Rap, East To West


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Canberk Oguz, "Son of Sochi" (All photos courtesy Adrian Amador)

If you were ranking forms of writing likely to inspire a teenager to do more of his own writing, poetry would probably be dead last. Yet, were it not for a freshman poetry class, one Verona High School senior might never have found himself onstage as a rapper. A rapper determined to be a voice of positive change and not that of mindless violence.

Canberk Oguz (his name is actually pronounced something like JON-bek Ohz) was born in Turkey and emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was a toddler. They lived in Clifton for a time, and moved to Verona in 2005. In his freshman year at VHS, the school held an emotional assembly on Ryan Halligan, a Vermont teenager who committed suicide after relentless bullying. After the assembly, Oguz was handed a poetry assigment and the verbal floodgates opened.

“I went into poetry for a few months,” he recalls. “I wrote a really long one and my friends said, ‘Why don’t you do a rap about it?’ ”

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Oguz started listening to a lot of rap music and discovered pretty quickly that most of it wasn’t worth recording. But a few rappers, like Macklemore and Lupe Fiasco, provided inspiration and a belief that the music could serve other purposes. He wrote songs like “Old Friend” about the havoc that drugs can wreak on a teenage life:

“Changes, for better or for worse;
Inevitably happen but for me it really hurts;
We used to be so chill, the embodiment of life;
But then you started popping pills and you threw away your life.”

But some of his songs–and his rap persona–are rooted in events that happened miles and decades away from Verona. In 1864, Russian soldiers exterminated or exiled an ethnic group called the Ubykh from the eastern side of the Black Sea, an area now dominated by the Russia city of Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Many of those who escaped wound up in Turkey, Oguz’ ancestors among them. As a rapper, Oguz calls himself “Son Of Sochi” and his YouTube channel displays a graphic meant to convey that he does not believe that a major athletic event should be taking place in that city. “You wouldn’t hold the World Cup in Auschwitz”, he says tersely. Every. May 21, the date on which the last Ubykhs were driven from Sochi, he goes to the Russian consulate in New York City to protest and to call on the United Nations to recognize Russia’s actions as genocide.

While the teenager says that his political views are neither right nor left, he believes in the need to point out when wrongs need to be righted. Here’s an excerpt from “Domestic Business”, a song he performs in the video below.

“Acts of violence, calls of distress;
Hatred from silence, political unrest;
Stand in defiance, hand upon chest;
Lessen reliance, begin the conquest”

Oguz says his New Year’s resolution was to perform as a solo artist in as many places as possible this year. He’s already been at Talent Night and at the Cops & Rockers show. In addition, he’ll be performing with an Ubykh dance group and as Jack Zachowski in the VHS spring musical “Fame”. He’s got an offer to record in the studio of Verona musician George Cortese and he hopes to enter “Old Friend” in Shout Down Drugs, a contest sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

“If I stop one person from doing drugs or going into a gang,” says Oguz, “I couldn’t ask for more.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


  1. Hello, I would like to clarify the facts. The May 21st protest is for the circassian genocide and the circassian people that reside in the Caucasus of Russia. Canberk is karachay, also Turkish decendent. He gave u wrong information. His not from Sochi,also his jumping on the No Sochi olympics bandwagon and his against the 2014 Winter Olympics.
    just go on google and google Circassians.

  2. Kay,
    There is much more to say about the Circassian people, and indeed volumes have been written about them and their struggles. I needed to compress several centuries of geopolitical turmoil into one paragraph for a readership largely not from that region and chose to present the information the way I did. Canberk does not, as I make clear in the story, claim to be from Sochi. There are many groups around the U.S. that call themselves the “Sons Of” or “Daughters Of” something to show their solidarity with a group or a cause. His rap name should be read in that light.

  3. Correction….I’m not karachay. I’m Ubykh (I would Know). I have no Turkish blood though I was born there. And I did not give her wrong information =D

  4. kay, please do not discourage anyone from their political discourse. canberk is circassian, an active one at that. his work is appreciated and there is no need to potentially detract people from a movement with your harsh words. thanks canberk


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