Albanian rap songs are hugely popular in Albania, Kosova and Macedonia, shaping mainstream ideas of masculinity. But will a new generation of rappers pose a challenge to these norms?
“‘Cuz your face is white, like co, like co, like cocaina,” three of my cousins, girls aged around 18, sang in Albanian while dancing and filming themselves for Snapchat last year. On the video, they also put on red lipstick in front of the mirror in their apartment in Peja, a city in the west of Kosova, in order to get ready for another party night in August 2016. The song the three were listening to, Cocaina by Albanian rapper Mozzik, was the summer hit of 2016 in Kosova, and the neighbouring Albanian society. It has more than 32 million views on YouTube, which means that the song has been clicked six times more than the actual number of Albanians living in Albania, Kosova and Macedonia.
What Mozzik achieved with his Cocaina is exceptional but not unusual in the Albanian rap scene. Even in 2016, he was not the only one getting more than 20 million views with a YouTube clip. Another example is Flori Mumajesi’s Beautiful featuring Ledri Vula or Ghetto Geasy’s Ajo (She) featuring Majk. The latter two have nearly 40 million views on their 2015 summer hit Sjena mo (No longer together). Given the small Albanian population of the region, around 5 million, these numbers are tremendous.
Albanian rap is omnipresent in the albanosphere – Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, Albanian minorities in neighbouring countries and the diaspora. Whether you buy this music or not, the hits are unavoidable: one hears them on bus journeys inside Kosova, in bars, cafés, or nightclubs in the region, or while walking through one of the Kosovar Ottoman old city centres. Being so deeply ingrained in daily life, Albanian rap transmits ideas of masculinity and femininity that influence how men and women treat each other in the albanosphere.
As with so many domains in society, men also dominate rap. This year’s Midis Tirone (In the middle of Tirana) by Noizy is a song expressing a male ideal to which a lot of Albanian men aspire (it has more than 14 million views so far). Noizy seems to have money, loyal friends, and a lot of sex. He says his enemy “get[s] bitches that [Noizy] couldn’t care for”, as Rigels Rajku, the rapper's real name, claims to only sleep with top models.
Besides the problems inherent in the chauvinistic, homophobic and violent hyper-masculine lifestyle being represented here, it is also nearly impossible to achieve for those who wish to do so. For more than a decade now, living in Kosova, Albania or Macedonia means living in a country of economic hardship. According to the 2016 World Bank Regular Economic Report (RER), Albania’s unemployment rate is at 17 per cent, Macedonia’s at 23 per cent and, Kosova’s at 33 per cent – the youth unemployment rate being roughly twice as high as that of the working-age population. Noizy’s line at the end of the song “‘Cuz none of them can ever do it like me” points, hence, to a large-scale problem of frustrated expectation regarding Albanian mainstream masculinity.
The vast majority of Albanian rap hits are ‘love songs’. The typical man in these songs can take risks and be active, whereas the woman must be careful, passive and fragile. A prime example is Capital T’s Bongo featuring Dhurata Dora. “Me in love with the bad guy,” Dhurata Dora sings in the refrain, telling the listener she knows that it’s not a good idea to be with a bad boy, but she simply can’t resist. Mozzik’s and Arta’s Kom dasht (I wanted), and Samanta’s and Gent Fatali’s Na e dina (We know it) have very similar storylines.
In the Albanian context, songs that celebrate sexually liberated women are elusive. For example, Squat Baby by Genta Ismajli and the rapper Muma (more than 15 million views so far), in which Genta raps and dances wearing lingerie, announcing “bitches this is the night” in Albanian. Genta represents self-confident hyper-femininity in accordance with capitalist ideals of “sex sells” (perfect styling, immaculate body). Walking along the main esplanades of Kosova’s cities (known as korzo in Albanian), one sees a lot of women with a similar ‘look’ to Genta, but these women tend to express pride regarding their virginity, chasteness or loyalty to a serious ‘love’ partner. Hence, what seems sex-positive at first glance in ‘Squat Baby’ is rather a staged and commercialised representation of sexual liberation, and very far from the reality of heterosexual intercourse in the albanosphere.
Buta is the most promising rapper when it comes to challenging mainstream ideas of masculinity in the albanosphere. His subgenre is trap, a style of rap music in which one shows discontent with society: the more dirty the atmosphere a trap song creates, the better it is. “The way I write my lyrics is called ‘lifestyle rap’ and depends completely on what I have lived through and how,” Betim Januzi, the rapper’s real name, told openDemocracy. Buta’s most famous song is his 2016 Hashish Thaçi, which appears to mock Kosova’s ‘most powerful man’ Hashim Thaçi, who is now President of the country, as well as being former Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister.
Buta uses misogynistic language, which is common in rap culture. One such example is his 2016 song z.Ndjenja, in which he raps: “I fuck your bitch rregullisht (“regularly”).” At the same time he likes to praisingly rap about lesbians, which is rare in the Albanian rap scene. In Çdo Dit (Every Day), you “see [him] chilling with lesbians.” Buta has no understanding for people claiming he is a misogynist: “I understand where this reproach is coming from but I am not misogynistic. I address also crime, drugs and even murder, but still nobody is asking me in an interview whether I am a killer or a drug-addict.”
Buta is passionate about cunnilingus, another main topic of his songs: “If I find you cute, I eat your pussy like a peach,” he raps in Per Trip (For Fun). Albanian patriarchy – like every patriarchy – controls female sexuality. In the context of the albanosphere, and of a rap scene that rarely mentions men giving women pleasure, rapping about cunnilingus could be seen as counter-hegemonic.
I feel like Albanian rap is about to go through a generation change. Buta is the face of a new generation. He is part of a rap group called the “Ham Skwad Global” with Pllug Bois and Singullar, who are popular artists in their own right. And there are other young rappers, who are not linked to Buta’s rap crew – Fero for example, who had a hit with Feromeni (more than 2,1 million clicks so far). The freshness of these new artists offers hope that they will keep on diversifying the notions of masculinity and femininity in their society.