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Leonid Bershidsky

Russian Rappers Give Up on Putin

Hip-hop musicians and the Kremlin were getting along fine. Not anymore.

Putin unfriendly.

Putin unfriendly.

Photographer: Maxim Zmeyev/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin never thought he’d have a problem with Russia’s youth culture. He's always been so confident of his popularity that he felt no need to repeat the mistakes of his Soviet predecessors, who tried to control the pop-music underground and banned it when they couldn’t. But just as the whole country is losing patience with the system Putin has built, Russian rappers are now flipping off the state.

The Russian hip-hop world had been reeling this year from a wave of cancellations of concerts across the country of acts that bureaucrats and police deemed to be immoral or otherwise extreme. The resulting popular backlash, including a well-attended concert in Moscow to protest the detention of a rapper known as Husky and an abortive hearing in parliament, set off alarm bells among Putin’s advisers; Putin himself demanded this week to know why the shows were being shut down. Now he's trying to get a grip on a situation that emerged from the growing alienation of the Russian people from their government.