Jul 9, 2014

Orthodox Hip Hop: Nastoyatel

Rap and Orthodoxy come together in a strange mix. Though this may be seen as a current fad, such Faith-based popular music is becoming increasingly popular in modern Russia.

Extracts from article ‘Holy hip hop: meet the Russian rappers singing about Christian Orthodoxy’, published online 23 June 2014, The Calvert Journal

Hip hop and religion probably don’t seem the most obvious bedfellows. But over the past few years Russia has seen the emergence of a genre marrying the two: Orthodox hip hop, a local equivalent of the burgeoning Christian rap scene in the US. In fact, the new Christian hip hop is perhaps not so different from the mainstream: as elsewhere the lyrics tend towards the misogynistic, with women depicted as two-timing temptresses who will draw you into their web before running off with another man. Infidelity aside, the main topics covered have a familiar feel: brotherhood, revenge for murdered friends and sport. But there's another very specific subject that keeps cropping up: God.

While some believers chastise the new genre as an unholy alliance, others are happy to increase the size of the flock by whatever means necessary, especially if it means getting young Russians into churches. Something, at least, seems to be working. Although the Russian Orthodox Church struggled for survival under Communist rule, it has staged an impressive comeback in the past 20 years, and particularly under President Vladimir Putin. According to American think tank Pew, the proportion of Russians identifying as Orthodox Christian more than doubled from 31% to 71% between 1991 and 2008.

When it comes to rapping about God, Maxim Kurlenko (aka Nastoyatel) certainly knows his stuff. And he should: the 40-year-old is a practising priest in the small Cheboksary, a small town on the Volga; his stage name is a reference to a monastic rank. His sermon-like tracks fuse biblical verses with right-wing political messages (“Where has morally pure, white Russia gone?” he asks in one song) and attacks on “liberasty” — a portmanteau of liberal and pederast. Not a fan of hip hop? Not to worry. Kurlenko also produces a spoken-word podcast, God is With Us, which tackles similar issues. 


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