3/7 – Dawn of Integral Hip-Hop: Interview with Ilya “MC 1.8” Kuznetsov

January-February 2016 / Fresh Perspective

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Ilya Kuznetsov

Special Russia Issue Guest Editor’s Note:

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Eugene Pustoshkin

Ilya Kuznetsov, aka MC 1.8, is a dear friend of mine. He comes from a simple background, and witnessed a lot of violence in his youth—which commonly happened in the post-Soviet era and which often serves as a crucial existential background for a rapper (such as him). To me, he is a warrior of spirit, a person who shows in his own life path that the calling of the Soul, this particular intensity of spiritual longing may guide people from any walks of life towards the realms of illumination, presence, and increasing maturity. His creativity in music has been evolving through phases, which led him towards embracing both transpersonal psychology and Ken Wilber’s works. In terms of music it resulted for him in an artistic turn which is not always understood or accepted by his numerous fans or fellow colleagues (as it often happens and as Robert Kegan describes in his research, with a new order of consciousness a new culture of embeddedness must emerge—which poses a certain set of difficulties to any artist). Yet he feels it is his responsibility to convey Integral messages and learn how to do it in an accessible way, through his music and other activities (such as operating a tea club). Ilya’s lyrics are abundant with self-reflection, philosophic and existential ideas, and references to Spirit. Of course, for him, as for many of us, there is still a long journey ahead, towards a fully embodied Integral consciousness, but the path he’s already traversed is impressive, and his Heart is Big. — Eugene Pustoshkin

Ilya “MC 1.8” Kuznetsov

Ilya “MC 1.8” Kuznetsov

— Hello, Ilya. Could you please tell us about yourself?

— My stage alias is MC 1.8, and I am engaged in doing Integral Hip-Hop in Russia. I began the career of musician eighteen years ago, when I was 15. I am married and have two daughters from two different marriages. I am developing my own tea-selling business and my hobby is exploring Integral Studies.

— How did Ken Wilber’s Integral philosophy influence you?

— It completely shifted my consciousness, which resulted in a series of radical changes in my relationships, career, and creative work.

— What other things influenced you?

— When I started to contemplate the questions of Integral meanings and reconsidering my worldviews, I started to fill in the gaps in the chain of knowledge I had access to. I went to study Grof’s transpersonal literature and started to look for kindred spirits in the Russian informational space. I was influenced by the rejection of new things from my close surroundings. Being a determined man, I turned it to my own benefit and used it as a source of passion and excitement.

— What do you attempt to convey through your creative work?

— Generally, these are songs about my life. I only give my personal point of view, attempting to take into consideration as many perspectives as I only could have access to. It is absolutely true that a musician works and grows in all quadrants, just as any other sentient holon. Music changes its color in different states and can have a healing effect on its listener. In Russia Hip-Hop is different than what exists in the West. It is more informative; it describes problems more rather than seeks solutions. This is a kind of depressive flatland. Only in the past 3-4 years do we see the emergence of an entertainment-related aspect of this industry. But only few do it.

— In what specific ways are Integral ideas woven into your music?

— This is a difficult question. It is something that is easier to see from outside. I think it is easy to notice how my main message changed in contrast to my previous songs. Today, I speak about the importance of constant creative seeking and development, and that you shouldn’t draw hasty conclusions—instead of that, you should take into account more perspectives. I speak about that which is difficult to explain in words. About Kosmic all-unity, about the spiritual nature of the human being. I do my best to adapt my language to my audiences. Not overcomplexify it—although speaking about these things in simple terms is very difficult.

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— What are your reflections about what leadership means for the Rap industry and Russian Rap in particular?

— In the Russian lands everything follows its own tempo. In Russia music has never been especially commercially successful, and the gig business can hardly be called business to this very day. Everyone wants quick results without much effort and expenditures. I think that today, from a leadership perspective, it is important to work through this strange neurotic complex, as if “a true artist must starve.” This long-suffering Orange question [Translator’s Note: “Orange drive” for achievement and success, often financial, is a particular level of consciousness and matrix of values, described in both Ken Wilber’s Integral theory of human development and Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics Integral.] must be solved for good in the first place, when we speak about genuine creative work and development. After that it will be easier to speak about an authentic mission of art and creativity in personal growth of a human being and also in cultural and social areas.

