Behind the Obstacles

Vladimir Tereshkov’s photos of Hip-Hop Culture in Iran

It may be hard to imagine there is a hip-hop culture in Iran, considering the tense political situation in the Middle East and the region’s relations with the United States. The movement appeared in the 1990s, when hip-hop artists mainly focused on socio-political topics. This led to a quick reaction from the government: some rappers had to leave the country, and some were jailed. In 2018, I spent a month in Tehran, where I got to know rappers, beatmakers, and many other members of the movement — this is how I learned that rap in Iran exists not only in the underground, but is also developing rapidly.

In the project I talk about the difficult, but honest life of people who risk to do what they love. Despite the fact it is forbidden in the country to criticize the government, hold public events and sell albums, they write lyrics in which they express their position towards the government, and open their own home studios. The hip-hop community has developed far beyond the borders of Tehran — becoming one of the most popular and distinctive music trends in Iran among young people.

Iran leaves no chance for hip-hop to become an officially recognized musical direction — to release your own album or perform tracks live, you need the approval of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. There are many music studios in Tehran, but they all are focused on recording classical instrumental music and vocals. It is difficult for alternative musicians to get into official studios, so they are forced to create their own home studios in back rooms and apartments, equipped with sound insulation and necessary equipment for recording. In their lyrics, many Iranian rappers touch on social issues — drug addiction, depression, poverty and youth unemployment. You can also often hear samples from classical Iranian music. Tracks are usually distributed on streaming resources, and CDs are exchanged through friends and acquaintances at private events.

Kasseb recording at KNation studio © Vladimir Tereshkov
Dousti and Prof record music in the Studio KNation © Vladimir Tereshkov
Prof at the recording studio KNation © Vladimir Tereshkov
© Vladimir Tereshkov

Breakdancing is a recognized sport in Iran. Open events are not allowed without the consent of the authorities, as well as to dance on the street — passers-by can call the police if they do not like something. We went to this event for an hour and a half on four buses to the suburbs of Tehran. No one knew exactly
where we were going, except the organizers — they were afraid of the police coming. This competition was closing the season and brought together dancers from all over the country.

© Vladimir Tereshkov
© Vladimir Tereshkov
BBoy Farzin performs at break dance competition © Vladimir Tereshkov
Afshin performs beatbox at breakdance competition © Vladimir Tereshkov

Photography and text: Vladimir Tereshkov


Instagram: @vovatereshkov
Location: Moscow, Russia

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