Setting A New Path “Ablaze” in Hip Hop

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The group Godessa carve out for themselves a new sound and scene that is for women and by women. The three of them speak into the world their thoughts and beliefs without any limitation. Their intention: to tackle social issues from a female perspective.

The first female group to break through the South African hip-hop scene, Godessa occupies a special place. The group’s members are Shemeema, EJ Von Lyrik, and Burni, and each of the three of them makes valuable contributions to the group. One is an emcee. The other two are famous for their spoken word poetry that ties into hip hop rhythms. The last is an MC that ties everything together. The members themselves diversify hip hop and by identifying as women in a hypermasculine culture. They remain and create an authentic space for themselves that did not exist before. This lends to their credibility as hip hop artists.

In the group’s video for “Mind Ablaze,” the trio perform as secret agents in an alternate Cape Town, South Africa world. As the three cartooned hip hop artists receive missions in an office under a record store, we get the message in the lyrics as to how their music is a platform for the way they choose to express themselves and their unique identities. In similar works such as “Social Ills,” the artists intend to progress South African society by critiquing the ways the social systems try to force its citizens to conform into one way of thinking. Instead of following those conventional ways, the trio continues to extinguish “evil” through their music, proving how hip hop’s popularity as a genre of music can offer socially conscious artists a large platform in which to share their music. Although Godessa has since disbanded, their music and honest commentary on the social issues they faced will not be forgotten.

Burni Aman’s website:

“All Eyes On Me”

“All Eyes On Me” is another song about the upbringing of the South African rapper, AKA’s, thriving music career. Here, he partners with other African artists—Burna Boy, JR, and Da L.E.S—in an upbeat dance song. The video shows the four men hosting a pool party, flashing their fancy lives and lots of money, girls twerking all around them. 

            While AKA is a more mainstream artists, well known throughout America, you can still see a heavy sense of African pride in his music and videos. In this song, particularly, African pride is shown through the chorus of the song when Burna Boy sings, “it’s a robbery…”, telling his audience how they [meaning African rappers] are stealing the rap game from all other rappers. This song seems particularly like a jab at American rappers due to the fact that, in the pre-hook, the artist says “Niggas ain’t running anymore now”. Because the N-word is not commonly used in African language, and was picked up by American influence, this leads one to think that the “niggas” Burna Boy refers to are American rappers—people who use the word more fluidly. 

            It is very ironic the multiple jabs AKA, as well as these other African artists, make about American artists, especially because of how much they tend to use American culture. Just like in American rap videos, a lot of African rap videos tend to be at parties, where men flash they’re nice clothes, jewelry, and tons of money with a bunch of naked women by their side. Because African rap is used as more of the way to bring about change politically, economically, and culturally, I do not personally see how his music could be identified as African rap. It seems like more unknown artist tend to rap about what is important, while this one in particular only raps about who he is and how much better he is than everyone else. With his type of influence, it maybe best to rap more about some of Africa’s issues and what they may need, while bringing attention to it through his music. His music seems more like “good time music”, which American rappers tend to lead towards more.

M.I. Abaga’s unapologetic stance on the state of contemporary Nigerian Rap

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is known on the music scene for its Afrobeats genre boasting a lot of Africa’s music heavyweights including Burna boy, Wizkid and Davido, to name a few. However, it has a long history of rap/hip hop music with several notable artists including mode 9ine, Eedris Abdulkareem, Da Grin, Jesse Jagz, Weird MC, etc.

In the past decade, the rap scene has enjoyed less airplay and sales compared to the ever burgeoning Afrobeats scene which has seen several rap artists ‘dilute’ their sound to be commercially viable and popular. This dilution takes place in different forms but most popularly in singing more than rapping or having bars, or making the focus of their music on dance rhythms and beats rather than contents. Fortunately, we have had M.I. Abaga (Mr. Incredible, The Chairman) holding the rap fort for the better part of a decade. Described by many as Nigeria’s “Hip Hop Messiah”, and with over 4 critically acclaimed album including his debut album Talk About It (2008), M.I. helped show rap could still be a popular genre that can still sell in Nigeria. He has also been instrumental in gaining exposure for many upcoming artists including Wizkid, Ice Prince and Jesse Jagz. Internationally acclaimed, he has received awards from MTV Africa Music Awards and was also nominated for Best International Act at the BET Awards in 2010.

