Moscow: Rap Star MC Pavlov. Part I

When we met MC Pavlov in 1995, he was Russia's first -- and only -- rap star. Four years after fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow's music scene was breaking out, with rock, jazz and blues bands playing in cramped clubs across the capital. But rap was still exotic back then, and MC Pavlov (or MD&C Pavlov, as he billed his group), was the man trying to bring it to the masses.

Russian rapper MC Pavlov poses in a typically eye-catching ensemble. (David Hillegas)

The former drummer for Zvuki Mu, a psychedelic rock band, Alexei Pavlov had first heard proto-rap music back in 1984 through a friend's bootleg tapes. He was instantly hooked. Five years later, when U2 producer Brian Eno invited Zvuki Mu to tour the U.S., he got to see the rap scenes in New York and Detroit close up. MC Pavlov made his debut in Moscow soon after.

By 1995, MC Pavlov was riding high: he'd just released an album called "Ze Best," he was busy with gigs, and he was branching out into funk, hip-hop and R&B. A vegetarian and Hare Krishna since the mid-1980s, he was lean and healthy, and he exuded an optimistic energy that infused his music. With his three dancers, or his "girls," as he called them, he bounced all over Moscow, playing in clubs and making recordings.

We hooked up with MC Pavlov this week, and he's got quite a story to tell about the last 10 years. After 1995, things just kept getting better: "One of my videos won the grand prix for 'video of the year' at a festival of Russian regional TV shows," he told us. He got an ongoing commercial gig doing musical presentations for chip maker Intel. And in 1997, he founded the Festival of Soul and Funk, a three-day extravaganza with shows in multiple Moscow clubs.

Pavlov took another trip to New York in 1997. "I needed to recharge my batteries, to hear some new stuff," he told us. While there, he recorded with jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers and went to numerous clubs. "I would walk around the city in this orange outfit," he says, "And people would go, 'Hey, Orange Man from Moscow!" He made deals with New York record labels to send him information on their latest releases so he could pitch his own TV show about funk back in Moscow.

The TV show never came to pass, but Pavlov did end up hosting a radio show called Funky Time. "We were in about 20 towns," he says. "It was the only radio show about funk music in Russia." Flush with his growing success, he moved out of his parents' apartment in 1999, rented his own place and even built a makeshift recording studio inside. Then, as a treat, he booked a trip to Thailand with one of his dancers, Paulina, for two weeks that summer.

MC Pavlov checks out a photo of himself from the late 1990s at a recording studio. (David Hillegas)

On their first day in Bangkok, the pair visited a Buddhist temple and excitedly took pictures all over the city. On the second day, Pavlov stepped off a curb and was struck by a bus. "It's like in some other countries, where they drive on the left-hand side, you know?" he said. "I looked the wrong way."

The impact nearly killed him. Pavlov was rushed to a hospital, where he immediately underwent three operations. He was comatose for several weeks.

Tomorrow: The recovery, and what MC Pavlov is up to now.

By Lisa Dickey |  November 2, 2005; 8:45 AM ET
Previous: Moscow: New Landmarks and a Monument to Kitsch | Next: Moscow: Rap Star MC Pavlov, Part II


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Music! That's a big change from 1995! Your last blog came during the nadir of the Russian music scene. The mid- and late-1980's were dynamic and amazing. Glasnost created some amazing groups (most of them from Leningrad, strangely enough): Kino, Akvarium, DDT and so many mind-blowing others. Then the Soviet Union fell, everyone was selling cabbages and sausages from street corner kiosks just to survive, and it was downright embarassing to be seen listening to Russian music. Then MTv came in 1998, MuzTV around the same time, and beginning in the early 2000's the scene began happening again: Zemfira, Moral Code X, Splin and Tantsi Minus come to mind, but there are lots of others. Hell, there are foreigners doing PhD theses on Russian rock now! I'm personally not into rap (like MC Pavlov) or pop, but those scenes have blossomed as well.

The scene might not have the magnitude of Chicago or London, but the creative spark has returned!

(Let's just not talk about Tatu. They're still downright embarassing to be seen listening to.)

Posted by: Mark | November 2, 2005 02:14 PM

To Mark, I love music the world over and I am proud to enjoy DDT, Zemfira, Utah, Okean and of course, TATU among many other Russian and Ukrainian groups!! I proudly listen to Tatu and they are on my pick-up DVD now. I have been traveling to the former USSR for 4 years, and I have collected a variety of music I play at work in the OR. Variety in the spice of life. Keep an open mind, rap is cool. The Russians listen to our music but we are not open to listening their music. The open minded people at work will listen to the Russian Rock but the narrow minded folks as a group dislike foreign music unless it is in English. This is an American problem as my Finnish friends had much music from many countries in languages other than Finnish. I'm glad you at least enjoy some of the Russian music. But rejoice in the freedom of choice and that includes TATU.

Posted by: David David | November 2, 2005 06:39 PM

Okay, I'll admit that at one point I also listened to Tatu (only as a linguistic exersize, to compare the Russian and English versions, of course!)

Tatu, however, is an example of how the Russian music scene has developed. Russia now exports pop culture--admittedly on a small scale, and in English, but who could have imagined it ten, let alone twenty years ago! I wish MC Pavlov and many other groups similar success!

Posted by: Mark | November 3, 2005 12:34 AM

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