Ben Sharpa was a prominent South African rapper who was active in the mid-2000s. He was originally born in Soweto in 1977 during the apartheid in South Africa. His family escaped suppressive apartheid regime by moving to Illinois, Chicago, but they moved back to South Africa in 1993 when the apartheid ended with the first democratic election in the country. Having moved back to South Africa, Sharpa established himself as an undercover hip hop artist. One of the songs he produced was Hegemony. In this song, he provides a social commentary on police brutality in South Africa. He criticizes how under the suppressive and brutal South African police, people have no protection. For example, the lyrics go,
“Why?… do we have a police protection service
When?… their duty is to snatch me and arrest my person
Who?…the usual suspect, verbal Kaiser Sose
What?… doing what I must to get by the whole day”
This is the hook of the song, which is very catchy. Through this hook, Sharpa summarizes what his song will be. He explains what the song will be about, which is a harsh life of living daily life without police protection as a black man. His reference to the movie Usual Suspect and its character Kaiser Sose are witty. By saying this line, he is referring police as Kaiser Sose, who is the person who acts innocent, but at the end turns out to be the main antagonist in the film Usual Suspect. The second verse of the song contains a heartfelt message as Sharpa describes the perspective of white police. The lyrics go,
“They don’t care if he’s a hero like Steven Biko.
Or high strung on a killing spree, like Asanda Baninzi.
Cops all over the city ready lock you if you’re dark-skinned
Easy for the Boer to moer you if you look poor and got comments.”
Steven Biko is an anti-apartheid activist who died in a prison after he was locked for breaking apartheid travel ban in 1977. He is considered a hero among the anti-apartheid activists. On the other hand, Asanda Baninzi is a South African serial killer who was sentenced to 19 life sentences after he committed 14 murders, 4 rapes and 2 bank robberies in 2001. However, according to Sharpa, for South Africa’s white police, Biko and Baninzi are the same as long as they are black. In other words, as long as a person is black, he or she needs to be ready to be locked up because of his or her skin. This reflects the sad reality of South Africa’s social conditions. Even though the apartheid may have ended, institutional racism still exists and black people are not protected. This sounds extremely similar to police brutality and racial discrimination controversy with police in the United States.
Unfortunately, in 2018, Ben Sharpa passed away aged 41 from diabetes. Rest In Peace Ben.