In his most controversial music video to date- You Rappers should Fix up your Lives- M.I. comes at the younger, upcoming rappers in the Nigerian Rap Scene albeit without mentioning anyone by name. He alludes to the fact he’s been top of the game for so long and should be retiring but can’t because none of the current rappers are inspiring or attempting to address the many ills in Nigerian society. He laments that the Nigerian Rap scene is getting bossed by its counterparts from South Africa, who many would say boasts the continent’s top rappers as of right now including AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Anatii, etc. Since MI, there hasn’t been another breakthrough rapper on the Nigerian rap scene and the Chairman knows this and takes shots at everyone. Silver lining of the video despite the backlash and social media fervor, the video promoted conversation and sparked many cyphers on the same topic. Several young rappers also took up his challenge and made their own versions of the song on the same beat, proving that despite the picture, Nigeria’s rap scene remains burgeoning and ripe.

Social media Links: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. M.I. also has his own music label called Chocolate Music.

Tumi Molekane-Once Upon A Time

Tumi Molekane is a South African hip hop artist who mainly performs in Soweto, South Africa. He is originally from Tanzania, a country where his parents exiled to escape the apartheid in South Africa. However, Tumi went back to South Africa when he was 11 years old. He is now a prominent hip hop artist, known for producing songs with conscious lyrics. For example, in a song called Once Upon A Time, Tumi collaborates with Chinese Man, a French hip hop band. In this song, Tumi tells his version of African history through creative historical references and wordplay. For example,

“Once upon a time in this great land
European settlers would set off on a cave man quest
Dutch king summoning Jan Van Beek…
The rest was Queen Elizabeth conquest
As portrayed quite well by Cate Blanchett
Great actress, wait I may digress!
Before that was pyramids and villages where pigmy little man and other such denizens rest”

In the above lyrics, Tumi is referring Jan van Riebeeck, who is a Dutch explorer who went to Cape Town to establish a Dutch Cape Colony in the 17th century. In the next line, Tumi is referring to how the British Empire colonized South Africa on the behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. He then references Cate Blanchett for playing Queen Elizabeth I in the film Elizabeth. The question is why might he say the actress’ name if he knows he is digressing? This is because the word “Blanchett” and the word “conquest” are slant rhymes. Moreover, on the last two lines, Tumi refers to the indigenous population as “pigmy little man” and “denizens”. The words satirically reflect what the Europeans had viewed of the native population when they first came to South Africa. In the next verse, Tumi says

“Break a law, take a farm you get our your acres I’d sooner root for
That than a handout with arms embargo
 It’ll be my own Zimbabwe so Colin Powell will swallow my bow
And arrow and follow that”

Through these lyrics, Tumi touches upon a land appropriation issue in South Africa and says it could be radicalized like Zimbabwe.  He then says how Colin Powell, which represents the U.S., could impose arms embargo on South Africa by “swallowing bows and arrows”.

Tumi through the two verses, touches upon the past and present issues of South Africa. He then ultimately pays homage to his country as he sings,

“Bring out the marching band
Let’ em play an anthem for our continent”

Resistance and Community in Dope Saint Jude’s “Grrrl Like”

The color black is so powerful. That is the thought that comes to mind when I first watched South African artist Dope Saint Jude in her video “Grrrl Like.”


The first scenes in the video reveal a group of women standing together, preparing its viewers for the overall message in Dope’s female-centered single. Poet Audre Lorde often talks about the importance of “defining and empowering” in her work when discussing how people can learn to appreciate how each individual is different. It is also important when talking about beauty standards and nonconforming and marginalized communities. The people surrounding her in the video all wore black to signify that they were united. However, a closer look would reveal that each one of the individuals was expressed themselves differently by their body piercings, hairstyle, and jewelry. The imagery conveys that to simply “be” can bring about resistance in itself.

