes: from the staccato attack of one to the slow melodic groove of another, from homophobic jokes to anti-Semitic innuendos.

The main motif that underlies rap of both is a quintessential postmodern form; it consists of snatches of appropriated quotes, an array of mems, slangy words, hyperbolic metaphors, stale phrases, literary references and political clichés circulated in the public discourse. Tarkovsky and Khodorkovsky, truth and profanity, self-loathing and self-assertion are explored in rap from a variety of angles. Spectacles can only guess the subtext and context of each reference. Finally, the declamation and rhetorical strategies that make up the performative aspect of rapping poetry so compelling drives rhythm into speech, investing the act of speaking with a very pure power.

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