Rap and Politics: How a subculture can influence a society

Currently in many countries, specifically in the European neighbourhood, subcultures stand up as means to express critical opinions and to deliver certain information. They start to replace the usual media which due to different circumstances don’t deliver those messages to the public. But also the target group which is reached with this message changes. Young people, often coming from all classes of society listen to it. 

Here is a recent overview from two different countries, Russia, and Turkey, and how rap recently interacted within the society and the political environment.

Russia:

With the spread of technology and Internet access it becomes easier to express the viewpoint of the people, even in states like Russia, where federal channels report according to the regime. A similar situation is happening in other spheres – cinema, art, and music. Moreover, the younger generation tends to be more aware of the ideological part of modern culture. They will repost badly made films by a famous opposition leader to show support to the important topics that it brings up. They will dislike a well made pro-governmental music video with a catchy tune because they disagree with the message that underlies it. 

Such thing happened recently with a new video by two famous pro-Putin rappers who were praising the Moscow government in it, a day before a municipal election in the Russian capital. In several days it hit 1 million of dislikes, became the most disliked video in the Russian net and had to be taken down. Modern art knows no hypocrisy. Timati and Guf, two well-known artists released the song “Moscow” where they stated that they “don’t go on protests and (…) don’t talk s**t” (…) in “the city where they don’t hold gay parades”. The reactions after the negative response to the video – Timati denied any allegations that he had been paid by the government and Guf apologized for the clip and claimed that he had not even known there was an upcoming election.

Rapper Timati with President Putin in 2012 (Source: politicalhotwire.com)

It’s not so easy to affect youngster’s minds through art and music, on the contrary, these spheres have become an open space for stating a viewpoint and bringing up important issues. 

At the same time the Kremlin started to oppress artists who criticize the government. A wave of fear is going through the country’s rap scene, starting from autumn 2018. 

An example is the rap icon Ivan Timofeevich Dryomin alias Face, coming from the Russian provinces. He is the voice of the youth and has twenty times more followers on Twitter than the state TV. Especially young people follow him. In his recent album he raps about corruption and social problems in Russia. But the states seem to recognize the power of this subculture and start to oppress it. 

Cancelled tours or concerts, judicial cases due to phrases from the lyrics or even prison sentences due to illegal concerts – the list of measures taken against artists is long. Not only Face is challenged with these, also other artists such as IC3PEAK or Husky – who was arrested after an illegal concert – face the new wave of oppression.

Turkey:

Susamam –  ‘I can’t stay silent’, a 15-minute rap track was released on the 6th of September 2019. Out of sudden it caused quite a stir in Turkey. But what is the reason?

This Rap track addresses issues that haven’t been discussed publicly in Turkey for quite some time, such as the destruction of the planet, political corruption, violence against women, police violence or the imprisonment of press representatives. In the track there are 18 singers and 16 topics/hashtags: Nature, Drought, Law, Justice, Turkey, İstanbul, Education, Curiosity, Women Rrights, Earth, Foreignlands, Animalrights, Suicide, Fascism, Street and Traffic. The video reached over 21 million clicks in just a week. People in Turkey shared this video on their social accounts with the hashtag #SUSAMAM, the media discussed the role of rap within the society and the leading party, the AKP, the leading party in Turkey, criticized it as a “mis-use of art as political influencer. Other press papers such as “Yeni Şafak” criticize it as a cooperation of left extremists with the Kurdish PKK and the Gülen Movement – both recognized as terrorist organizations in Turkey – or for not speaking up against the coup which happened in 2016. The universal power of music within a society is also here quite obvious. It can gather people to stand against common issues, it can raise awareness among people, even if other channels such as the official media don’t function properly anymore. It can inspire people to raise their voice to see a better future instead of staying silent. In this context it is a channel to express the opinion of the youth – their problems, their worries, their fears and their perspectives on society. Şanışer –  the initiator of the song sums up the message: “If they falsely arrest you one night no single journalist can report it because they are all locked up” and that “(…) we believe that music can bring about change.”

The header of the song Susamam (Source: yerelbt.com)

Another example, released almost at the same time, is Ömer Sercan Ipekcioglu alias Ezhel with his new song “Olay” – in English “Incident”. In his song he is quite direct whom he is criticizing – speaking about the Gezi – Protests in 2013, the mining incident in Soma 2014 and terror attack from 2015 in Ankara. He is showing Erdogan several times in his video. 

General:

With these examples we can see another time how influential rap as subculture, as often youth-lead form of arts can be. It is important that these channels of information and media exist and that in this way alternative portals for providing opinions are given. 

Even though both cases are different, they have one thing in common – their purpose. It is not only used as a mean to achieve success, to gain money or popularity or to create an alternative image. Rap, as a form of art, is a way to provide a platform for information and ideas. It is a platform for the youth to express their ideas, their opinions, their views towards society. In societies, where the media is often not fairly giving the voice to the young people who want to stand up for the course this is an alternative option. Rap stars or singers in general are the poets and authors of the 21st century – the youth is now rather listening to the lyrics of a song than reading a book. It is often displayed as a very democratic form of music due to the easy accessibility to the genre and how to start your career in it. Everybody can rap, it’s not expensive, you don’t need a very special voice, you don’t need a good academic background.

But it shows the power of such youth subculture and the fear it brings with it among the authorities. Like back in its past, when globally celebrated rap icons like Ice Cube or Nas spoke in their songs about racial discrimination or police violence – issues of the society and highly political influenced texts.

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