“We can drink ourselves to death but I’m a guy with money and I will take that risk”: Hip-Hop, Reality TV, and Alcohol in Estonia

Triin Vallaste

Abstract


Estonian hip-hop duo Öökülm's single "Whiskey," with its humorous wordplay, distorted sound effects, and cheery four-on-the-floor beats, tells the story of a destitute alcoholic and relies on samples excerpted from the alcoholic's notorious reality TV appearance. The single went viral and became the ultimate binge-drinking party anthem among Estonian youth. Although "Whiskey" tests the limits of what hip-hop means in Estonia, a leading figure in the hip-hop community proclaimed it "the dopest" rap track of 2007 because of its "piercing social critique."

Öökülm's production articulates, perhaps unwittingly, pressing Estonian social concerns: 1) ethical questions in the Estonian media regarding the filming of drunk people who are unfit to give consent, and 2) the Estonian state prioritizing tax revenue over Estonian citizens' health, since government regulations keep the cost of alcohol low while levels of alcoholism remain high. However, when I asked DJ Melkker, the producer of "Whiskey," about his sampling practice as a social critique, he responded, "This track has no specific meaning or aim—it's just cool."

DJ Melkker's response is a reminder, to use Tricia Rose's words, how vital it is not to reject "those practices that ruin our quest for untainted politically progressive cultural expression." Engaging with the commodification of social marginality, alcoholism, and reality television spectatorship in tracks like "Whiskey" necessitates dealing first and foremost with ethnographic realities, perhaps at the expense of finding an empowering, progressive politics in hip-hop. I trace the production and reception stories of Öökülm's "Whiskey" in order to unpack specifically Estonian perspectives on alcohol consumption and music's role in shaping and reflecting these perspectives.

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