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The word on the street

Rapper Timati real name Timur Yunusov grew up in Los Angeles and claims to be the only real hip-hop and R&B performer in Russia.

Published: January 18, 2008 (Issue # 1340)



  • Rapper Timati real name Timur Yunusov grew up in Los Angeles and claims to be the only real hip-hop and R&B performer in Russia.
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

  • Rapper Set says hes not a fan of Timati.
    Photo: Igor Tabakov / The St. Petersburg Times

Its midnight in the mirrored changing room of a nightclub on Novy Arbat. A posse of dancers and backing singers waits patiently for Russias best-known rapper, Timati, who is due to perform at a corporate Christmas party.

Boys in baggy pants and hoodies practice dance moves, while a girl pouts in front of the mirror in a tiny skirt and patent high heels. When a song by Snoop Dogg starts up in the distance, they all mouth the lyrics.

As Timati makes his entrance, wearing a headband, a black beanie and sunglasses, the mood changes. The group runs up to him, performing a handshake choreography of various clicks, angles and slaps until the rapper feels that he has greeted everyone adequately.

Talking about his career, Timati said his background gives him the edge over his rivals. In Russia I am the only real hip-hop and R&B performer. I grew up in Los Angeles, I know the culture from inside out, I know the music inside out, he said.

Timati, whose real name is Timur Yunusov, may be the closest that Russia has to a rap star. He was born in Moscow to a wealthy, ethnically mixed family his father is a Muslim and his mother is Jewish. His privileged background enabled him to spend three years studying in Los Angeles.

He became famous after appearing on the television talent contest Star Factory in 2004, although he didnt win. He and three other contestants were taken on by influential producer Igor Krutoi who formed a group called Banda. In 2006, he released a solo album and played the role of a rapper in the hit comedy film Heat.

Today his MySpace site lists friends including P. Diddy. It posts a video clip of a collaboration with Xzibit, the rapper host of MTVs Pimp My Ride, alongside the required tough, tattooed and topless photos.

And Timati is certain that Russia loves hip-hop. Just last week, 50 Cent was packed; Beyonce was sold out [in October], he said. When Shaggy came here five years ago the seats in the cinema were less than half full. Interest in this music is definitely increasing.

The 24-year-old singer grew up listening to music by U.S. hip-hop artists Naughty by Nature and rapper MC Hammer and wanted to rap for as long as he could remember. He concedes that he came back to Russia where he raps in Russian because the U.S. hip-hop scene was too difficult to break into.

I wanted to perform, but the market was full, he said. At the end of the day, I am Russian and its better for me to be in my own country and develop the genre there,

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