Triin Vallaste (Brown University)
Since the release of his first album in 2003, Estonian rapper Chalice has become one of the most prominent popular musicians in Estonia. In addition to praise from critics and successful record sales, the Estonian state has recognized him on the highest level: Chalice’s track “Minu inimesed” (My People) was included on the concert programs of the President’s celebration of Estonia’s Independence Day in 2006 and the countrywide Youth Song and Dance Celebration in 2007.
Across Europe, youth have re-territorialized rap to critique local social conditions and raise debates about racism, citizenship policies, unemployment, and poverty. Chalice, however, addresses social issues in ethnically divided Estonia in a circumspect way, choosing to celebrate more pro-state sentiments. Here, I track through ethnography and media analysis his rise from underground rapper to “the crown prince of national culture.” I argue that while he is often described as a musician who “unites the people, old and young,” Chalice’s production in fact intensifies the schism between ethnic Estonians and the state’s citizens who are not ethnically Estonian. In the Estonian context, the state has employed Chalice to represent a hegemonic ethnolinguistic state ideology. This kind of state appropriation offers an exceptional case study that contrasts with much of the global hip-hop that typically voices concerns and fights for the rights of marginalized groups. Furthermore, Chalice’s case offers a provocative example of the unusual ways in which genre indigenization alters not only musical sound and language, but also the ideological functions of a form of artistic expression.