Techno music is not the only genre that’s flourishing in the Georgian capital
Led by a new generation of creative youth, there’s a cultural revolution happening on the streets of Tbilisi right now. Across fashion, art, music, and beyond, today we explore what’s happening in the Georgian capital, and why the city deserves to be on your radar.
Georgia is a country of under four million people, but despite its modest population, it has an outsized creative scene. Following in the footsteps of Vetements founder Demna Gvasalia, the likes of Situationist, Aka Prodiashvili, and George Keburia are all making a name for themselves on the global fashion stage, while clubs including Bassiani and Khidi are bringing a specific Eurasian sound to techno and electronic music.
Away from this, though, there’s another exciting and unexpected genre that’s flourishing in the country right now – rap music.
We were clued onto Georgia’s burgeoning hip hop scene by Maxime Machaidze, aka Luna, who performs as one half of the duo KayaKata. After speaking to Machaidze about the cultural revolution that is currently happening in Tbilisi for the autumn/winter 18 issue of Dazed, he sent us an email detailing the history of the hip hop scene the Georgian capital, and linked us up to music by both established artists like Jeronimo, and emerging names in the form of DRO and მამაflex.
These artists have established their names in Tbilisi on their own terms, rapping in their native Georgian tongue and creating a unique style that doesn’t simply try to imitate the American sound. “This weird-looking city doesn’t fit into anything,” Machaidze wrote. “I like things that are not meant to be like they are.”
Fascinated to learn more, we asked Machaidze to guide us through a few names he’s excited by in the city’s rap scene. Get to know them below.
Accidboy, also known by CutKill and Heavycat, is a prolific rapper with a nimble flow (both in Georgian and in English) that lends itself to jazzy modern rap production as well as it does old school boom-bap. Machaidze describes the rapper as a “streetwise cat with a full sci-fi vibe”, adding that “he works with the city’s best producers and stays low-key. He’s a real one, still doing it for the funk.”
DRO is one of Tbilisi’s multi-hyphenate creatives. He’s a skater, running the Tamra Skateboards with his partner; a model, who’s previously walked for Balenciaga and Vetements; a filmmaker; and a rapper – one who “makes crazy tracks with kickflips and candy in ‘em,” as Machaidze puts it.
“He’s like this Arizona tribesman in an urban reality,” he adds. “When you see him, you’ll remember him forever.” There’s an element of the absurd in DRO’s song “Coca Cola”, a playfulness and sense of humour that feels very specific to the post-Soviet sensibility.
“HIKARI, or TURBOHIKARI, is an amazing illustrator,” Machaidze says. “He also runs this small, very cool, crowded cafe in the heart of Old Tbilisi. When he finds time, he creates crazy, moody tracks.” The visual that accompanies “გაგონილი მაქვს” captures that moody vibe, a subdued, atmospheric sound best experienced on loop.
As Machaidze explains, it’s not exactly rare for members of the city’s rap scene hold down other jobs. “We all have side professions and things we do for a living apart from rap,” Machaidze says. “I think that’s what makes us interesting. Rap is just one of our things, we do it like surfing.”
Although Machaidze didn’t include his own group in the list he sent us, we’d be remiss not to mention them when discussing Tbilisi rap’s scene. Before forming KayaKata, Luna (Maxime Machaidze) and Dilla (Zurab Jishkariani) were in a psych-pop band and were big into LSD, which isn’t a huge surprise when you listen to the group’s psychedelic, oddball rap.
Outside of the group, Dilla is also an award-winning writer and runs a chatbot company, while Machaidze, besides running clothing label LTFR, supports rapping talent with his record imprint of the same name.
Toyshen make vivid hip hop with surreal lyrics that are rapped over technicolour beats. “Toyshen are Cosmos and Kiddo, two freaky kids from the jungle,” Machaidze says. “Cosmos has a background as a folk singer. Kiddo, the summer I met him, he learned to play, like, five instruments, and recorded a whole bossa nova album all alone. The sound they produce is in dialogue with today’s music scene while maintaining their own unique character.”