Since the arrival of hip hop on the continent, South Africa has birthed and housed some of the most notable African hip hop artists. As a leading nation in the African hip hop industry, South Africa is home to many notorious female emcees: from Gigi Lamayne to Yugen Blakrok. These women frequently utilize hip hop as a form of expression regarding political opinions, personal experiences, societal expectations, mental health awareness, and so much more. It is no surprise that top South African female hip hop artists speak about such issues – they have the platform and following to address controversial issues without the fear of sacrificing their success. However, it appears that young and up-and-coming female emcees are courageously rapping about these issues as well. Disregarding their platform following size, many women are sharing their experiences as South African women in hip hop. This mixtape focuses on young South African female artists (particularly those in “Generation Z”), who address the traditional societal expectations of African women. Traditional African gender roles emphasize the importance of motherhood and education for women. Women are expected to birth and raise children and/or attend university. It is not expected for a woman to enter a male-dominated industry, like hip hop. However, that is not stopping these women from following their own trajectory.
Hanna: Never Doubt
21-year-old Zimbabwe-born but South Africa-based hip hop artist Hanna (aka “The Girl in the Durag”) uses her keen interest in soundscapes to express her “hopefulness” and “belief” in her song Never Doubt. Throughout the song, one can feel and hear Hanna’s confidence through her use of braggadocio with lines such as “You can’t contest that I been dope” and “Now I’m on music, chasing producers.” However, if you pay close attention to the lyrics, you can locate some of Hanna’s doubts about her presence in the industry as a young female rapper. With lines like “Can’t forget the reason that I started this,” and “Wonder how my body functions when I put my heart into this,” Hanna reveals she questions her value as a female hip hop artist. Later in Never Doubt, Hanna indicates this is due to the societal pressure of pursuing a more traditional career path through university. As a student at the University of Cape Town, it is no surprise Hanna feels “Education’s always pushing me like, ‘You should call it quits.’” Hanna’s commitment to hip hop directly counteracts the traditional expectation of a young African woman attending university to obtain a corporate occupation and raise money for her family. While there is little doubt Hanna’s talent will push her towards great success in the hip hop industry, she may always carry doubts about pursuing a traditional career path, due to traditional societal expectations regarding education.
Indigo Stella: Boss Up
19-year-old Johannesburg based female rapper, Indigo Stella showcases her family’s doubts and criticisms about her chosen career path (hip hop) in her song, Boss Up. With the lines “My mom’s got a problem with the rap thing (True),” and “My pops feeling guilty cause he sang man,” it is clear her family has concerns regarding her hip hop career. These concerns stem from the career of a hip hop artist misaligning with societal expectations of African women. Whether it be the instability of a career in hip hop, or the male-dominated presence, African women are not expected (or heavily supported) to enter the hip hop industry. However, Indigo Stella combats these expectations in Boss Up with the lines “Ahead of my time I sit on my own.” She understands hip hop success is not traditionally expected of her. But this boss is not going to let that stop her.
Patty Monroe: Fighter
Furthermore, 25-year-old Cape Town-based female rapper, Patty Monroe, elaborates on her childhood and its effect in her song, Fighter. In the first verse of Fighter, Monroe speaks about her mother’s experience in motherhood. Her father died before Monroe was 9 years old, and her mother raised her as a single mom. Monroe mentions her mom’s “Hustlin’ to keep us alive,” and Monroe’ goal to “Pass life with honors.” This line directly references the societal expectation of pursuing an education to provide for one’s family. However, Monroe continues on, revealing her father’s death made her realize she had to make the most of her life, as it was not a guarantee. This inspired Monroe to pursue her dreams and “Find a closed-door, find a wall to climb,” in the hip hop industry. While hip hop is Monroe’s passion, she understands her journey was going to be difficult and not many opportunities would come her way, due to society’s disapproval of female rappers. Her inspirational upbringing, motivated Monroe to begin rapping. Given Monroe’s sheer talent and unique authenticity, it is no surprise she “Paid my mom’s rent and all I do is rhyme.” While Monroe has achieved success, these societal barriers still exist. But Monroe continues to fight against them.
Venus Raps: War Cry
Next, young Johannesburg-based female rapper, Venus, highlights her journey into the South African hip hop scene as a woman in her song, War Cry. With her original story-telling lyrics combined with muted beats, Venus elevates her message in War Cry. She describes her decision to begin rapping was “conscious” and she “tried to follow the vision.” This lyric depicts her decision to pursue hip hop was not normal or “unconscious.” Due to society’s disapproval of women in hip hop, Venus knowingly chooses this career path as a difficult one. In addition to this, Venus references traditional societal expectations of African women in War Cry through the lines “Odds against me Worlds against me,” as she entered the hip hop scene. Venus was not expected to pursue a life in the South African hip hop scene; she was expected to attend university, care for her family, and/or pursue motherhood. These societal pressures create low “odds” for African women to enter and succeed in hip hop. Furthermore, Venus visually depicts these societal expectations in the music video for War Cry. During the verses in War Cry, Venus raps in the middle of a busy, city street. It appears as if she could get hit by a moving vehicle. These cars drive towards her, but never seem to injure or hit Venus. Her focus never shifts towards the cars and she remains focused on the audience – much like her disregard for traditional societal expectations of African women. Venus’ focus on her craft is admirable and an inspiration to other young African women questioning their entrance and/or presence in the hip hop industry.
Nyota Parker: Transcend
Finally, 20-year-old South African hip hop artist, Nyota Parker promotes nonconformity in her song Transcend. With lines such as, “Why is bringing gender in The only way your eyes can see,” challenging the cis-gender conformity in modern society, Parker showcases the important issue of fluid gender identity. While South Africa is the only country in Africa with legal protections for transgender aslyum seekers, many other African nations do not share similar views on gender identity. In traditional societal expectations for African women, fluid gender identity is not accepted. Parker recognizes her female gender, but she doesn’t want her identity to fall under traditional societal expectations for African women. This perspective is showcased in lines such as “Did you notice I did not say female?” and “I don’t need Anyone to dictate who I am besides me.” Parker preaches to her audience to remain grounded in themselves and “Just don’t let a fella bring your gender into industry”. Parker’s nonconforming vision inspires her audience to not conform to traditional societal expectations and to be their true self.
Based on their personal experience, each woman comments on the criticism and opinions they have received from entering the hip hop industry as a woman. Whether it be personal catharsis or desire to ignite change, these women courageously speak about their frustrations with traditional societal expectations for African women in their music. They all inspire their audiences to reject such expectations and pursue their passions. With this new wave of South African female artists, “Out with the old, and in with the new” could not be more fitting to describe this nonconformity theme.
Link to Mixtape: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIOvvnfnpZnjcKuyCaW0xx2V8IJ6bZoPa