Slava KPSS is a rapper who seeks to joke around during his rap battles. He popularized this method of including farcical gags in his performances on the stage of the Russian rap-game. This explains how he won his most popular battle with another rapper, Oxxxymiron: an artist who, like Slava, through being playful, understands which of his punch lines will provoke a reaction from their audience, and what those reactions will be.
Joking in a rap battle is a certain technique which allows listeners to «get» insight into a rapper's true intentions. On the contrary, rappers who lack this playful approach towards the process of creation, maintaining strict seriousness in expressing themselves, cannot establish the same kind of influence on their audience. As a result of this approach, Slava KPSS has gone all the way through the rap-game of 2010's. Starting as a simple underground rapper who made cheap sounding music in «a garage», he now has become a star. Moreover, he has become the kind of star who, despite all his fame, did not become a prisoner of other people's expectations.
Slava KPSS distinguishes himself from other rappers through his diversity. His style is constantly in flux, as he can draw attention to his mastery of intricate rhyming techniques, and then suddenly shift to a different delivery, a different theme, juxtaposing these elements effortlessly. As his songs progress, rhyme schemes and thematic ideas reappear in fragments, creating a cyclical and self-referential listening experience. This ability gives him the freedom to fully explore his art form — he's always changing and trying to be different, while firmly establishing himself inside the youthful and dynamic hip-hop culture.
His battle-rap alter ego, Gnoyny, often contradicts himself while battling, though this is slightly unusual, as a battle rapper usually seeks not to contradict himself. Slava does the same. He completely understands how to use what he has already said to his advantage, but, instead of taking time to explicate or soften this impact of his words, he deliberately runs through all the contradictions that he makes., He emobodies this outside of his art when, for example, he starts leading the mass-culture show «Success», while still being an underground rapper himself.
It may look like he is constantly changing his opinions, but Slava has an airtight alibi, since he has never held any specific opinion at all. He rejected any position pertaining to all possible issues, in order to be capable of battling and doing whatever else he wants to. While the rapper Husky has been busy with self-expression, and Oxxxymiron was polemicizing about books he has read, Slava KPSS was cunning and deceiving, sneaking away from any expectations.
Slava's discography is extensive: he has recorded more than 1000 tracks outside of his albums, collaborations, and his 57 Ezhemesyachnie
projects, which can be translated literally as «every month-ish». All of this has given him the reputation of a person who creates obsessively. Barely three hours after the release of Morgenshtern's album, MILLION DOLLAR: HAPPINESS
, Slava dropped a five minute long diss track, where he accused the rapper of plagiarising his original flow in one of tracks off the album. Another example is his diss to Yuri Dud, one of Russia's best known YouTubers from the 2010s, which Slava recorded in half an hour.
Despite his collection of alter egos, it would be both complicated and incorrect to divide his art into components. The work in his opus is like a matryoshka
doll: when you think that you've opened it, there's another one inside, and another inside of that. For example, his track VLADIMIR PUTIN — ironic to an extent — builds off Socialochka
(Social little thing), written two years prior. Additionally, his older track Cupids
can be seens as a step towards The Monster That Ruined the World
and Slava's later lyrics in general.
In his art Slava is consistent yet intuitive. His elaboration of themes can be traced from album to album, but at the same time this perspective must be considered with consideration to an absence of any predetermined, targeted focus.
By being stylistically fluid, Slava KPSS protects his freedom of expression from other people's expectations. He decides upon something not by considering his audience or planning ahead, but through instinct. These instincts often contradict each other, but the end product is an opus that is a true representation of his intention.
In his more serious albums, The Sun of The Dead
(2017) and The Monster That Ruined the World
(2020), the tracks add up to one big text with an extensive system of images and references. An acknowledgement of death, of a personality shaped by trauma, as well as the kind of loss that is inevitable when one acquires star status — these are all themes that permeate both albums. The Monster That Ruined the World
is different however due to how it closes the distance between artist and listener, bringing the audience into the work. It is an album about a breakup, which is simultaneously the most relatable, and cathartic experience. This choice of theme resolves any issues a listener may have with his lyrics — in contrast to Slava's usual detachment from his listener — as it is often difficult for them to relate to the unique individual experiences of the artist.
Slava turns the moments of his life more into a metaphor of loss rather than the subject of a narration. This metaphor is personal to him, but can also be seen as general, which opens the space for a listener to truly relate to his work.
Listening to sad rap about a breakup is often a guilty pleasure. Its listener is vulnerable and ready to empathize, and Slava, when he writes sad lyrics about this breakup, opens himself up as no less vulnerable than them. He is not the first one in Russian rap who has publicly bared his soul, but he is the first who has proposed to do the same to his listeners.
The genius of The Monster
is Slava's ability to be intimate with his listeners through common, familiar images, and the experience of loss itself. He builds many bridges, made of resonant and universal themes, and they reach a listener standing pensively on the shore. A normal guy who smokes weed and can't give his girlfriend what she wants, like in the song Small Houses by the Sea
, or the person who has nostalgia about the past, and is dealing with depressive, or suicidal thoughts, like in In the Khrushev and Brezhnev Project Houses.
Slava chooses the most banal themes possible, and he manages to make his albums successful and popular. His creative path is a constant practice of interaction with his audience both online and in person. Through this, he not only creates diverse hip-hop, with thousands of texts and articles written about it, but also makes his own reviews on topics unrelated to his art.
After all this time spent honing his craft, this practice has beared fruit, allowing him to be successful in his field. His methodology is applicable to any course of action, whether it is rap, stand-up, or directing a TV series. This is because he is the kind of artist who has already understood the point of it all. He is the kind of artist who has a statement about everything, and who just needs to hit the right target.
Nonetheless, it's funny that anyone who successfully creates something, devoting attention to the emotions, opinions and experiences of his listener, is commonly called a genius nowadays. Listeners, viewers and readers are yearning for creators' emotions so much that they pay for it with the attention and admiration as if they were seeing an oasis in the middle of the desert. But later on, they sober up and become disappointed.
Fortunately, such creators usually have enough internal independence, honesty, and buzz from the process itself to just continue working. I would not have written this text without the help of Kostya Lebedev a.k.a. Gadenysh («Bastard») Keanu and Verena Podolskaya, thanks to them. Arkady ThorovTranslated by Polina Demenko