HHAP Episode 19: Quentin Williams on Multilingualism & Hip Hop in South Africa

This episode, South African hip hop scholar and sociolinguist Dr. Quentin Williams discusses his new book Remix Multilingualism: Hip Hop, Ethnography and Performing Marginalized Voice (Bloomsbury Press). 

Dr. Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the Linguistics Department at the University of Western Cape. He has published papers and book chapters on the performance of multilingualism, popular cultural practices (specifically Hip Hop), agency and voice in urban multilingual spaces. In addition to the book we’ll be discussing today, he is also currently editing the book Kaapse Styles: Hip Hop Art & Activism in Cape Town, South Africa.

Dr. Williams has been writing on language and hip hop in South Africa for several years, and has extensive credibility within South Africa’s well established hip hop community. Dr. Williams’ research and work has also made valuable contributions to the field of linguistics.  

In this interview we discuss the book, Dr. Williams research on South African hip hop, and ultimately his place as a Coloured man from the Cape Flats in one of the oldest and largest hip hop scenes in Africa. 

Episode Breakdown

6:24 – Being a hip hop sociolinguist & self reflection in the book.
7:50 – The arena of freestyle rap battles
11:35 – His work with the group Suburban Menace
16:05 – Hip hop research and scholarship, & the responsibility to the subjects of the research
22:43 – His experiences in the Cape Flats township of Bishop Lavis during hip hop’s days of hip hop, during the last years of the anti-apartheid struggle
29:10 – Relationships between Black & Coloured hip hop heads
38:05 – Different hip hop language varieties in South Africa
39:40 – Braggadocio, and its place and purpose in hip hop
45:00 – Masculinity & toughness in hip hop
49:24 – Dr. Williams concept of “Body Rap”, respectability politics, the pornification of hip hop culture, & rape culture within hip hop culture*
58:12 – Women navigating masculine hip hop spaces
1:07:44 – The diverse audiences that this book speaks to

*Dr. Williams defines Body Rap as “a sub-genre of local rap, where the overarching theme in the lyrics is the sexualization and often the denigration of women’s bodies, performed for the pleasure of men”.

This episode, South African hip hop scholar and sociolinguist Dr. Quentin Williams discusses his new book Remix Multilingualism: Hip Hop, Ethnography and Performing Marginalized Voice (Bloomsbury Press).

Dr. Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the Linguistics Department at the University of Western Cape. He has published papers and book chapters on the performance of multilingualism, popular cultural practices (specifically Hip Hop), agency and voice in urban multilingual spaces. In addition to the book we’ll be discussing today, he is also currently co-editing the book Kaapse Styles: Hip Hop Art & Activism in Cape Town, South Africa.

Dr. Williams has been writing on language and hip hop in South Africa for several years, and has extensive credibility within South Africa’s well established hip hop community. Dr. Williams’ research and work has also made valuable contributions to the field of linguistics.

In this interview we discuss the book, Dr. Williams research on South African hip hop, and ultimately his place as a Coloured man from the Cape Flats in one of the oldest and largest hip hop scenes in Africa.

Episode Breakdown


6:24 – Being a hip hop sociolinguist & self reflection in the book.
7:50 – The arena of freestyle rap battles
11:35 – His work with the group Suburban Menace
16:05 – Hip hop research and scholarship, & the responsibility to the subjects of the research
22:43 – His experiences in the Cape Flats township of Bishop Lavis during hip hop’s days of hip hop, during the last years of the anti-apartheid struggle
29:10 – Relationships between Black & Coloured hip hop heads
38:05 – Different hip hop language varieties in South Africa
39:40 – Braggadocio, and its place and purpose in hip hop
45:00 – Masculinity & toughness in hip hop
49:24 – Dr. Williams concept of “Body Rap”, respectability politics, the pornification of hip hop culture, & rape culture within hip hop culture*
58:12 – Women navigating masculine hip hop spaces
1:07:44 – The diverse audiences that this book speaks to


*Dr. Williams defines Body Rap as “a sub-genre of local rap, where the overarching theme in the lyrics is the sexualization and often the denigration of women’s bodies, performed for the pleasure of men”.

Author: Msia Kibona Clark

Associate Professor in the African Studies Department at Howard University. Professor of the course Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa. Researcher and photographer of hip hop in Africa.

2 thoughts on “HHAP Episode 19: Quentin Williams on Multilingualism & Hip Hop in South Africa”

  1. Another interesting episode – thank you.

    As you were discussing briefly whether or not there have been some sort of specific name people have referred to rap in Zulu, there were a few things that came to mind. I may be wrong, but my understanding is that initially especially from Gauteng area the rap was in Tsotsitaal which mixes all dominant languages there and Zulu of course is ever present, and it was a kind of branding mission of the Tswana emcees to create the Motswako to separate it from this. These, would you call them sub-genres and if you did, would the Hip-Hop heads like that, of course indicate language, but also just from a pragmatic point of view attempt to corner a market. At least some people seem to have that kind of approach if it’s not too cynical to say that. So you had your Prokid and to be honest, even Kwaito artists like Zola were often rapping on their Kwaito songs and it was Zulu. Then of course famously Zulu Boy especially on his second album “Inqolobane” referred to his Maskandi influenced record as SkandiHop which was supposedly a term created by him.. That reference was not so much about the language, but a style of music which is traditionally a Zulu music. Zakwe also came after him on the same label if my memory serves me well (Native Rhythms) as ZuluBoy has become a household name elsewhere his rap ambitions seem to be on hiatus.

    Obviously there are tons of people who will be able to assess the situation better, but the conversation was engaging so I wanted to throw in my few pennies.

    But these are slightly beside the main points of the podcast which I very much enjoyed. Just thought sharing. M

    Liked by 1 person

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