We’ve come a long way homie. This is what I wanted to tell the laaitie in Braamfontein who had lured me in with the promise of some indoor, but was now passing me some Swazi while simultaneously telling me how dope of a rapper he is. When we talk about “kids these days won’t understand” we usually mention things like Martin, or beepers, or who Danny K is and how he became a star (no disrespect to Danny). What this new generation of hip hop fans don’t understand is the meteoric rise of hip hop. These kids won’t know what its like to not have your genre taken seriously (Cape Town can still relate). They won’t know what its like be hated on by the ENTIRE House community. Even as recently as 5 years ago, the head of one of Joburg’s most prominent radio stations declared internally that Hip Hop was dead and Dub Step was the future. Word on the street is that this guy is now doing Chad the Don Don’s dishes (He got the riches).
How did we get from a time 7 years ago when L-Tido’s “Rolling” and Prokid’s “Sekele” were the only local songs you’d hear in an entire night of clubbing to asking yourself is this the 6th time tonight Speedy has dropped “Mayo”? For those of us in the trenches it wasn’t an easy progression making the population at large like what we loved. Along the way, these 5 records were in my opinion, the most influential to getting us to where we are today.
5. Emtee – “Roll Up”
Yes, “Roll Up” was a smash and yeah, taxi drivers bumped the hell out of it, but none of that was groundbreaking. With the success of Emtee’s lead single, he ushered in what I refer to as the “Steroid Era” of South African Hip Hop. This is defined as the beginning of big money investments in Hip Hop. Prior to this song, artists were still represented by small successful teams with limited resources partnered with traditional record labels. Emtee and Ambitiouz came and fucked all that up. Ambitiouz gave rise to Mbala Noise and all of a sudden the levels of money being dropped into projects, features, videos, and awards achieved levels of obscenity. In some ways it fucked up the playing field, but at the same time it gave more artists the resources to achieve heights previously reserved for the few. No disrespect to Fifi Cooper, but do you think she could have gotten so far so quickly without the backing of a machine with endless pockets? Would a little known rapper from Durban be able to score a feature with Tyger? These types of interventions come with a mixed bag of both baby dicks and jelly tots, but the impact on the genre is undeniable.
4. AKA – “Composure”
The AKA – Cassper feud will go down as one of the hallmark moments of South African Hip Hop and “Composure” was it’s pinnacle. The rivalry pushed the boundries of the genre to new heights and propelled both artists to superstar level. Everyone tuned into pop culture was forced to choose a side and superfans were created. At the very peak of this beef, AKA delivered not only a diss song, but a classic song. Nicki Minaj once said “We don’t do diss records, we drop Hit records and diss you on them”. “Composure” is the perfect example of this quote. While the song takes shots at Cassper, they aren’t the overt insulting that comes with most diss tracks instead delivering subtle digs wrapped in solid bars. The narrative of the song was more about AKA than the subject, Cassper. Five years from now, people are gonna have to google Cassper’s response, but will be able to sing along to “Thats the whole problem with you new school cats” thus preserving the contribution that both Cassper and AKA made to elevating Hip Hop to the next level.
3. K.O. feat. Kid X – “Caracara”
The early years of this era (2011 – 2013) saw Hip Hop defined in SA by the high end. The parties were in Sandton or Rosebank and the aspirations were champagne and chains. While AKA was rocking suits, Cashtime brought it back to sports jerseys and bucket hats. Cassper consistently repped the hood, but “Caracara” redefined township Hip Hop and made the genre associable to the largest population in South Africa & was the first SA Hip Hop video to reach a million views on YouTube.
2. Khuli Chana – “Mnatebawen”
It ain’t my favourite Khuli Chana song, but it was his most influential. Kids today will see House cats rocking Jordans and be fooled by Ricky Rik headlining a Vetkoek and Mahoota show and not understand how Hip Hop and House used to be like Oil and Water. Once upon a time, House vs. Hip Hop nights were actually considered creative. These kids won’t know how we would have to sit through 3 hours of Deep House (that’s like 5, maybe 6 songs) just to hear an hour of Hip Hop. We can thank “Mnatebawen” for being the Hip Hop lube for the House community at large. I don’t know what it was about that catchy hook that even managed to get gogo’s in the hood singing along, but all of a sudden you started seeing Khuli’s name popping up on House events in places like Bronkerspruit. Dude would literally be surrounded by an all House lineup.
1. AKA – “Victory Lap”
I rank this as the not only the most important song of the modern era of Hip Hop in South Africa, but also credit it with launching the era itself. How many of ya’ll thought “Is this local?” the first time you heard it on radio? I admit I did. The Da Les shout out was the only thing that gave it away. The video was fresh and AKA delivered respectable rhymes with a swagger and delivery that would define one of the continent’s biggest artists.
Cassper Nyovest – “Phumakim” – Brought Datafile Host to the mainstream
DJ Dimplez – “Toast” – Started the era of DJ hosted songs in South Africa
Khuli Chana – “Tswa Daar”
Showed that authentic sounding Hip Hop can still have commercial appeal in an era dominated by the latest trap sounds & helped influence hits such DJ Switch’s “Now Or Never,” Reason’s – “Yipikiyay” & Shane Eagle’s “Julia” with a traditional boom bap sound.
*Written By: Akio Kawahito*