If you've never heard of Oxxxymiron, then you're probably not Russian.
The 30-year-old rapper's new match-up on Russia's VersusBattlesRU channel racked up more than a million views in a day, a feat no Western emcee has ever come close to hitting.
League boss Restorator even playfully taunted the English-language leagues about it on Twitter:
And got 1,000 retweets.
BattleRap.com reached out to Oxxxymiron for some background on the Russian battle scene, which seemingly appeared from out of nowhere.
BattleRap.com: Ok, so first of all, who are you?
I'm Oxxxymiron, real name Miron Fyodorov. I'm a Russian rap artist. To give you a rough idea, I'm somewhere among the Top 10 or Top 15 Russian-speaking rappers in terms of fame, views and concert crowds. So far I released an album and two mixtapes, and have been touring heavily through the Russian-speaking world for the last four years. I have also always battled in one form or the other, both on the street and online.
And you’re a Russian rapper with an English Literature degree from Oxford University in the U.K.? How exactly did that all come together?
To confuse you even more, I also spent a large part of my life in Germany, where I started rapping in German as a teenager. My father is a mad scientist who worked at different universities, so we moved a lot when I was a kid.
At some point we settled in the U.K. and I ended up getting into Oxford University, which, I guess, makes me the certified nerd of battle rap. Do not, however, mistake me for an upper class rich boy because of Oxford, my background is way more confusing than that. From living and rapping in Canning Town, London, which is one of the poorest areas in the U.K., to working for shady Russian multi-millionaires — I have seen some very contrasting and strange things in my life. Which is probably a very Russian thing.
Your battle with Crip-A-Crip is the most-viewed on the VersusBattleRU channel with about 2.8 million views in a year, but your battle with Johnyboy is on pace to pass that in about a week. Why is the battle getting so many views?
My battle with Crip-a-Crip (probably not a great name for someone who is not gang affiliated, I know) was the video that started battle rap mania in Russia. At the time the whole thing was still very amateurish: my opponent, though a well-respected hip-hop vet, completely forgot his bars, the crowd was dead and the camera work shitty. The reception was also very mixed as Russian rap fans were only used to freestyle battles and somehow saw the new written acapella format as fake. But since then, the whole battle thing just blew up.
My most recent opponent is famous in the scene in his own right, sort of an unholy child of Eminem and Justin Bieber, and has been calling me out for a year, so this was sort of the most anticipated Russian battle. On top of that people also generally see it as the most entertaining Russian battle so far. No one expected a million views in a day and two million in four days though, that's fucked up. As far as I know that's a world record for battles.
What’s the Russian scene like? Are there many battlers/leagues? What makes it different from the Western scene?
The Russian equivalents of SMACK/KOTD/Don't Flop have been built from scratch in the last two to three years. There are three battle leagues. The smaller ones, SLOVO and FRESH BLOOD, are very similar to how KOTD or Don't Flop were in their early years, with emcees that are mostly unknown outside of the battle world competing for a title. Nowadays they often get solid views going into the hundreds of thousands.
Related: The Best Don't Flop Battles Of 2014
What you will probably find more unusual though is the battle league I compete in, VERSUS. Imagine a U.S. battle league full of A, B and C-list mainstream rap artists battling against each other: not just Cassidy but rappers of Lil Wayne's or Rick Ross' caliber. That's pretty much what's going on with VERSUS in Russia.
For example, one participant, Noize MC, is among the Top 3 or Top 5 Russian rap artists in terms of fame. Others, like Garry Topor, ST or myself, regularly play solo shows to sold-out venues. Others have been popular 5 or 10 years ago and are using VERSUS as a way to get back into the game.
So really this is a type of battle league which is unprecedented in the West: while you guys have only had mainstream exposure for the last few years, VERSUS in Russia had it from the start, which also explains its popularity; many of the battles have more than 500,000 or even one million views.
There are, however, serious downsides quality wise: once the mainstream rappers step into the battle arena, most of them turn out to be like Canibus, not like Cassidy or Madchild.
A lot of Russian rappers just got comfortable and lazy with time, thinking that they could hide in an isolated shell because of language barriers with the West, as most Russian kids don't understand English and have a very vague understanding of what an emcee's skills should be. So unfortunately the quality of rhymes and flows in Russian rap until recently was just garbage, but this is now changing rapidly.