Russia is a country of paradoxes. The population is used to the fact that the only stable variable here is instability—be it political, economic, social or ethical. The Integral framework, in my opinion, is the only way out. Only a complex solution could do it. In order to see change it is simply not enough to say that “we need to think in a more positive and constructive way.” We have to make specific steps in all four directions. We have to form a cultural basis, solve social problems, be more attentive and mindful towards others and ourselves. Only in this way, day by day, step by step,  could we change at least something towards a better condition. I repeat that, in my opinion, only by approaching our problem integrally we could achieve qualitatively distinctive changes.

Same is true for the Hip-Hop community. The mechanism there would be the same. It’s a holon within a holon. In my understanding, a Hip-Hop leader is not a black hero of a Western fashion, who wears gold and sings songs about whores and weed. A true Hip-Hop leader is someone who is fully aware that it is his or her contribution to culture that directly influences what kind of future will be chosen by those who are currently young. What will be their “god”? Money, drugs, fame? Religion, war, an opposition to the System? Or could we form a generative or creative society? Those who leave after themselves this kind of motivations are the ones who are true leaders in my area. And, yes, this person shouldn’t be a beggar or look like a saint. This is not necessary. What’s important is what kind of influence his or her music has on people.

— You are a well-known person in Russian Rap, you were at its beginnings, weren’t you? Of course, in our national character it is not common to self-glorify (although many people oppose this cultural habit). Still, for our Western readers could you speak a bit about your, so to say, social successes in this area?

— Since 1998 I have managed to work in a large number of projects. Out of them only two were truly successful. It was Mnogotochie and 25/17. I participated in the former project as an author of lyrics, music, and performer, and in the latter I was sound director and DJ. In 1998 we had to wander from one sound-recording company to another and explain what Hip-Hop is and why the future belongs to it. Often we stumbled into such solid wall that we felt utterly discouraged. Today it is one of the most popular music genres not just in the world, but in our country as well. So, I did actually stand in the beginnings of this genre and have been its popularizer. We’ve always spoken openly, without any censorship or format. We didn’t try to fit into something. This independence was something that our audience liked a lot, and our Mnogotochie collective became one of the icebreakers for the emerging Hip-Hop movement.

Today I am engaged in a solo project. I understand that becoming popular with such a voluminous and demanding message would be difficult, but in previous cases everything was not easy as well. In some sense participating in such an interview as this is a major breakthrough for me in this direction. You may interpret it as you wish.

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— In your view, is Rap capable to develop and transform the consciousness of its listeners? How seriously can we treat it—is it a kind of creative art for you?

— Certainly, it is and it can! Rap as an informative genre is very convenient for translation of any ideas. The era of Integral Hip-Hop is not far away from now—and of Integral poetry and music in general. This will be a great time.

— Could you please share some integrally informed and spiritually oriented lines from your poetry and tell us about their context and meaning?

— I talk with listeners using the language of metaphors, attempting not only to convey some information, but also immerse that person into a state that is required for understanding the ideas. To share a gift of inspiration with him or her. To leave some aftertaste. To share all available contexts with that person. To use all hooks there are.

For instance, I have a song “Ice-cold air” (Ledyanoy vozdukh). The central idea of this composition is how we are running away from ourselves. The small self runs away from the Big Self. It gets broken, it limits itself, and it hides. In the first verse the question of separation, fragmentation, dissociation is disclosed:

“You hear how the small self cries out loud on the polygon [firing ground] of the manifest world, without warmth and help of father and mom. Just think how quickly it runs away from problems, how many walls it builds, how many complicated labyrinths of loopholes and schemes, just to become even more small . . .”

This situation is something that is familiar to everyone of us. The more boundaries and limiting frames, the more repression there is, and, therefore, the more lying to oneself and the surrounding world.

The second verse offers an antidote in the form of a clear instruction that points out the holonic nature of being and all-unity (or total-unity) of all existence:

“Look how atoms connect into molecules, molecules into cells, phrases and thoughts into verses . . .”—the Self includes all of it in itself, feeling kinship with all of it—one taste, one code, one God, one brain, one heart, one flow, and the stairway to heaven has always been yourself.”

