This year marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the world’s most significant cultural phenomenon, hip-hop. It all started on the same night when DJ Kool Herc threw a party on August 11, 1973, at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, in the most dangerous neighborhood of New York, the Bronx.
On the other side of the planet, in Ukraine, they’ve been preparing for this moment for decades, aiming to make their powerful statement in response to the sacred question, “What have you done for hip-hop?” You’ll be amazed because the “Ukrainian path” looks like a triumvirate, and it’s time to join in.
5. Kalush Orchestra Takes Over Eurovision (2022)
The largest song competition, which began in Sweden slightly before the emergence of hip-hop in 1956, was conquered by Ukraine in 2004 with the shamanic performance of singer Ruslana’s “Wild Dances.” The magnificent performance of “1944” by Jamala in 2016 earned Ukraine another Crystal Microphone. But it was the vibrant and powerful ethno-hip-hop act “Stefaniya,” dedicated to the 60th anniversary of frontman Kalush Orchestra Oleg Psiuk’s mother, that became a call to preserve love from the return of great evil, not only for Ukrainians.
Oleg started writing hip-hop verses at the age of 10. Few residents of the cozy town near Lviv could have predicted that in two decades, this passion would bring fame to the name of their hometown, “Kalush,” worldwide.
Utilizing mythical Ukrainian imagery, incorporating national instruments, and combining cosmopolitanism with oriental motifs in their attire—this is what contemporary hip-hop should look like today, as evidenced by the reaction of the viewers who voted for “Stefaniya” to win.
4. Alina Pash Raps Ukraine’s Anthem in Front of the President (2021)
These days, the main street of our country, Khreshchatyk, hosts an unusual parade of military vehicles, a result of the misguided ambitions of the Russians, led by their so-called czar or fuhrer. But just two years ago, Ukraine celebrated its 30th Independence Day with a grand parade, much like any country with a rich history.
What set it apart, however, was Ukraine’s national anthem, which was given a hip-hop twist by the talented singer Alina Pash. Accompanied by a couple of pianos set up right on the road and backed by five military orchestras providing a unique beat, Alina Pash delivered verses about dignity, freedom, and happiness—themes that resonate with people worldwide. Our globally renowned president couldn’t resist the groove, and perhaps the next time, we’ll see Alina Pash featuring Zelensky.
In general, Alina Pash actively explores various facets of her creative expression, sometimes drawing from deep-rooted historical and ethnic influences, and at other times, she transforms into a global citizen with rhythmic and uncompromising forms of artistic expression. She even ventures into uncharted territories, like performing at the Burning Man festival in the snowy desert, where she captivates with her extravagant looks and boundless expression.
3. Alyona Alyona Conquers the World (2019)
When it comes to the global expansion of Ukrainian hip-hop, the flag bearer in this endeavor is perhaps the energetic young woman who once worked as a kindergarten teacher. It was there that she wrote the hit song “Rybky,” dedicated to young women with complex relationships with society. The song became an instant viral sensation, a hype, and a daily soundtrack, not only for the youth.
Alyona Alyona’s sharp, audacious, and witty lyrics blended seamlessly with her high-energy delivery and image. Her performances at top European festivals are in high demand, even by those who may not fully understand her lyrics. America is next in line, and a testament to her success is her association with the Def Jam label, founded by hip-hop moguls Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons back in 1984.
Adding to her impressive list of achievements are numerous awards, including the 2019 International Anchor Award and Best Breakthrough Rapper, the Public Choice Award at the Music Moves Europe Talent Awards, and her role as a member of the 2021 Ukrainian jury for the Eurovision Song Contest. Not to mention the title bestowed upon her by Vogue magazine as “Ukraine’s most unlikely rap star.”
2. DakhaBrakha: The Rap Roots from the Carpathian Mountains (2010s-2020s)
It’s likely that many fans of the globally acclaimed Ukrainian quartet, DakhaBrakha, aren’t aware of this, but a significant portion of their repertoire is indeed hip-hop. Well-concealed beneath or intertwined with folk music, neo-symphonic genres, or other captivating elements, it might surprise you to know what Marko Halanevych, Olena Tsybulska, Iryna Kovalenko, and Nina Garenetska are truly up to.
Why, you ask? Perhaps because the quartet originated from the Dakh Theater, a theatrical stage project. In theater, the audience doesn’t necessarily have to comprehend everything immediately; that’s part of its charm.
It’s difficult to determine what’s more famous, both in Ukraine and worldwide: the theater or the group that cunningly hides its genre under the self-coined term “ethno-chaos.”
Yet, hip-hop itself emerged from a similar chaotic blend of records from various styles, eras, and moods, which, through the skill of the DJ, transformed into unique performances enriched with rhymes and wild breakdancing.
The uniqueness of a DakhaBrakha show becomes an unforgettable experience and requires no translations or annotations. Whether it’s an intimate radio studio, a classical music chamber hall, or a stadium, this enchantment, this storytelling, this inspiration captivates everyone. And yes, DakhaBrakha has embraced hip-hop to the point where it seems to have originated from the depths of the Carpathian Mountains, with accordions, contrabasses, and cymbals.
1. Boombox Breaks the 28-Year Silence of Pink Floyd (2022)
One of the challenges that hip-hop faces is skepticism from the “older generation.” They may, at times, perceive it as excessively commercialized or overly simplistic, believing that the entire genre revolves around gangster style with gold chains and rhymes, still menacing the South Central while drinking their juice in the hood.
Sometimes, this generation isn’t that old, hovering around the same age as the genre itself, about 50 years. However, their arguments in these debates often fall short of substance.
A true hero, the vocalist of the hip-hop group Boombox, Andriy Khlyvnyuk, joined the territorial defense forces in the early days of the war in February 2022. While on duty in the heart of Kyiv, armed with an automatic weapon, he sang a verse from the ancient Cossack song “Oi u luzi chervona kalyna” and shared it on Instagram.
Verses about a glorious Ukraine, grieving but resilient, surfaced at a critical time. Thanks to a few producers, these verses quickly made their way into homemade remixes, radio airwaves, and playlists.
A month later, the legendary band Pink Floyd released a version of “Hey, hey, rise up!” featuring Andriy Khlyvnyuk’s vocals, breaking their 28-year silence. To record it, Pink Floyd’s leader David Gilmour contacted all surviving band members and invited them to a studio session. The single generated nearly 500 million pounds, which were donated to charitable organizations. Later, a 7-inch vinyl version was released, with proceeds also going to aid efforts. The video received nearly 12 million views on Pink Floyd’s official channel alone.
We hope that you now have enough arguments to prove the significance of Ukrainian hip-hop to anyone. Let’s see what we achieve in the next 50 years, as the genre’s journey is only just beginning. Hip-hop don’t stop!
Source: The Gaze