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Beats from the Saddle: Fulgistan's Underground Hip-Hop Scene
by Otryadyn Gyatso

If you're Foolish Bandit (and if you are, hi, I'm a big fan), you're probably singing about women, drugs and fast cars. But if you're Big Schwack, the Fulgistani internet sensation, you're dropping lines about Brownies, stallions and banana lean. Big Schwack is one of a number of rap artists in the 'Stan's burgeoning scene, which has seen a rise in popularity online, with some artists enjoying more popularity on the net than they do in their own country. The netizens have termed this new genre "horse-hop", and its rough, guttural style and pulsing, erratic electronic beats distinguish it from other forms of rap. However, Fulgistan has a history of not allowing rap artists to perform in public, despite recent moves to relax government control on media and the arts, meaning that most of these artists have to produce their music either online or perform in secret. Both of my parents are from The 'Stan, but we moved to Gallambria when I was a baby. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to visit my ancestral homeland, I flew into Bogd Gioro to investigate this quasi-legal music movement.


The interview with Big Schwack almost didn't happen. He'd been detained by the police on drug charges, and thankfully, after a quick bribe from our producer to the duty officer, we were able to speak with the man himself. He took us to a favorite dive bar in the capital's Bishkek neighborhood, considered by most to be the epicenter of the hip-hop phenomenon. After ordering a couple of Banana Buds for our crew, Big Schwack gave us our interview.

V: So, you were just in jail, correct?

BS: Yes, the government, they don't like me to perform, so they claim all the...drugs, guns, this, that to suppress me, suppress my art.

V: You say that it's not actually because you're a criminal so much as the Communist Party wanting to, to, stop you from performing, is that correct?

BS: When you go to [a] bar in Bishkek, like here, you always find rapper, rap crew, whatever, lah. The Communist Party, like you say, they target me, only me, because I speak out against the bad things they do in this country.

V: What sort of bad things do you rap about when you perform?

BS: I talk about religion, the terrorism, how [the] government is corrupt. They don't like this, so they try [to] put me in prison.

V: Have you ever been imprisoned for your music?

BS: I have gone to the jail many, many times, many times been arrested, detained, but never have they been able to put me in, ah, prison yet. They will always try, though. Always, always they try to, to lock me up.

V: How do you feel about the popularity you and other Fulgistani rap artists have gotten internationally, on the internet?

BS: It makes me very, you know, excited to see...all these people around the world enjoy our music. Only I wish that our government, our whole country, could accept us, could enjoy the rap and the horse-hop in [the] same way.

V: Thanks, Big Schwack. Anything else you'd like to say?

BS: I want to say that, if you read this on the Internet, please go check out my new single, Horse Don't Prance, and also I want to say to the government that we are not [a] threat to the public, we just want [to] perform our music for everyone, so we can all enjoy. Horse-hop forever, man!

V: Cheers, BS. Thanks for the interview.


It was clear to us now that the rappers were not exactly cultural heroes to the Fulgistani government. But what exactly was the threat they posed? Sure, their music videos showed off gold-plated Brownies and phat blunts, but you'd find the same thing in most nomad communities in the countryside, albeit with less gold and (somehow) more weed. Historically Fulgistan's Communist government had kept a tight lid on subversive music, but since the twenty-teens, that seemed to be relaxing. Why the special (mis)treatment of hip-hop? To find out, we met with Dengdeng Elbegdorz, the man in charge of policing the rowdy Bishkek neighborhood (and not the man we'd earlier bribed, if you were wondering). When asked about crackdowns on rap artists, he said that "the rappers, the horse-hop guys, they say, you know, they are law-abiding, but really when we go to the club or the bar or whatever, always we find the drugs, the unlicensed gun, you know, the contraband. If they do this in public, it encourages disorder and erodes the...social harmony of our country. When the culture, the behavior, of the horse-hop performers is in line with the...the standards of legality, then they will be able to enjoy the freedoms of the other musicians".


We spent the next week in Bogd Gioro, but couldn't really locate any other rappers; they all either refused to speak to us or believed us to be government spies. Since the time of our visit, in mid-March, Big Schwack has been arrested again, this time on charges of gang affiliation. However, earlier this month, Secretary for Culture Bayanchur Tekin announced that starting in July, horse-hop artists would be able to apply for public performance permits, which are required to perform in large venues like stadiums and theaters. While currently the rappers are cleared only to perform in restaurants and on the street, this represents a big future step forward in the government's relationship with the artform. Rap artists on ZoundsCloud are already announcing tours in the country, igniting a new wave of online enthusiasm for the wonderful, weird genre that is horse-hop. For VIRTUE News, I've been Otryadyn Gyatso. Salaam.

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