Then I attempt to inspire the listener towards the search which is absolutely integral to his or her nature: “The steps arise below the rhythmically walking feet.” It is crucial not to stop. Then, in the same vein, concluding with the phrase:

“. . . finding yourself in everything, you leave nightmarish dreams.”

This track displays movement through all quadrants [of Ken Wilber’s Integral AQAL Framework], but the main focus is, of course, on the Upper-Left quadrant [individual subjective consciousness/psyche]. It is about working with shadow ballast and ascension.

In this composition you can hear hard breathing of a running man—it continues throughout the entire track. But in the second verse running away from oneself turns into running towards oneself that happens in a holotropic experience. It doesn’t matter where we run, because there is only the Big Self, this very “ice-cold air.”

Here is the full text of the chorus:

“Only I and ice-cold air, somewhere between ‘too early’ and ‘too late.’ Between the past and the future there are years, families, communes, peoples, and only the Self is that very ice-cold air.”

And before the chorus the two sets of words are repeated:

“breath in, breath out”

—these are associated only with the present moment. The Self is these very breaths in and breaths out. Right here and now.

I hope this clarifies at least a little bit.

— Everyone has a small self. And a Big Self. Only it is difficult to explain to others that it is the “real reality” of their lives. How would you convey to our readers the idea of the small self and the Big, Authentic, True Self? How can we touch it in a way that is not too abstract? So that people would be pierced, and they’d get that all of this is not merely a pure theory, but something which they encounter, even not knowing that, on a daily basis? How can we make that choice in favor of Big Self? I am interested in listening to your thoughts about this.

— This is truly a difficult question, and the answer will not be short. An integrally-informed person is capable of a maximally accurate evaluation what sort of information should be conveyed to, say, an opponent in a discussion and what shouldn’t. In the New Testament there are really good descriptions of what happens when one is thoughtlessly casting pearls before swine. This Christ’s metaphor, rather, points out the necessity to differentiate the level of awareness of the flock, but in no way does it need to be understood as something offensive. Someone needs breast feeding, someone needs harder food. The capacity to speak in the language of those with whom you converse is very important. In the aforementioned example one simply is not suitable for another.

Swine is just an example of one sort of animal. Human is not only an animal but also a mental creature. We have more capacity for becoming self-aware. It is crucial to understand that each person has his or her own level of reality perception. The animal level is transcended in childhood, but our growth doesn’t stop there. Just as for a breast-fed infant the capacity to drive a car is temporarily unavailable, in a similar fashion any concept of the Big Self is temporarily unavailable to anyone who is not occupied with seeking his or her true nature. True purpose. Sometimes we have to use a simple childlike language in order to foster in our conversation partner some kind of simplified understanding of the topic that we discuss. And our conversation partner actually needs practical instructions, so that he or she could feel in his or her own experience what is talked about. The primary condition for this is this person’s interior request for that. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to be able to see such an interior request.

Well… An answer to such a question could arise in a form of meditative practice, psychotherapy or some peak states in one’s own spiritual experience. All of it, more or less, would be directed at transcending interior and exterior boundaries. Step by step, insight by insight, conclusion by conclusion we necessarily come to becoming aware of ourselves as parts of something larger. Something much larger than infinity, and something much more whole than unity. This feeling becomes so obvious that, despite all the complexity of explaining it rationally, no internal contradictions arise. The answer to this question can be disclosed in practice. Concepts alone is not enough. Step by step, directing light into the darkest corners of our shadow, we walk towards an integrated ego, so that then we could erase a boundary between it and our body, so that we could understand that we have only one Home; that we are this journey back Home, through obstacles and boundaries.

I personally like the 3-2-1 Shadow Work practice. I will refer to it as one of the examples. It has some very important part of truth. By learning how to assume the role of another we learn to forgive—both the other and ourselves from their perspective. I’ve personally tested this. This key is universal, and it can unlock any lock. So, the lock is always one and the same. One Big Self in its myriad of variations.

The cover of the Pochti Fantastika (“Almost Fantastic,” 2014) album

The cover of the Pochti Fantastika (“Almost Fantastic,” 2014) album

— Do you encounter a lot of resistance to your “Integral turn” from friends, colleagues, close and “far” people, and your fans? Does anyone offer you support? Perhaps, someone is evolving alongside with you?