Dope executes her verses in a confident, striking, and compelling manner. In an interview with Elle magazine, she mentions M.I.A., Major Lazor, and Santigold as influences in this particular track. In addition, she explains that the term “Grrl” originated from the feminist punk movement and that she uses the term to refer to “Anyone who identifies with femininity and grrrlhood.” Her decision reveals the importance of inclusivity of people who may not be considered to fit society’s standards of being female. The result of Dope’s creativity: a space to celebrate the uniqueness of those in her community.

In her lyrics, she describes herself like her mom, Madonna, and Michelle Obama, giving the audience insight into the women that inspire her:

“I’m like my mama

Sometimes it’s drama

Forget the karma

Might hear me holla

Reverse Madonna (that me)

My bike’s a Honda (that me)

Michelle Obama (that me)

You feel me holla”

Dope Saint Jude’s work often challenges gender norms, racism, body politics, and classicism. By mentioning a wide range of examples of iconic and accomplished women, she reveals that her identity is limitless. This contrasts the narrow images that are often portrayed in mainstream hip hop music, adding an interesting and more inclusive depiction of womanhood, “grrrlhood,” and femininity.

Dope Saint Jude’s social media:







Prophets Of Da City-Neva Again

Prophets Of Da City was a Hip Hop group in South Africa from 1988 to 2001. The group consisted of three rappers, Ready D, Shaheen and Ramone, the three black South Africans who lived in the discriminatory apartheid era.  The rappers, having been social outcasts during the apartheid era were renowned for producing songs with lyrics which commentated social and political conditions of South Africa. For example, one of the songs the Prophets of Da City produced was Neva Again, a song which produced in 1994, a year in which the apartheid regime collapsed. As such, the lyrics of the song are full of hope. The song begins with Nelson Mandela, proclaiming the end of the apartheid regime by saying in his speech, “Never and Never Again shall it be that this beautiful land shall again experience the oppression of one by another”. The song congratulates Nelson Mandela, calling him “Excellent, Finally a black president” and commemorates revolutionaries all over the world who continue to fight against the oppressors by saying it is dedicated to those “who are down with the revolution, all over the world  and never snoozing…who are down with a struggle G,even when things got ugly”. After this reflexive tone, the song changes to hope. It jubilantly exclaims

“Africa rejoice, raise your fists , raise your voice.

Africa bring the noise cause you’ve gotta make THE CHOICE.

Cause ever since the oppressor came here he messed up Azania

Made ya slaves and he even  raped ya,

But I made my x on the paper, so mr oppressor I guess I’ll see your ass later alligator.”

The lyrics here are noteworthy because of three reasons. First, the content is jovial and hopeful as it tells Africa to be happy, to rise up and to make a strong presence because “the oppressor” is gone. Second, the lyrics rhyme; rejoice-voice-noise-choice, Azania-ya, oppressor-alligator, making the song catchy and rhythmic. Third, the artist mentions the word “Azania” in the song. This is actually what the Ancient Greeks had called when they referred to parts of Southern Africa. The word Azania may have been used to vividly portray the time when Africa was under the European subordination.

Prophets of Da City through the song Neva Again says how South Africa is liberated from the European oppressors and declares that the country would not be oppressed again.

Neva Again!

HHAP Episode 25: Klein Fortuin on Hip Hop in Mitchells Plain & Rock the Mic

This conversation with Rock the Mic winner, and Cape Town MC Klein Fortuin took place at the Trinity International Hip Hop Festival at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in April 2018. Klein Fortuin won the Rock the Mic competition held by Heal the Hood, a Cape Town based hip hop community organization. 

In the conversation Klein Fortuin talks about his career and hip hop in the Mitchells Plain township in Cape Town, South Africa, which is home to a legendary hip hop scene and the birthplace of South African hip hop. Klein Fortuin talks about what makes that township such an epicenter for hip hop culture in South Africa.

Klein Fortuin also talks about his win in Heal the Hood’s Rock the Mic competition and commercial and underground rap scenes in South Africa.

