STEVE INSKEEP, host:

You may be thrilled by this next story. You may be horrified, but it's just a fact that even Mongolia is throbbing to the beat of hip-hop. We've been reporting all week from that remote and romantic country. In a nation where 60 percent of the urban population is under 30, hip-hop has become a way of making political statements and carving out a new identity. NPR's Louisa Lim has been hanging with the kings of Mongolian hip-hop.

LOUISA LIM: Colored lights flash across the stage, and plumes of flame shoot into the air. On stage is a who's who of the world of hip-hop, bling-laden stars in baggy jeans and baseball caps striking poses. One even has an enormous, drooling white dog tethered on a chain.

But this is not the Bronx. It's Ulan Bator, Mongolia, where hip-hop has a huge following. I asked Kobe, the leader of Ice Top, one of Mongolia's most popular bands, why.

KOBE (Hip-Hop Artist, Leader of the Group Ice Top): (Through translator) We sing the truth. We tell the truth. That's why we are influential. In that sense, we do have political influence through song.

(Soundbite of song, "76")

Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping in foreign language)

LIM: One example is this song, that Ice Top with a band called Dain ba Enh. The song's name is simply "76," after the number of members of parliament in Mongolia. It blasts them as corrupt, selfish and greedy.

(Soundbite of song, "76")

Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping in foreign language)

LIM: Clueless, stupid guys are at the top of the state, the lyrics say. They say they do this and that for the people. Bull (bleep) they say. Those guys speak pretty words, but life is a pretty hell. That pretty hell is highlighted in music videos shot against the blighted post-industrial backdrop of Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator. In this way, Damdinbazar Manlai from Ice Top says the group is taking on social issues and the establishment.

Mr. DAMDINBAZAR MANLAI (Hip-Hop Artist, Ice Top): (Through translator) We have homeless children. We have poverty. But we also have a very grand history that was inherited from our ancestors. We sing about kids living in sewers, and we ask: Where's your kid living? We want to get a message to the corrupt upper class.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SUKHBAATAR AMARMANDAKH (Hip-Hop Artist): (Rapping in foreign language)

LIM: That grand history is also a preoccupation. This rap anthem to the founder of the Mongol empire, Genghis Khan, or Chingis Khan as he's known here, is actually a remake of the German pop song. This version is by Sukhbaatar Amarmandakh, the original wild man of Mongolian music. Better known as Amraa, he started the country's first techno rap band - Har Sarnai, or Black Rose — back in 1991.

Before that, under Soviet control, any mention of Genghis Khan was forbidden. Amraa cites as his early inspirations Michael Jackson, Vanilla Ice and Mongolian shamans, from whom he claims descent.

Mr. SUKHBAATAR AMARMANDAKH (Hip-Hop Artist): (Through translator) Some say hip-hop comes from Africa. But I think it also comes from the way the shamans used to chant in the Genghis Khan period. The shamans use a drum, and those rhythms are similar to today's hip-hop. I have a calling, and that's why I'm sitting here creating. The hip-hop spirits called me to this.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

LIM: He says he tries to incorporate Mongolian elements into his band's songs. He's an unashamed Mongolian nationalist, hoping to instill young Mongolians with feelings of pride. His stage presence is fearsome and slightly unhinged. He favors long wigs, a top hat, knee-high leather boots and militaristic, Nazi-style uniforms. And he worries about the purity of the Mongolian bloodline.

Mr. AMARMANDAKH: (Through translator) We have cases where Mongolians marry foreigners. I hope it's not all of us. I hope the majority will remain separate and keep their bloodlines pure.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Overstep the Limits, You Chinks")

4 Zug (Hip-Hop Group): (Rapping in foreign language)

LIM: This is the ugly side of Mongolian hip-hop. This song by a band called 4 Zug is called "Don't Overstep The Limits, You Chinks." It's a violent, hate-filled tirade against Mongolia's massive neighbor.

There are very few such songs, according to Gregory Delaplace, a Cambridge University anthropologist with an interest in Mongolian hip-hop. But they do reflect popular concerns.

Dr. GREGORY DELAPLACE (Anthropologist, Cambridge University): The song basically translates a very well-spread idea in Mongolian society that Chinese people are sucking out the resources of the country, and threatening Mongol people as a people and as an independent entity.

LIM: Outside a noisy nightclub, 22-year-old D.J. Aldar Jargal says Mongolian hip-hop really only started to find its voice once it started examining identity issues.

Mr. ALDAR JARGAL (Disc Jockey): (Through translator) They only started talking about being proud of our Mongolian identity and Genghis Khan a few years ago. It's good, because before that, they were only copying Western bands or singing love songs.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Rapping in foreign language)

LIM: Here, hip-hop is not the music of gangster and guns. These mainly middle-class kids are also turning up tender tributes to their mothers, as well as songs of social criticism. In this young county, hip-hop isn't just providing an unlikely arena for political debate. It's also helping young Mongolians find themselves and their voice.

Louisa LIM, NPR News, Ulan Bator.

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