— Now there’s no resistance. I also stopped running around as a proselyte with the eyes full of fire. In most neophytes the passionate fire to convert usually lasts for a short time. Here, everything is different. The thirst for development cannot be stopped, because it is life itself. To be alive means to make this movement. To be process, not result. Any result is unstable. Process is far more stable.

Only a small part of my listeners understands what I am talking about. They co-evolve with me and support me at the same time.

Others usually call me a cultist or heretic or madman, while, nevertheless, keeping track of the evolution of my fantasy. They are too lazy to learn something on their own. They like to argue much more. My family, friends, colleagues listen to my stories with interest, they see my emotions, but don’t attempt to gain a deeper insight into what I am talking about. “We have no spare time,” they say. Yes, Integral Theory cannot be mastered in one night. It’s not a Facebook post. I am confident we will find a way to tell about it in a briefer fashion.

— Is there any question or questions that you would like to be asked? Could you please say this question and then attempt to respond to it?

— “Why you do not devote enough time to the most important activity in your life—your creative work? Where is your faith? What are you afraid of?”

It happens that I haven’t devoted enough time to my own development. I’ve invested my energy and time into something shared—which subsequently is put into question. I cannot remain within rigid limits, when we talk about my creative and artistic work. It is difficult to accept, but I am not a man of industry. I can spend the entire roll of bucks I received without even thinking about it, following my heart. I live by heart. And people of mind, people of order call me insane. I feel more comfortable in a different kind of order. That order which they call chaos.

My faith is always with me. This is the only thing thanks to which I am still alive. My creative work is my life, no matter how much I would attempt to negate it. Mind will never subsume my heart.

What am I afraid of? I am afraid to put down my relatives—for in this case the story won’t go on. I am afraid to become an object of criticism, even today, when criticism broke apart in my head onto the cold matrix of gradations and waves. I am afraid that I will lose the thirst of seeking and sincerity in my songs, becoming a slave of the industry.

— Ilya, thank you so much! Would you like to wish anything to our Western and Eastern colleagues, those explorers of Integral and integrative approaches who will be reading this Special Russia Issue in English?

— You are my family. I wish every one of you to have peace in your heart. Today, the majority of people only begins to fantasize on those topics which you already had yesterday as some quite obvious transcendence of reality. This bright beacon in your chest will never fade. Its light will be especially important, when, once more, you will decide to step into abyss of the unknown, searching for new answers and solutions. Thank you for your precious attention. Hugging you with my heart.

Interview translated from Russian by Eugene Pustoshkin

About the Interviewee

nKawzgKH6x4Ilya “MC 1.8” Kuznetsov is a Hip-Hop artist from Moscow with 18 years of professional experience in the industry. In the past he was one of the participants of the cult-classic band Mnogotochie (1998–2005), gig DJ and sound director of the band 25/17 (2007–2013), and founder of the music project Trilogy Soldiers (2009–2013). He is a co-founder of the tea club called Tea Caste (Tchaynaya Kasta) and an author of video podcasts about the behind-the-scenes life of the Russian Hip-Hop community. In his solo career he is known under the alias MC 1.8. He authored many solo and collaborative tracks; in 2014 he released his debut solo album Pochti Fantastika (“Almost Fantastic”). He is an active member and popularizer of the Russian Integral movement. At this moment he works on his new release under the working title Lyudi Khaosa (“People of Chaos”); it will be released in March 2016. Official website: www.mc18.info

About the Interviewer

Eugene Pustoshkin

Eugene Pustoshkin

Eugene Pustoshkin is an integral psychologist, translator, and integral scholar-practitioner. He lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, and currently serves as the Chief Editor of Eros & Kosmos (see: http://eroskosmos.org/english), the Russian Integral online magazine he co-founded; he is also the Bureau Chief / Associate Editor for Russia at Integral Leadership Review. Eugene graduated as specialist in clinical psychology from St. Petersburg State University, and now maintains private practice, offering counseling in Integral psychotherapy and mentoring in Integral Theory. He translated several books by Ken Wilber and works of other Integral authors. Since 2014, he has been organizing and co-facilitating (together with Helsinki-based therapist Sergey Kupriyanov, PhD in Medicine) Holoscendence workshops in Russia and other countries. Contact email: eapustoshkin@gmail.com

 

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