For Kyiv-Based Rapper Danskiy, Ukrainian Rap is About Lifting The Country's Hopes and Spirits
A dark cloud of danger and uncertainty remains hanging over Ukraine as the war with Russia rages on for almost a year since it began. Tens of thousands have perished, and millions have been displaced to unknown lands, both friendly and unfriendly. The once-beautiful cities are in ruins, and shattered dreams lie on the streets alongside broken glass, twisted steel, and powdered concrete. Love, hope, and art remain soaring in the Ukrainian skies as dire as the situation seems.
As difficult as the circumstances are in the capital city of Kyiv, the rapper Danskiy continues to create music that helps buoy his country's spirits. He recorded an EP entitled "The Motherland" at the height of the first wave of the Russian invasion in February 2022, where he produced beats as Russian missiles whizzed across the skies of his hometown of Kyiv.
"Yes, literally," Danskiy said. "We still get the 'air danger' notifications daily. When it pops up on your screen, it means that Russians have just launched a rocket or a plane to bomb civilians and objects. I've only heard about such war from books and movies, so could you imagine producing the peaceful & melodic 'Loose Ends' while getting this type of message? It's a wild feeling. I will never forget the specific impact the rocket makes while hitting the target - musically, I can describe it as the really low 808 + kick drum with a hall reverb on it. Despite that, creating 'The Motherland' was a huge ray of light for me. It made me happy every time I worked on that. It brought me back to life."
From Picasso's Guernica to Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit, art never fails to respond to adversity and strife, resulting in a communal catharsis that often leads to resolve. Ukrainian Rap is the same way. In many ways, it has become the voice of people navigating challenging times.
"Since the beginning of the war Ukrainian rap scene has been enjoying a renaissance. Artists produce a lot of new great music, and the local audience is supporting this process by listening to more music that is made in Ukraine," Danskiy said. "We've always had a lot of talented artists, but now they are better known, which is absolutely great to see, knowing the whole way they have been through. Having the ability to make music in Ukraine right now is a big thing.
However, the resurgence of Ukrainian Rap is broader than just producing tracks for people to listen to. It is helping the war effort in many ways.
"The creators & MCs from different parts of the country have joined their forces and are focused on spreading the word about the things going on here with the beats, lyrics & donations from the mechanical streams, and charity gigs," Danskiy said. "One of the best examples is the hip-hop event series crew' ALLOSYRUP' based in Kyiv. They organize charity hip-hop/rap events that feature local artists & DJs, jam sessions, exhibitions, and many more. You can only enter the event by donating to the Ukrainian Army. At the latest event I was at, we collected money for 2 military pick-up trucks. Pure magic. In 2022, the ALLOSYRUP crew overall collected 350K+ UAH."
There are many misconceptions about the ongoing war, and like many Ukrainians, Danskiy wants to make sure people know what's going on through his words or music. He maintains that Russia invaded them and the aggressor's ambitions won't stop with his country.
"The energy & economic crisis in Europe & USA is caused only by the Russian invasion, not by Ukraine," Danskiy added. "The world needs to help Ukraine with everything it has. Ukraine will become a mecca for many things after the war - music, business, fashion."
War claims many things in the most horrific ways. However, like any other conflict in history, lessons can be gained. And for Danskiy, the most important thing he learned from all this is summed up in six words: "Everything You Can Carry is Yours."
The Motherland is a six-track EP loaded with powerful verses and tight beats. Danskiy wrote, produced, and collaborated with fellow artists to come up with a product that is both musically and politically explosive.
In terms of his songwriting process, he always starts with rhythm, and once that is locked, the rest follows.
"Everything starts with the drums. They have to work by themselves. They have to be an independent unit, already giving the feeling of the track," Danskiy said. "After that, I play with different instruments and samples, creating melodies and adding effects & textures. Next, I form the structure. The structure is significant. It has to flow and vary from part to part, keeping the same vibe. When the track is completed, and I like every single part of it, I bring on vocals. In my own experience, the best vocal melodies & lyrics are usually created in the process and inspired by the instrumental, which works well already. Words just flow when the MC is mentally in love with the music. On the other hand, it really depends on the track every single time. Music is different, and that's beautiful."
