Naming songs after public figures may seem to be the new wave, but a momentary look into rap music’s past will reveal a subculture-worthy trend for hip-hop culture’s tendency to remix – and hence reconfigure and raise awareness about – people in the public sphere by invoking their names, from Outkast’s ‘Rosa Parks‘, to, most recently, A$ap Ferg’s trap-leaning homage to Shabba Ranks.
This resurgence hasn’t left South Africa behind. After going head-to-head withL-Tido on last year’s ‘Julius Malema‘, Cassper Nyovest has, after multiple delays, unleashed ‘Doc Shebeleza‘, a high-powered musical dap to the South African kwaito music artist. Cassper’s is hungry for more, and makes a convincing argument throughout the song. He’s fighting for something bigger than him. He twitches with hunger pangs as he switches between a gang of flows, at times sounding like a cross between Lection and iFani’s long-lost Tswana twin. He even quotes Doc Shebeleza’s ‘Gets getsa‘ at the very beginning of the song, riffing “tlogela ngwan’o, mo tlogele” (meaning: leave that girl alone).
‘Gusheshe‘, his kasi-certified collaboration with Okmalumkoolkat, trampled all over the latter part of 2013’s South African hip-hop organogram. Judging from the response ‘Doc Shebeleza‘ has been getting at live shows, 2014 is set to be yet another noteworthy moment in Cassper’s ascendancy up the South African mainstream.
PS: According to the African Hip Hop Blog, “the song’s simple yet artistically impressive artwork managed to trend on South African Twitter when it was released last week.” My bet is on this guy’s success.
This song was released on the web two months ago. I missed it then, yet have heard it repeatedly at shows whereTumi performs it with Lebo Mochudi and members of his newly-formed live unit. The Volume wound seems to heal with every performance. “I may have lost my band, but I’m glad I kept my friends,” he tweeted shortly after announcing the break-up in December 2012.
Around February, he took flight and holed up in Paris to knock out some new music. He debuted the songs at festivals – Sakifo being one of them, bitter-sweet since that was where Tumi and the Volume first struck gold and landed that big French contract.
On June 16th this year, in front of an audience that had been entertained since the early afternoon by rappers like Reason and Yugen Blakrok, and a riotous and gifted vocalist Fifi (she’s worked with Molekane before), Tumi stepped up and performed the all-new songs. “Broke People” was among them, a lament for the living conditions of the marginalised in our society. It feels like 2007 all over again – Tumi’s at a show in Soweto on the same bill with a pre-Coca-Cola K’naan. He holds the mic, faces the audience and begins with the definitive “Freedom was never free!”
This, however, is a revamped Tumi. The beats feel different; the profile is bigger. He has other artists’ careers to consider through his Motif records imprint. He still tours the continent; he was in Kenya just the other week working with Just A Band. And in the midst of all of that outward glory, he’s still the poet/emcee who reflects on issues plaguing the “down-low, sharing-homes-with-cockroach people” , the “hospital-won’t-treat-you, go-and-die-alone people”.
This is Tumi and Samthing Soweto’s prayer, what the latter calls “the long, dry road”. This song should soundtrack the long queues on voting day come 2014, if only to serve as a reminder for yet another five years of injustice and repression.
On the 8th of June, 2013, rap supremo Reason stepped in front of a fully-packed hall at Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto for his Redubull Beat Battle set. Backed by his trustworthy assemblage of DJ ID on decks and forward-thinking producer 37MPH on the MPC, he went through songs with the angst of the gallant showman he’s become. When he was finished, he thanked the audience, got off the stage, and went back home to mourn for his son who had just passed away that very morning.
Few things go unsaid; people suffer immensely without uttering a word. One imagines that it’s worse for an entertainer whose sole purpose to make a living off of what they love – rapping, in Reason’s case. Regardless of the pain he may have been going through, the show had to go on.
“No sleep“, the Hopemasta-produced fire-starter which breathes life to Tumi Molekane’s “Motif don’t sleep all week” line, has been refurbished and now features a gang of Jozi-based rap talent, from Tumi to Ginger Trill to L-Tido and vocalist Moneoa. But it’s Reason’s verse which emerges as the most poignant, honest, and revealing of the lot. He raps about the perks which have resulted from his formal debut’s release over a year ago, confessing to “getting addicted to hearing good things” about himself and getting co-signs from middle-of-centre radio stations. He invites the listener into his world, a POV-version of his lucid dreams – dreams which he lives daily. But it is the homage to his son which rings well and true:
“I’m thinking the most I spent on my son was a funeral paid with rhyme schemes“
Reason, the family man, perhaps strives for the same ideals every parent wishes upon their child: good health, shelter, and good living. Additionally, and arguably most importantly, he would have one day wished to have his son in the audience while he performed. Alas, the unforgiving eventuality of death struck, rendering his wish in the process.
Maggz, a relatively ignored rapper in my canon of lyricists – along with the other gentlemen featured on this otherwise-average song – makes a grand entry of fastidious accuracy with his verse. His voice, hoarse in the beginning – an homage to the high-grade ganja he’s alluding to be smoking – resolves and becomes higher-pitched after the first four bars. “On beats (?) we owning these streets and that’s no damn lie!” he declares, busting wide open the gates of flurry and momentarily shattering the barriers of flow wizardry. Both AKA and Da LES get diminished, become non-entities in the captivating presence of Soweto’s own. Gone are the Jadakiss/Fabolous comparisons Maggz used to face (he affirmed them, actually). “I know SOWETO testify” he continues with enamouring sincerity, the quickfire parlance of his flow never abating. The listener gets an exclusive scoop into Jozi’s suburban urban existence as the master orator informs us that “for this balling shit we’ve got rings on.“
The ‘we‘ being referenced to is not immediately clear – could it be Jozi’s nouveau-riche?; BEE-beneficiaries?; Jozi thugs and their mini- empires?
Whatever the case, Maggz impresses with his high-precision flow, coupled with vivid portraits of snippets into Johannesburg’s nightlife. He offers exclusive access into it all – the sex, the weed and alcohol…the very trappings of South African youth in 2013. To some, it gets hard to reconcile this flagrant display of wealth with how the majority of this country’s citizens live. While there is a burgeoning middle class of black thinkers, doers and bullshitters, the other side of the tracks reveals a grimier, murkier underbelly of Mzansi. Which is why this song is perhaps necessary – to make people think about those disparities. And if not, then for the mere fact that it thumps hard in the club. I’ll stop now ☺