In the late 2000s, Russian hip-hop was a marginalized genre. The Russian charts were dominated by pop artists, only sometimes featuring artists of other genres. Everything changed in 2015, when Scriptonite and Oxxxymiron entered the stage. After releasing their first full albums, the performers topped the charts. By bringing Russian hip-hop to the masses, they paved the way for new performers. However, in 2018, the Russian government tried to control the industry.
As one of the attempts to regulate hip-hop, a confrontation between the authorities and the rising hip-hop artist Husky came under the spotlight of Russian media. Over the span of one month, Husky’s concerts were canceled across several Russian cities. Eventually, the rapper was arrested for attempting to give an improvised concert on a car roof in a parking lot. Outrage on social media and public calls for the release of the rapper led to Husky’s freedom. The controversial actions of the authorities caused a Streisand effect: Husky, once known only in hip-hop circles, now became the voice of the young Russian generation.
On the outside, Husky looks like a typical gopnik — a Russian version of chav, a lower-class young man dressed in a black tracksuit. But behind this deceptive appearance hides a well-read and erudite man, a graduate of one of the best universities in Russia and a reporter who used to work for the largest TV channels in the country. The breadth of his knowledge is seen through his lyrics — his songs are filled with historical, political, and even biblical references. A true fan of Russian literature, Husky is acclaimed for the poetic approach in his song lyrics. Showcasing rich vocabulary in his rhymes with whiplash-like beats in the background, Husky’s songs strike the listener like bullets. Even his flow stands out — the sentences are pronounced in a cheeky and aloof manner, as if someone is trying to force the words to come out of his mouth.
But it’s not even the vividness of his lyrics that separates Husky from other local hip-hop artists. It is the image that he carries — following Scriptonite, he made Russian hip-hop sound authentic. In the past, even the successful hip-hop artists in Russia were a mere shadow of their American counterparts. They imitated the beat, sound, lyrics, and even followed the notion of “hood” in their songs. The music sounded stateless, talked about girls and money, and adapted to the mainstream Western themes. Artists tried to become the Russian versions of 50 Cent and Kanye West. But that’s not the case anymore.
Instead, Husky raps about topics that matter to the youth in Russia. In “Panelka”, Husky describes the life in typical Soviet-era apartment buildings where most Russians still live. It is a detailed depiction of the life of a post-Soviet person from a poor family. The track talks about ubiquitous poverty, the absence of future prospects, and the fear of repeating the unfortunate fate of his parents. It is an unusual story — a rap about weakness, lack of will, and a little man caught in a whirlpool of insurmountable circumstances.
His tracks don’t only focus on the way of life in Russia — Husky often gets political. In his song “October 7”, referring to the birthday of Putin, Husky criticizes the Russian president in an elegant yet harsh manner. The song with the beat evoking the howling of emergency sirens references many controversial events and conspiracy theories under the Putin presidency, such as “the sugar incident” in 1999 — when Russian intelligence agents were suspected with laying sugar bags filled with explosives in the basement of an apartment complex. The video features a slowly aging portrait of a man resembling Putin, alluding to the story of Dorian Gray. But it is important to note that while Husky criticizes the government, he is still a patriot. In a song called “Poem about Motherland”, he says that he still loves his country despite all the suffering the people have to endure, comparing it to finding love in a train headed nowhere.
Obviously, Husky is aware of the risks he is taking when he criticizes the Kremlin. He often repeats the claim that the authorities do not like what he is doing. In “Judas”, Husky alludes his work to the words of Jesus and compares spreading his ideas to spreading drugs — something the authorities try to prevent, but fail to. Husky is waiting for his Judas to turn him in so that his words would spread even after he’s gone. The music video, banned in Russia, shows the unique aesthetics of commuter towns intertwined with dynamic shots of violence, reinterpreting the same events in the Bible adjusted to contemporary Russian society.
Critics, when trying to explain Husky’s phenomenon, have different opinions. Some say that in him, Russia found its own Kendrick Lamar — a lyrical voice of the oppressed. Others compare him to Russian poets and writers of the past, making parallels between the persecutions they had to go through. Husky's impact on Russian society will not be clear until decades later. Given the political climate in Russia, it is unlikely that Husky will become the face of protest. But judging by the many angry comments that agree with Husky under his songs on YouTube, he has already done enough.