Posted by: Christian | December 2, 2009

Obama, Afghanistan and Gangster Rap in Central Asia

I’ll get right to discussing Obama’s Afghanistan speech at West Point. But first, the pressing issue of rap in Central Asia. How is hip-hop doing? What is it doing? What does the thug life look like on the ground? What are the population-centric COIN implications? Yes, all of that.

My introduction to the hip-hop scene in Central Asia was the use of Tajikistan’s Dr. Emfir in my Tajiki language class. Like Dr. Dre, Dr. Emfir has no medical degree. But unlike Dr. Dre, Dr. Emfir did “come up” the hard way, as dodging skinheads while a labor migrant in Russia is no easy task.

Of course, once on the ground you find out what the kids actually listen to. I was walking through a neighborhood in Tajikistan and I came across this:

That’s right, the one-way feud between The Game and Jay Z has reached Dushanbe, even before it reached its absurd climax in Foreign Policy.

However, I was surprised to see this graffiti despite the high profile of the “beef” in the hip-hop world. Why? I couldn’t actually find any kids who listened to The Game, let alone to Jay Z (who is pretty huge in case you didn’t know). By far the most popular in my part of southern Tajikistan was 50 Cent. And it’s not even close. Eminem and Akon are in a distant 2nd and 3rd. And God’s gift to humanity? Kanye West is somewhat of an unknown.

So why? The best I can come up with is that the kids here love hooks and dance beats. 50 Cent has club friendly tracks. Kanye West and Jay Z do not. You just can’t dance to Kanye. However, Central Asia is a diverse place and I’m sure my experience is not universal. How’s about elsewhere? Well, in Kazakhstan where there is a lot more money to throw at production value you have…

…well, you just have to watch it in all its violent, homoerotic, militaristic bling glory. The name of the track is “Біздің Жігіттер.” My two years of learning Kazakh at Indiana University tells me that this means “Our Boys.” The rest of the song is the usual wannabe thug stuff, complete with shout outs to various cities in Kazakhstan. And bonus: the military lets them use their toys for the video. H/T (or fist shake) to Polar Bear Colony for the vid.

Well… hmm. The dombra solo did rock.

But wait, it starts to really go downhill now.

How far down the hill?

Would you like to know who the hegemon in Tajikistan is?


Here you go… I was in the mountains north of Dushanbe and our taxi driver decided rear view mirrors were redundant. And…

The giggling innuendo interpreter did manage to nail the Britney translation for me.

Oh look! I’ve run out of space. I guess I’ll have to skip the full discussion of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. So, uh…AfPak, Population-Centric COIN, Al Qaeda, something, something, something…


  1. […] sums it even better: “So, uh … AfPak, Population-Centric COIN, Al Qaeda, something, something, […]

  2. Great post, Christian. Your last comment reminds me of the title of Family Guy’s new Star Wars parody:

    See the whole trailer here:

  3. I knew that wasn’t my own original phrasing. I guess I unknowingly borrowed. I think I saw that trailer a few days ago.

  4. Yeah, but it’s all the better for a bit of Family Guy cross-pollination.

  5. Damn, I was gonna comment on it in my blog but you said it all, and so much better than I ever coulda!

  6. […] 2, 2009 by Jari Christian pretty much said it all, but let’s not forget the human dimension: During a nationally televised address Tuesday, a […]

  7. This reminds me of when I was in Bosnia, in 2001. A Bosnian-Muslim teenager informed one of my black Soldiers, “I want to be like you!” The Soldier asked, “you mean you want to be a Soldier?” The teenager – completely innocently – replied, “no, no, no – I want to be a big nigger!” Clearly, after watching many rap videos, he learned the word but didn’t fully understand what it meant or its derivation. Fortunately, that Soldier had a good sense of humor.

  8. Yeah, I’ve come across kids blaring the n-word in Tajikistan as well. I explained to one guy that if he ever meets a black person “they can use it with each other but you can’t” and that there will probably be drama if he does.

    As for the guy in the video above, I was in Dushanbe with him and a black guy walked by. He turned to me and said to me “An American!” He gets it as he is called a “black-ass” in Russia (the n-word of Russia).

  9. The dombra solo in Boizhetken is way radder, and is a bit more dance-able of a song, besides:

    I’m heartbroken that Kanye hasn’t hit big in Central Asia, and I disagree pretty strongly that you can’t dance to him, either, but I guess reasonable minds can disagree.

    My first night in Asghabat, the first bar I walked into, Shakira’s “Hips don’t Lie” was blasting. That was when I decided that I loved this part of the world.

  10. also: you can really tell the Farsipop influence in Dr. Emfir’s tracks, even more so than in Sevara Nazarkhan, which is surprising to me (linguistics aside). Is Tajikistan still heavily influenced by Iranian culture, or is this just something catchy and ultimately irrelevant?

  11. OK, maybe it’s just me that can’t dance to Kanye. But I think it’s fair to say that his albums (not necessarily other artists that feat. Kanye) are not as club friendly as most in the hip hop world?

    And yes, Iranian and Afghan pop artists are well known and liked in Tajikistan. As for “high culture,” the government tries to play on the long history of Persian culture in the region, but you know kids these days…

  12. To be honest I find this a bit more important than another debate on Af-Pak and Al Qaeda like the rest of the blog world. It justs goes to prove that culture and society aren’t easy things to understand in short, concise sentences like “Islam, no rights, conservative, veil, etc”.

  13. When I was in Riyadh, the wall behind my housing block was covered in 50 Cent graffiti. Seems he’s more popular there too.



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