The Girls of Serbian Hip-Hop
Since the first Serbian hip-hop album arrived in 1995 – Da Li Imaš Pravo [Do You Have the Right] by Dalibor Andonov Gru, if you’re wondering – pop music in the country has been profoundly shaped by the genre. Sunshine, Bad Copy, Beogradski Sindikat, Straight Jackin', Voodoo Popeye and plenty more have found success down the years, but importantly Serbian hip-hop is by no means a boys’ club.
The first female act to make waves on the scene were Bičarke Na Travi – or “Bitches On The Grass”, who spent a lot of time in the early 00s rapping about gratuitous sex, gold diggers and sugar daddies. Comparable to Peaches, their lyrics were capable of shocking even the most hardcore of hip-hop heads.
While Bičarke were making audiences blush, Ivana Rašić – AKA Sajsi MC – was starting her career as a rapper for the crossover funk band, Sajsi. She set out on her own after the band split, collaborating with various music producers and DJs on her 2010 debut album Daleko je Dizni [Disney Is Distant].
Rhyming about love, sex and politics, her tune “Mama” faced criticism from the more conservative sections of the Serbian public as she portrayed the daily thoughts and fantasies of an average high school girl. This led to a heated discussion on a national TV talk show, where some folk musicians told Sajsi MC that one day she’d be ashamed of her lyrics. She refused to apologise, insisting that her lyrics weren’t some provocative distortion of real life but an accurate representation of the teenage libido.
In 2010, a new star emerged – Milena Janković, who goes by the pseudonyms Mimi Mercedez and Guda iz Huda [Piggy from the Hood]. Her previous career as a stripper informs her obscenity-drenched lyrics, which are delivered with an in-your-face brashness that is impossible to ignore. Cherishing all that by common consensus is distasteful, Mimi is often criticised for glorifying dizelashi – a Serbian word that translates literally to “diesel boys” and refers to Balkan gangsta rappers.
In person, however, she comes over as gracious and charming. She’s a racked up a collection of collaborations with singers from the wildly popular Serbian turbofolk scene, making a guest appearance in the Milan Stanković song “Gadure” [Filthy Girls] and working with Kaya and Mile Kitić, the latter a hardline turbofolker from the 1990s. These days, Mimi Mercedez can fill venues with ease, and with her videos almost guaranteed to accumulate over a million views, she’s teaching young Serbian girls to be tough and resilient. As her tune “Mmm” – with its catchy chorus, “What moves the world / also moves my ass“ – says: “If you want more of life, forget about shame.”
“What’s funny is that the girls of Serbian hip-hop have very similar messages to their male counterparts,” says Ivan Ristić, editor of the hip-hop site My People. “Yet the girls are perceived as being more provocative, daring and vulgar than their male colleagues – Sajsi and Mimi are good examples. Sajsi is a downtown girl, and Mimi is from suburbia, yet they’re both from Belgrade and authentic heroines of that ‘I don’t give a f***’ attitude.”
The attitude towards turbofolk is one of the major differences between Sajsi and Mimi, downtown and uptown. Sajsi comes from a rock ‘n’ roll background, is the daughter of a rock musician who had mainstream success in the 70s, and doesn’t flirt with turbo. On the other hand, Mimi is a working-class kid who boasts about her love for turbofolk, frequently citing her idols from the scene. While it would have been a death sentence for her career 20 years ago, the willingness to collaborate across genres makes Mimi Mercedez more popular among the youth of today.
Other honourable mentions must go to Lil Plane, Coe Faca, Lady Lerdi, Eli Džejn, Bahata and Redgy. As relative newcomers, these women are still earning their stripes, but each has the potential to take Serbia’s hip-hop scene to dizzying new heights.