• October 31, 2019 | ,

    a$ap ruski

    the cultural problematic of our babushka boi

    article by , illustrated by

    A$AP Rocky – Babushka Boi (Official Video)


    Aug. 28, 2019




    TiHeich, two days ago

    “Went from A$AP ROCKY to а₽ар яоску”


    The impetus for A$AP Rocky’s latest single “Babushka Boi” has been building since late 2018, ever since the rapper’s tragic Razor scooter accident. To cover up the resultant facial scar for his appearance on The Daily Show, he threw on a yellow headscarf, terming it his “babushka” in reference to the commonplace use of the garment among Russian grandmothers. Even though the babushka no longer serves any functional purpose for Rocky, with his scar a thing of the past thanks to plastic surgery, it continues to be a mainstay in his wardrobe. Indeed, the accessory has become something of a self-conscious trademark, with Rocky changing his Instagram bio to “BABUSHKA BOI” and exhorting his fans “to wear babushkas from here on out. Silk gang, silk city, you know how we do it. Gucci, yeah.”




    Mr. Rabbit, two weeks ago (edited)

    [2015: Asap Rocky

    2019: Asapa Rockievna]


    Internet trolls around the world soon caught on that Rocky’s headscarves were here to stay, and they had a lot to say. Google image search “A$AP Rocky babushka,” and you will receive hundreds of unflattering results that place the artist next to his fellow garment-fiend Queen Elizabeth II, as well as gaggles of arthritic Eastern European ladies. Nevertheless, his style caught on quickly within celebrity circles, especially after Rocky’s friend and collaborator Frank Ocean posted a selfie rocking a babushka under a hoodie. Other celebs have since replicated the “babushka boi” style, causing Vice to list it as one of the 12 looks that defined 2018. 




    Molodoy Senpai, one month ago

    “A$AP: Uses one Russian word 

    Russians: davay davay asap ruski”


    RedWolF, one week ago

    “[Babushka is] not only a russian word”


    A$AP Rocky’s “Babushka Boi” has garnered international outrage for its mispronunciation and misuse of the word “babushka” (simply meaning “grandmother”) to refer to an item of clothing. Of course, Rocky is not the first to make this mistake, as “babushka” has long been used by English speakers to refer to Russian grandmother-type headwear. Headscarves themselves are not inherently Eastern European, and as The Calvert Journal, a guide to contemporary New East culture, points out, “What makes the look more Omsk than old Hollywood is precisely the rapper’s insistence on calling it a ‘babushka’ in spite of the lack of a Russian reference point.” The article goes on to speculate that Rocky’s decision to anchor his fashion sense in Eastern European aesthetics is mostly a result of the current hype surrounding Russian fashion, particularly streetwear.


    Rocky’s trademark headscarf, then, might be a sign that hip hop is experiencing a new cultural exchange with Russia, a country whose rap history dates only as far back as the 90s and exists precariously in a predominantly white environment. Dazed, a British biweekly style magazine, notes that “A$AP Rocky’s take on Russian culture flips a narrative of cultural appropriation that underpins contemporary Russian rap, which frequently copies tropes of American rap—its mannerisms, style, obsession with luxury brands, and jewellery.” Critics are still debating whether this classifies as cultural appropriation (probably), but the “babushka boi” look has excited rather than offended most Russian youth. It’s now common to see emerging rappers in the U.S. and Russia alike combining a headscarf with their usual tracksuit and sneakers.




    Элан Камалов, two days ago

    [Hello from Russia, don’t come it’s bad here :) ]


    Regardless of the intentions behind Rocky’s apparel, his new song “Babushka Boi” relies heavily on stereotypes surrounding the Russian mafia for its street cred. The trailer created to build hype for the song’s release featured Rocky tap dancing to a hip hop version of “Murka,” a pivotal work of Russia’s criminal folk music tradition. The song’s actual lyrics attempt to set up Rocky as a Scarface-type mobster: references to the movie are found throughout the song, and Rocky directly compares himself to the film’s protagonist, claiming the same propensity for gun violence and high-priced living.


    The music video is even more overt in its simultaneous portrayal of Rocky as both a dangerous criminal of the American 20s and a Russian gopnik, a term originally used to refer to young, lower-class Russian men from criminal regions controlled by local mafias. The video opens with several criminals dressed in mobster apparel on the run from the police, portrayed here as anthropomorphic pigs. After robbing a bank, the gang of mobsters—Rocky with prosthetic facial scars and a Luigi-esque caricature of a mustachioed Italian man the most prominent among them—seek refuge with some older white women wearing babushkas. The criminals ultimately confront the police, who unsurprisingly die in the standoff, before being turned into sausages to be sold by the aforementioned Eastern European women at their Soviet-style meat counter. 


    All of this, of course, is in wildly bad taste considering Rocky’s recent arrest and detainment in Sweden. It also forces us to ask an important question: Does Rocky simply find the babushka an interesting accessory, or is he making an inappropriate attempt to co-opt the “cool” associated with post-Soviet criminal elements?




    Алексей Малютин, one month ago

    “YouTube: Sees word “Babushka” YouTube: Ah, I see. I’ll recomend this to Russians.” 


    Константин Поезжаев, one month ago (edited)

    “Hey, Russia love Rocky”


    Despite all this, Russian reception of the new song has been largely positive. The “Murka” backtrack of the trailer was instantly recognizable to Slavic populations and sent the Russian internet into a frenzy. The hip hop version of “Murka” used in the video was actually written by Russian musicians lildozzzhd and MATXX—the latter now styles himself “Russian babushka boi,” and has released his own version of the song in Russian. Even more spectacularly, there is also a cover version of “Babushka Boi“ on YouTube recorded by actual Russian grandmothers. At the end of the day, it seems, most Russians have bought into the phenomenon.




    y., one month ago

    “Rocky: Babushka 

    Russians: Allow us to introduce ourselves”


    Роаогл Оллдш, one month ago

    “We dont need ur permission moran”


    The future of Russian trap is promising, and Russians in need of a more tasteful and local alternative to “Babushka Boi” need not look far. Case in point—22-year-old rapper Ivan Timofeevich Dryomin, better known by his stage-name FACE, is at the forefront of a new wave of Russian hip hop. Rising to fame in 2017 with a minimalist trap song entitled “Burger,” his music often references his upbringing in a poor, criminal environment—a reality for many post-Soviet kids of his generation. As FACE himself puts it (in a far cry from A$AP Rocky’s posturing), “I know what it means to grow up in Russia—I grew up on the outskirts of a provincial city, Ufa, so I have a right to talk about it. I know what it feels like when you survive on your grandparents’ tiny pension, what it feels like when your mother gets religious and literally loses her mind because of it.” Although FACE confesses that hip hop is still not a major genre in the country, with the charts continuing to be topped by “dumb club music,” it’s definitely on its way. With any luck, Russian hip hop will take off soon: rendering any problematic attempts by Western genre artists to borrow from the Russian tradition pointless rather than groundbreaking.