Klein Fortuin is on SoundCloud ( and Facebook (

Continue reading “HHAP Episode 25: Klein Fortuin on Hip Hop in Mitchells Plain & Rock the Mic”

HHAP Episode 24: Free Speech, Censorship, and Protest in China and South Africa

This podcast is the panel discussion titled “Free Speech, Censorship and Protest”, that was held at the 13th annual Trinity International Hip Hop Festival at Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut. The discussion addressed issues of censorship and free speech in hip hop, in both China and South Africa. The artists discussed their own careers in hip hop, and hip hop culture in their countries.

The panel featured 

MC Puos, a Chinese artist based in Shanghai. He is a co-founder of Bang, China’s 1st hip hop magazine, and a founding member of the hip hop collective DDM. He also launched a startup education technology company to promote hip hop culture in China, and recently released a documentary on hip hop in China.
Dana Burton (@DetroitShowtyme), an American artist based in Shanghai. After leaving Detroit for China, he became involved in the hip hop scene in China and created Iron Mike, a national rap battle that takes place in China.
Emile YX (@EmileYX), a South African artist based in Cape Town. He is a member of the pioneering hip hop group Black Noise, and is the founder of the hip hop based community organization Heal the Hood.
The panel was moderated by Dr. Msia Kibona Clark (@kibona), from Howard University

Continue reading “HHAP Episode 24: Free Speech, Censorship, and Protest in China and South Africa”

Ms. Nthabi’s “Broken Silence”

South Africa’s Ms. Nthabi 🇿🇦 has just released the mixtape “Broken Silence” on SoundCloud. Ms. Nthabi is an established emcee, and it’s good to hear her back. She has established a reputation as both a lyricist and spoken word artist. It’s not easy finding her previous stuff online, but you can find some of her powerful spoken word performances via Google searches. With a career that has expanded more than a decade, Ms. Nthabi is one of the artists newer generations of emcees often cite as a source of inspiration. Her new mixtape, “Broken Silence” is one of the few projects she’s released in a long time. It’s a 6-track, introspective project that blends her lyricism & spoken word skills. The songs address her experiences in the industry and her personal journey, offering some insight into what may have accounted for her hiatus from rap. Women are an important part of a recent surge of dope lyricism and strong hip hop content coming out of South Africa, content that departs from the country’s commercial hip hop scene. Content that is getting increasing international attention. This environment is positive for hip hop culture in SouthAfrica & may have influenced Ms. Nthabi’s new release. The mixtape can be found on SoundCloud.

13th Trinity International Hip Hop Festival: Panel Discussion: “Free Speech, Censorship and Protest”

Hip hop, music genre developed in the 1970s by inner-city African Americans from the Bronx, New York city, consists of conscious lyrics which often bluntly address social, political, or economic issues. The nature of hip hop is explicit, authentic, and genuine, and now after decades of diffusion and cultural spreading, the art form perseveres to survive even in areas where censorship and limitation of expression run deep. On April 6th 2018, during the Panel Discussion: “Free Speech, Censorship and Protest” at the 13th Trinity International Hip Hop Festival, Howard University’s Dr. Msia Kibona Clark moderated a group of hip hop artists from all over the world who discussed the condition of media censorship of hip hop in the realm of social change and political discourse.

Dana Burton, a hip hop pioneer and influencer in China asserts that the supposed ban on hip hop in China was simply “fake news.” Burton went on to explain the reaches of Chinese censorship, exemplifying the Chinese ban on the ‘Free Tibet movement.’ In summary, anything that violates national integrity remains off limits in China. For example, videos which include the Tibet flag are banned and individuals are forbidden from using the word ‘Tibet’ in public or media settings.

Another panelist, MC Puos is a hip hop journalist who cofounded china’s first hip hop magazine, Bang. He discussed his upbringing in Detroit and referenced his understanding of words, communication, and censorship, and the unspoken rule of limited self-expression as a youth. A person could lose their life by saying the wrong thing to the wrong person: a realization that showcased the strength of words.

Panelist Emile YX?, a journalist, author, playwright, b-boy, and member of Black Noise, (one of the first hip hop groups in South Africa) discussed the current censorship is South Africa. As a solution to the suppression of black voices in South African Media, YX? proposed that black people create their own markets and industries. His project, Heal the Hood focusses on dismantling the Eurocentric monopolization of the capitalist society by supporting our own businesses. Overall the event was an enlightening intellectual experience.