Home Institution

Mount Holyoke College

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Program Name

Mongolia: Geopolitics and the Environment

Abstract

When walking down the streets of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, passersby will find countless material traits of hip-hop culture surrounding them, including snapback hats, skateboards, and tattoos. A powerful combination of urban growth, democracy, and a booming market economy has invited and stimulated contemporary forms of hip-hop, creating an active but unorganized Mongolian hip-hop sub-culture and community. In this explorative and analytical paper, I examine what Mongolian hiphop artists express about present-day Mongolia through hip-hop mediums and why they are a unique critical voice. While there are several facets of hip-hop, I focus on three modes of traditional hip-hop culture: oral (rapping), physical (breakdancing), and visual (graffiti). My primary research was conducted via interviews with Mongolian rappers, hip-hop dancers, and graffiti artists that are currently active in producing art. In total, I interviewed three graffiti/street artists, four rappers, and four hip-hop dancers who illuminated the foundation of Mongolian hip-hop’s cultural themes and values. I complemented these interviews with an analysis of selected Mongolian hip-hop art pieces to better understand the uniqueness of Mongolian hip-hop culture and how hiphop artists convey hip-hop values and commentaries through their creative work. Additionally, I analyzed academic readings, news articles, and documentaries concerning global hip-hop culture, the history of hip-hop culture, and hip-hop in Mongolia. My findings convey the unique aesthetic and cultural characteristics of Mongolian hip-hop, and upon further discussion and analysis, I identify key underlying commentaries and values that hip-hop artists express through their work and hip-hop lifestyle—a life dedicated primarily to the production of hip-hop art. The multitude of artists’ values and ideals create a unique Mongolian hip-hop sub-culture, and they act as a critical voice because of their defiance to comply solely with traditional Mongolian values, giving them a partially “outside” perspective of Mongolia. I conclude that Mongolian hip-hop artists have no single explicit criticism of Mongolian society; rather, they actively choose to embody hip-hop culture and its values through the “alternative” hip-hop lifestyle. Through their actions and creative work, hip-hop artists highlight certain values to their audience that larger Mongolian culture fails to emphasize. These key values include individuality, authenticity, and freedom. Hip-hop artists continue to teach and represent these ideals to (primarily young) Mongolians through their artwork and hip-hop lifestyle, breaking the popular skeptical mindset that hip-hop cannot be Mongolian and empowering Mongolian youth to craft their own identities. Warning: In dealing with “real” Mongolian hip-hop, this essay includes profane language and ideas.

Disciplines

Art Practice | Arts and Humanities | Audio Arts and Acoustics | Ethnomusicology | Music

 

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