VERSUS also exposed some of these famous rappers who were cocky enough to think that their mainstream status would somehow help them shine live. As you can imagine people loved watching famous rappers humiliate themselves in public so the whole thing just grew, with more and more famous artists realizing that if they actually prepared and improved their skill they could immensely profit from battling.
Who watches it?
At this point it's not just hip-hop heads that watch VERSUS, all kinds of people watch it for entertainment value.
How big are events?
Most of the battles are small, invite-only events, but there have been a few so-called "main events" on stage and they gathered about 1,000 people each. Also, FRESH BLOOD and VERSUS are run by the same guy, Restorator, so that unknown battle emcees from FRESH BLOOD can potentially progress to battle some of the mainstream artists.
There is a lot of great talent among the young Russian emcees, both in battles and outside of them (e.g. trap has become huge, in fact trap and battle rap are the two main obsessions in Russian hip-hop these days).
In the West, battle rap is typically about being able to say anything, even if it's shocking or offensive. Russia isn't necessarily known for its lax attitudes on free speech. How does that impact the Russian battle scene?
There have been no attempts to censor the battle scene so far and I very much hope that there won't be, even though the current political climate means that anything could happen. Politics have not been a big topic in Russian battle rap either, only a few passing references have been dropped here and there.
What has been going on for a while, however, is a type of public outcry against battle rap within Russian hip-hop, with the more conservative rappers seeing the very concept of insulting each other for fun as immoral, dangerous and generally foreign, not as a harmless sport. Russian culture is heavily influenced by customs, including prison customs and codes. A lot of the shit that is seen as over-the-top entertainment in the West could mean serious problems here, especially if someone's family is insulted or someone's heterosexuality is called into question.
However, altogether I think people have eased up a bit over the last few years and are starting to understand the difference between rap battles and real life, where these codes obviously still apply.
Do you rap in English too?
I have never written a single line of rap or poetry in English in my life. My tour DJ and beatmaker Porchy, who is also a very sick singer/emcee from London, has been trying to convince me for years to write in English but I have always responded by saying that I want to be one of the best, not one among many.
I am a realist, so watching all this incredible talent in Western hip-hop, the prospect of switching to a foreign language (even though I am quite fluent in it) and starting from scratch is bleak. That's just me being honest. Also there is still a lot I have to prove and achieve in Russian, both as a songwriter and as a battle rapper.
But on the other hand I don't want to get too comfortable, I don't want to be like those other Russian rappers resting on their laurels by the age of 30. That's not me. So now that we suddenly caught the attention of the West a few days ago, I'd be lying if I said that I'm not thinking about doing something in English.
Do you follow the Western scene?
I have been following the Western battle scene ever since it emerged in the 2005 World Rap Championships and Jump Off battles. A few other Russian rappers (those who speak English and are generally more progressive) have also clearly been doing their homework over the last few years. The owners of SLOVO, Mr Hyde and PLC, have definitely watched a lot of Western battles, I think they even started their league after being impressed with the Mark Grist vs. Blizzard battle.
As for me, I have been pretty much following the whole English-speaking scene, from Pat Stay and Daylyt to the most obscure names of Don't Flop, and also the German Rap am Mittwoch league, which has seen some very dope performances.
Related: Everything About Daylyt
Any chance we’ll see you on KOTD’s “World Domination 5”?
Restorator told me that he was in contact with KOTD yesterday.
There are potentially two problems. The first is that I have never rapped in English; but then again, I have been listening to Western hip-hop for 17 years, so maybe that's a start. I mean, Nils m/ Skills did it and he was sick in his own way. The only difference being that he is not, as far as I know, a big artist in Norway, while I am in Russia, so that would put greater pressure on me, but that's cool.
Related: The Best KOTD Battles Of 2014
The second problem, which is more important, is that WD5 is announced for 2015, which also happens to be the year in which my second album is coming out, followed by a big tour. The album has been ranked #1 most anticipated Russian rap album of 2015 by the main Russian hip-hop website The-Flow.ru (I'm not bragging here, just trying to give you an idea of what this year is like for me). Combined with the fact that the fans have been waiting for my album for about three years now, you can imagine that 2015 is not really a perfect time for me to try battle rapping in English — something that I would need to use all my power and time to prepare for in order not to fuck up. I would be representing a lot of people after all. So I am not sure about English battles this year. However, as soon as the album is done, the fans happy, the tour over and everyone in my crew has food on their plate, I'd be ready to try it.
Thoughts? Let us know in the comment below.