Growth of African Hip Hop and Representations of African Culture

Tanzanian hip-hop pioneer Zavara (aka Rhymson) of the group Kwanaza Unit in downtown Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Hip Hop. This isn’t a hobby to me. This isn’t something I just decided to try to. I’ve been doing this my whole life. This is my life. It’s in my DNA. Remember that.” – Gigi Lamayne (South Africa), Tumblr post, January 7, 2016

Chapter Overview

DJ Ready D | South Africa

Hip Hop in Africa emerged in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, a time of immense social change for the continent. While some were freed of colonization and enduring changes in lifestyle, others were being oppressed by another challenge in the name of apartheid. The music informed the youth, helped give words to their reality and rally them. In the years after its arrival in Africa, more and more African hip-hop artists began making socially conscious music that commented on the atrocities and injustices in their government. The artists were often easily linked to liberation struggles, either in their generation or that of their parents. Hip- hop is explored as a representation of African culture, using wordplay and historical narratives. It is during this time that many urban African communities began to struggle economically due to the financial woes of the continent. That struggle gives birth to social activism and hip-hop commentary, reinforcing hip-hop and all of its elements as a political tool while simultaneously influencing the culture in African youth.

Discussion Question

  1. Read the lyrics to the song “Africa Represent” by M.anifest (Ghana). Reflect on the coded language used in the song, which audiences and subcultures do you think are represented in the verses?
  2. What similarities and differences do we find in the social and economic environments that led to the emergence of hip hop across Africa and in the U.S.?
  3. Why did hip-hop first emerge in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town? What conditions were present in the Cape Flats that made it more favorable as the birthplace of South African Hip-Hop?
  4. What has been the impact of social media on the music industry? How have artists benefited from social media as a platform?


Graffiti piece in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Relevant Scholarship

Abramz | Uganda

Kidula, J. N. 2012. “The Local and Global in Kenyan Rap and Hip Hop Culture.” In Hip Hop Africa: New Music in a Globalizing World, edited by E. Charry, 171–86. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lennon, J. 2014. “Assembling a Revolution: Graffiti, Cairo and the Arab Spring.” Cultural Studies Review 20 (1): 237–375.

Rabine, L. W. 2014. “The Graffiti Art Movement in Dakar.” African Studies Quarterly 14 (3): 89–112. /v14i3a6.pdf.

Saber, R. 2014. Untouched: Egypt’s Revolution in Graffiti. Delizon Press.