People don’t generally think of rap music when Iran is mentioned, but the rap scene in the Iranian capital of Tehran is very popular and powerful among Iranian youth. Iranian rap (or Rap-eh Farsi) is one of the fastest growing musical genres in Iran, thanks largely due to the fact that 60% of the Iranian population is under the age of 30.
Rap emerged in Tehran as early as the late 1980s when a rap group known as Group 021 fused elements of traditional Persian music with American hip hop. The founder of Group 021, Hichkas (هیچکس) meaning “nobody” in Persian, is widely regarded as the godfather of Persian rap. Hichkas’ real name is Soroush Lashkary and his rap featured religious and nationalistic themes that really resonated with the young people of Iran during the late 1980s. His first album, Asphalt Jungle (جنگل اسفلت) is recognized as the first rap album to come out of Iran. If you listen to Iranian rap often, you hear frequent references to 021 since it is not only the foundational group of Iranian rap, but it is also the area code of Tehran and the calling card of Iranian rap as a whole. In fact, Hichkas, in his 2008 song Bunch of Soldiers sings “I want you to throw your hands up high, higher/ throw 021 up forever.”
Unlike many of his rap counterparts, Hichkas avoids swearing in his raps and he also doesn’t rap about violence, drugs, and women.
Music in Iran has to be approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in order to legally be performed or produced within the country, so rappers generally operate and perform underground to avoid government interference with their music. Most of the rap music in Iran is recorded in some basement and then shared for free online. Even Hichkas with his morally-upstanding brand of rap has been arrested for his music and currently lives outside of Iran. The rap scene in Iran is still progressing rapidly though and its popularity with young people is at an all-time high. The first ever female Iranian rapper, Salome MC, has recently burst onto the scene as well. The video below shows Salome MC’s song “Price of Freedom” (بهای رهایی). Salome MC currently lives in Japan, so there is a lot of Japanese imagery in the video.
As for the future, Iranian rappers are just hoping that their music will become legal to perform and produce within Iran. Many rappers are hopeful that the nuclear deal Iran reached with the P5+1 nations will lead to decreased international sanctions and a larger middle class and hopefully, this middle class will listen to their music. Interestingly, the Iranian rapper Jazayeri claims that the rap genre’s popularity in Iran can be attributed at least in part to the rhythmic qualities of the Persian Farsi language. Iranian culture is very much about poetry, Iranians can be heard quoting poetry on a regular basis, and rap is very much like poetry.
For more Iranian rap, see below: