Vladimir Putin is trying to censor what scares him the most.
A few days ago, Vladimir Putin announced his war against rap; citing that the genre should be controlled and that “If it’s impossible to stop, we must lead and direct it”. These statements surrounded a meeting with cultural advisers in St. Petersburg, with the intention of putting a ban on live performances. This followed the arrest of rapper Husky who was taken into custody for staging an impromptu performance, as well as Gone.Fludd and Allj who canceled shows due to pressure from police and violent threats. Putin claims that “rap and other modern forms are music are rested on three pillars: sex, drugs, and protest”, which is what is influencing his censorship of the genre. But in reality, rap is one of the most powerful things that can challenge Putin’s dictatorship-like nation.
Russia’s decision to control hip-hop follows China’s decision to ban it from mainstream media earlier this year, which saw the removal of rappers Gai from the TV show Singer, and rapper VaVa from the show Happy Camp. But unlike China’s decision to remove it, Putin wants to puppeteer it, which could lead to using the form of a music as a propagandic tool in the country. This in many ways mirrors the the Human Rights Watch’s Laws Of Attrition report that claims Putin has brought several restrictive laws into Russia, and has even harassed critics. Political Science professor Scott Gehlbach has also claimed that Putin punishes journalists who challenge his point of view. So by looking at it, Putin’s quest to control rap makes sense because it’s something that challenges him (much like the Bolsheviks challenged the Tsar of Russia in the early 1900s).
The thing is, while Putin’s ability to control hip-hop seems like a power move from his perspective, he’s merely poking the dragon. Rap thrives in rebellion; it’s always been a genre that challenges the silence of voices; whether it’s N.W.A screaming “Fuck the police!” in 1988, YG chanting “Fuck Donald Trump!” in 2016 or Kodak Black detailing his struggles in the prison system on “Transgression” in 2018. Rap exists to critique where people overlook it, hence why it has become the biggest genre in the world. Putin can silence journalists, but he may struggle with hip-hop.
As of now, it’s hard to tell the future of hip-hop in Russia, and whether or not Putin will try and turn it into propaganda to push his own ideologies. But this isn’t rap’s first rodeo with political power, and it has yet to lose yet. Russian youth in general seem to have a pure love of hip-hop in general, with acts like $uicideboys and Night Lovell frequently touring there, so if the fans are still active, the music shouldn’t die. Putin merely sees rap as something that could abolish the illusion of power and dominance he’s created, and that scares him. After all, we all know what the Bolsheviks did to the Tsar of Russia in 1917.