What’s The Big Apple in The USA is Kutasi in Georgia. The Hip Hop capital, located in the in Imereti Region, has a history that spans back to the 90s– a time where free speech was limited in Georgia. To this day, the culture still remains an active, effective vehicle both for personal creativity and expression, as well as political protest.
The late 90s were considered Georgia’s darkest period in modern history, where satisfying basic needs to live was almost impossible, never mind artistic ones. And it was during that time that the DIY aesthetic of Hip Hop allowed early adopters to creatively express themselves and their lives through music, fashion, dance and culture, despite general rejection from society. Local MC Grotask remembers the times, saying that, “Our style is of camouflage, a way to recognize one another. Of course we cannot afford gold chains, but steel ones are acceptable too,” adding that it was quite difficult to source inspiration locally from outside Georgia’s borders.
“You could find the most precious cassettes in the tape recorders of the imported cars, of course without the covers,” he said.
One of the pioneers of Georgian Hip Hop was Baju, along with several other musicians in the 90s who introduced this genre to the young generation. But the first steps of breaking in Georgia came with the millennium, nearly 30 years after its birth in New York City.
Robi Leontiev, known as B-Boy Pioneer, was the Georgia’s true B-Boy trailblazer. He discovered it, and fell in love instantly, quickly grasping its style within three months. After some time, he opened his own dance school and formed the crew, Flying Style. In 2002, a debut video of the collective was aired on TV and it was the very first time that Georgian breakers were seen by the general public in their home country.
“I got interested in breaking in 2001. At that time no one knew what it was. I tried to find some videos of breaking and learned some techniques as quickly as I could. From there I opened the school, because I did not want to train alone,” says B-Boy Pioneer, winner of the 2013 and 2014 Red Bull BC One Caucasus Cypher.
Many new B-Boy crews came to the scene in late 2000s, such as Next Level, who were introduced to a wider audience after participating in one of the most popular local TV shows, Georgia’s Got Talent (Nichieri). After some time many gifted B-Boys and B-Girls were introduced to the whole country as breaking grew in popularity. As a Georgian business formed, underground artists were increasingly sharing stages in national performances and broadcasts, further widening Hip Hop’s scope on a national scale. But despite the commercialization of the art, the protesting power of Georgian Hip Hop not only stayed alive then, but continues to today.
Pioneer took a three- year pause from the dance, but after watching a Red Bull BC One World Final, got right back to his real passion. “Red Bull BC One was the one who helped us the most. Local Red Bull office helped us to hold the Transcaucasian Cypher 2010,” he said. “We were going to make the same tournament the next year, but they sent us the judges and the history of Red Bull BC One in Georgia began. It was the huge step forward for us.”
As time passed, the younger generation also took more interest in the dance form over time. Two years ago, Rustavi City became the host of the final tour of local breaking championship. Well-known German collective, Flying Steps, visited Tbilisi in 2012. As a result, the Rustaveli National Theatre was overcrowded by the people intrigued by the mix of modern street dance and academic culture.
The Red Bull BC One Caucasus Cypher was first held in Georgia in 2011. Nowadays, Tbilisi has already hosted four shows, and on September 5 the Red Bull Eastern Europe Final 2015 will be held in Tbilisi State Circus.
More Than 10 years have passed. The one-considered freaks, wearing what was perceived as weird clothing and having aggressive moves, now have a way to make a living from their art. They can also battle in professional events in their home country and have the chance to be inspired by traveling groups, like Flying Steps and the Red Bull BC One All Stars.
Hip Hop, like some other subcultures in Georgia, remains a strong weapon to reveal societal ills. For example, young musicians participated in the project, My City. Young and enthusiastic, DJs and MCs recorded some tracks for the project. Among them were Kazzy Jazz and sf-F, who created tracks about 21st century Tbilisi and the problems of Georgian society.
Nowadays, Hip Hop faces great changes in Georgia. Commercialization is suddenly the most important goal to achieve for local artists. MC Grotask spoke of two sides of the same coin on the topic:
“It’s commercial – my main income comes exactly from working in this genre. Here in Georgia, there’s everything you can see and feel, just like in some other Western countries, but then it’s not what you may think is commercial at the same time. Our local target market is really small, and there are actually no music labels in Georgia.”
Unfortunately, during the whole history of Georgian Hip Hop, musicians and their audience has never a true club. In spite of this setback, the country hosts a few big and important events each year. The Red Bull BC One Eastern Europe Final 2015 will be held in Tbilisi, Georgia on September 5. Watch the battles live and see who will advance to Rome right here at redbullbcone.com. The Final also marks the first time in Red Bull BC One history in which a B-Girl will compete.
Photos by Nika Kramer/ Red Bull Content Pool