For The Motherland, Danskiy credits his unique and rich sounds to a wide array of tools he mastered throughout the years, including an all-Fender lineup of a Standard Stratocaster, a Jaguar Special, and a Precision Bass. He also used a RODE NT1-A mic for hardware, a Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO Studio Headphones, a JBL 306P Studio Monitors, Akai MPK Mini, Akai MPD218 Pad Controller, and a Samson Carbon 49 Midi Keyboard. He tracked everything in Bitwig Studio 3 using a Macbook Pro and a Native Instruments Audio 2 Interface. For crafting the sounds, he used various plugins, such as Omnisphere, Kontakt 7, Arturia V, Addictive Drums 2, Keyscape, Waves (whole bundle), FabFilter (whole bundle), Valhalla DSP (whole bundle), Halftime, Cymatics (Space, Origin), Izotope (Ozone Pro, RX 9, Nectar 3, Tonal Balance Control 2)
The song Locals is special to Danskiy because it was one of those songs that came to be on something he calls 'freestyle music Sundays,' where he works on song ideas that have remained on the back burner to time constraints or writer's block.
"(This) started with the beat - it has more than 12 percussion samples, with a wide variety of drum instruments - woodblocks, hi-hats, reversed snares, bongos, and many more. It gives a really nice texture. However, the beat was still minimalistic, so my main goal was to save this feeling," Danskiy said. "Chilled, off-beat synth melody and Kendall's vocals were the golden keys to a perfect vibe." Kendall, being Detroit-based artist-producer Kendall de Juan.
One of the most memorable verses in the EP is from the song Match 100, where singer Betty Endale (FO SHO) goes: "Small in Size, Heavy in Weight," which, according to Danskiy, has something to do with values.
"Very often, we feel like "not big people and that nothing depends on us, but this is actually not true," Danskiy said. "Our values make us PEOPLE with a capital letter, and if you will read further the lyrics next sentence describes one of the values that were making highlight on: "I'm not a b***h; I'm the daughter of King" that says it all."
Danskiy also recounts how he recorded the song Loose Ends, which is a love letter to Ukraine.
"Loose Ends was recorded in my house studio with Alina Pash - the Ukrainian folk/hip-hop sensation (check out 'Bitanga'). She came into the studio with the idea to turn the patriotic poem 'Love Ukraine!' written by Ukrainian lyric poet Volodymyr Sosiura in 1944 into a rap song," Danskiy said. "Verses 1 & 3 include the adapted lyrics in Ukrainian. In verse 2, I offered Alina to translate the same lyrics into English. The jazz drill beat I produced on this one was inspired by the UK rap scene. Alina Pash is such a big talent and an absolutely unique Ukrainian artist. Really proud to be working with her on this record."
Given that the EP is a child of the war, most of the songs speak volumes about not just the idea of a free Ukraine but almost like an on-the-ground reportage covering real people and events. Consider the song Changes, which has the verse: "You better know that Mariupol is my own Zion. I strengthened my faith forever," about the last defenders of the city of Mariupol.
"On May 20, 2022, the last heroic defenders of Mariupol left the Azovstal plant. Since then, the city was completely occupied by the Russians," Danskiy said. "Mariupol became a huge pain for Ukrainians. It is a horror. Wherever you look, whichever way you look, everything is black and is destroyed by the Russians. LITYKA VITRU described this pain in this lyric."
Watch Danskiy's Promo Video for The Motherland
Danskiy is a prolific and gifted MC and producer. He owes his craft to the artists he calls his most significant musical influences, including Mac Miller, Little Simz, Frank Ocean, Tems, Loyle Carner, and The Cavemen, Blink-182, Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, Jungle, Drake, Tyler The Creator, Morgan Wallen, John Mayer, Stormzy, Erykah Badu, Led Zeppelin, Logic, The Internet, Free Nationals, and Fleetwood Mac.
As the war rages on and smoke and debris continue to rise and fall in the country, Danskiy remains in Kyiv due to a law prohibiting men from leaving. However, he remains hopeful that someday, he will be allowed to tour and spread his music in the EU or the US.
"Despite the war, I feel happy to live in Kyiv. I love this city with all my heart and love staying in my home spot, keeping the routine. For now, I live with a couple of friends. We work, jam live music, watch movies & sports, and calm each other if anything happens, "Danskiy said. "Because of wartime law, men cannot leave Ukraine. However, I may leave this Spring legally to play charity events and DJ sets. Currently, I am waiting for the government's approval. If that happens, my tour will include Cologne, Hamburg, and Antwerpen. My dream achievement is to work with commercially prominent & successful artists, compose music for movies or TV series, and have the ability to travel around the world for work purposes - visit big music studios in London, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, meet talented people and never stop exploring the sense and feel of the music."