The man who was raised in Slough and raps in Russia

Miron Fyodorov is an Oxford graduate who specialises in pre-Chaucerian English – and a rising star on Moscow's hip-hop scene. The artist better known as Oxxxymiron tells Shaun Walker about his unlikely route to fame

Over the past six months, Miron Fyodorov has gone from a part-time rapper with a small internet following to one of the most talked about artists in Russian rap. He was named Discovery of the Year at the Russian GQ awards, and his latest music video, "Lie Detector", has over a million hits on YouTube, as his fan base grows to include everyone from angry impoverished teens in Siberian tower blocks to the hipster class of central Moscow.

But Fyodorov, known by the stage name Oxxxymiron, has a somewhat incongruous biography for someone who has ascended the heights of the Russian rap world: he grew up in Slough and studied English literature at Oxford University. Until earlier this year, he lived in a grim flat in Canning Town, east London. "I wanted to rap, but I didn't have any money," he recalls. He paid £275 a month in rent, and earned enough to live on either through office work or by teaching rich Russian children how to get into British public schools. "Then suddenly, this summer, everything started taking off. It's still all sinking in."

The 27-year-old has a boyish face and closely cropped mousy hair; during an interview with The Independent in a central Moscow bar this week, he wears a grey T-shirt that only half-covers tattoos on his forearms, and speaks in perfect English that has hints of both Russia and east London in the accent. Born in Leningrad, now St Petersburg, he moved to Essen, Germany when he was nine, as his physicist father found a job there.

In 2000, the family moved again, this time to Slough. Speaking a strange brand of English, learnt in Germany and from voracious reading, he started at the local secondary school. "Slough was pretty horrendous, but I liked the UK more than Germany," he says. "It's much more like Russia – not as clean, more chaotic, and less anal."

Despite never having been taught in English before, he did surprisingly well at school. "I didn't know much about Britain to be honest. When my history teacher told me I should think about applying for Oxbridge, I thought he said Uxbridge," he laughs. "I knew there was a college there, and I was disappointed that I was doing so badly."

He surprised himself by getting into Balliol College, Oxford, to read English literature, where he focused on pre-Chaucerian English, learning High German and Old Norse. "I think that came from the same place as my rap – I'm interested in words. But I don't have an academic mind at all." He had to take an extra year to complete his degree, after he was temporarily kicked out and forced to resit exams, and then ended up with a third-class degree after his finals.

Rap had been part of his life since he was a teenager, but it was not much more than a hobby at this point. "I used to get drunk at Oxford and freestyle, and a few people who knew Russian would get it, while other people would just laugh their heads off."

Suddenly, a lot more people are getting it. Despite having no manager or producer, and little marketing or promotion, his rapping has been gaining an ever-bigger fan base, culminating in a 13-city tour when he was playing to crowds of 2,000 people. "It's not bad given last year I was living on a council estate in Canning Town," he says. "I could never have imagined it could have grown this quickly."

According to Michael Idov, the editor of Russian GQ magazine, Oxxxymiron is "in a class of his own" on the Russian rap scene. "The first thing that jumps out at you is the technique," he says. "It's right there at the level of early Eminem, with amazing wordplay and compound rhymes. His speciality is couplets in which every syllable rhymes."

"I don't like any other Russian rappers," says Fyodorov. "Until now it has either been a cheap imitation of 'blackness' in a kind of Ali G way, or a completely absurd attempt to be different and Russian without respecting the art form – it oscillates between these two extremes." Given that he does not admire any of his countrymen, he has instead modelled his sound on the UK "grime" scene, honed during four years living in London after he left Oxford in 2008.

Some of his tracks, like "Russian Cockney", deal with his double life as a Russian living in London, while others focus on more universal human dilemmas. As his fame began to spread on the internet, the erudition and intellect in the lyrics won him friends among Moscow's intellectual class, and he played at a top Moscow festival this summer. "He's erudite but it's not a showy erudition like you get with some rappers," says Idov. "It's a genuine expression of who he is."

Despite the growing fame, he is not in a hurry to sign up to a major label. "Russia tends to monopolise everything, whether it's politics or culture, and there are only one or two major labels; I have no desire to co-operate with them at all."

The most dramatic incident of his rap career so far came when Fyodorov and a former rap partner were effectively taken hostage by a group of men who threatened them with a gun and forced them to apologise for insulting Roma Zhigan, a nationalist rapper who has written eulogistic lyrics about President Vladimir Putin.

"At least nobody got killed," says Fyodorov, who is reluctant to talk about the incident, noting that while he has patched things up with Zhigan, he is no longer on speaking terms with his former partner. The threat was real, he says, though so far the Russian rap scene has not proved as dangerous as the US rap disputes or even the UK grime scene. "Titch is in prison; Maniac is in for life for trying to kill his pregnant ex-girlfriend," he says, referring to two east London grime artists. "Russia is different in one way: it's possible to do this kind of shit and get away with it."

Oxxxymiron does not see himself as an "opposition rapper", unlike Noize MC, a well-known Russian singer who became popular among protesters against Vladimir Putin for a number of acerbic raps that lambasted Russian authorities for corruption and impunity. "I like Noize but I think any kind of art is devalued if it becomes political," claims Fyodorov. "Maybe it's even worse to be pro-Putin than to be anti-Putin but I don't like it either way."

He occasionally writes in English, but says does not want to record it, as he does not think it is good enough to stand out among the plethora of talented London grime artists. More importantly, he has to decide now which city he should call home – St Petersburg, Moscow or London. The British capital feels most like home, but with his rap career taking off so quickly, he feels it would be a lost opportunity not to stay in Russia.

What about his personal identity; is he more British or Russian? "I have no idea, mate," he shrugs. "What am I? I was born in Russia, grew up in Germany, studied in England. And on top of that a Jew. I'm a nomad, I guess. Time and money will decide where I end up."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'