Hip Hop In Mongolia

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Mongolian Hip Hop Documentary (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

I was doing full-time radio when hip hop started gaining popularity with artists like Grandmaster Flash, Kool Moe Dee, Run DMC, and the Sugar Hill Gang. Major labels were initially reluctant to issue the music, but you could find it on smaller labels. Now, of course, hip hop is a main stream American genre and has been dominating American music award shows in past years.

Hip hop has migrated to other countries like Brazil where artists like Karol Conka are pioneering a favela hip hop called “funk ostentaçao”, or “ostentation funk”. The lyrics champion money, getting out of the favelas, and all that represents the bling lifestyle. Read more here.

But who would have thought hip hop would make it’s way to Mongolia? PBS has recently screened a film documentary from 2012 proving it. The film is called Mongolian Bling. Mongolia is known for throat singing, country style folk music with horse-head fiddles that extols the beauty of Mongolia’s grasslands and the pampered horses that traverse them. Yet, that’s been changing.

This documentary shows contemporary life in the country since the end of Socialism in the early 90s. The expensive high rises present a different picture than most imagine of Mongolia–that being an ancient culture with monks and nomads, etc. Despite the growing economy, over half of the population of Ulaanbaatar (the country’s capital and largest city) live in gers which are felt tents. The ger districts are like shantytowns in the city’s outskirts. These districts make for harsh living conditions with lack of basic public services, e.g., running water, sanitation, consistent electricity, and central heat.

A ger district with its backdrop of modern structures of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The documentary follows a group of artists and shows how Mongolian hip hop has its authentic touches, making it their own variety. Some artists incorporate the sounds of traditional Mongolia which creates a unique fusion of hip hop. Other artists rap about the hard realities of Mongolian life in the ger districts: lack of work, violence, drinking, no services. They hope their message of life in a country of which few know much about will be heard by people around the world–especially politicians–in an effort to bring attention that could result in action.

Here is the Mongolian Bling trailer by filmmakers Benj Binks and Nubar Ghazarian.