Since the mid-2000s, a series of television stations and independent directors in post-Yugoslav spaces have produced an ever greater number of documentary films about domestic hip hop. An eclectic array of outlets including Croatian National Television, Al Jazeera Balkans, and even content creators associated with Austria’s Red Bull Energy Drink have all gotten into the mix. In this paper, I explore how a transnational group of directors and their artist subjects across Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and beyond poetically evaluate the creative output of hip hop in awkwardly entangled national and urban scenes. Questions about artists’ aesthetics and ethics tie quotidian creative challenges to broader historical themes pertaining to socialist pasts, the crisis-laden present, and promised European futures. Many of these films invite audiences to consider the political stakes of hip hop’s border crossings. Numerous documentaries portray domestic hip hop as a connective, cosmopolitan substance, while often downplaying explicit reference to nationalist rap. Films thus parallel a trend in other media about the domestic hip hop scene(s), especially journalist interviews, which frequently focus on hip hop artists’ transnational collaborations and post-war reconciliation. Such work reinforces domestic hip hop’s signification as an emblem of post-Yugoslav anti-nationalism, sometimes to the erasure of inconsistencies among performers and, more importantly, to the downplay of other key sites of critique and commentary. I briefly explore my own filmmaking failures that point in part to technological shift and the difficulty outsiders have telling convincing filmic narratives about relationality in flux.
In his manuscript, Were the Balkans Made for Rap? Semiosis in the Homemade Hip Hop Imaginary, Kohl explores the relationship between media-making and the reimagining of home after socialist Yugoslavia’s dismemberment. Before completing a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago, Kohl began preliminary field research on global manifestations of hip hop social practices in France, Senegal, Croatia, Russia, and Mongolia. From 2007-2012, he then focused his multi-sited fieldwork in Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Belgrade. Since 2013, he has taught in Chicago, designing courses that are fruitfully interwoven with his research methods, findings, and associated multimedia production.