Two skinny teenagers in oversized sweatshirts bound onto the stage, each wearing New York Yankees caps, nodding their heads in time as they call to the crowd: “Put your hands in the air! We want to hear maximum noise!”
On a recent Sunday afternoon, nearly 200 paying patrons, almost all teenagers, packed into a small nightclub in central Bishkek for the city’s first-ever “Freestyle League” competition. Performing in Russian, 16 contestants rap-battled for three hours to decide who would be crowned king.
Although rap and hip-hop in Kyrgyzstan is nowhere near as popular as pop ballads and dance music, a vibrant scene is growing in the capital. “It’s a parody of what people are doing on television in the West: ‘Oh, we’re in a club, we’re so cool,” said a member of LeeMitT, a local group.
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Nate Schenkkan is a Bishkek-based journalist. David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor and a long-time photographer.