My first Experience with African Hip Hop

As an African American, my experience with Hip Hop has been limited to the United States and (to a lesser extent) South America and the Caribbean. Until now I have never listened to an artist from an African country. I have always known Hip Hop to be a global phenomena–one which has been appropriated and transformed by cultures from around the world. However, I have had very little exposure to artists from outside the Americas.

The first African Hip Hop artist I listened to was Cassper Nyovest, a prominent artist and record producer in South Africa who is famous for his rpdocution in Hip Hop and Motswako music. The first song I heard from him was the English version of “Doc Shebeleza.” The cadence, tone, and artistic style was very reminiscent of modern American Hip Hop. Even the bombastic and egocentric undertones, which occasionally present themselves in American Hip Hop, were present in this song. English and an indigenous African language mixed creating an artistic experience wherein Nyovest skillfully transitions between languages. Because of this, I am not fully able to understand what is being said. However, in what I am able to understand, there are parallels between what Nyovest raps about and what American Hip Hop artists rap about; a “started from the bottom now I’m here” story, women, and being one of the best rappers in his country (or generation/city).

The next African Hip Hop artist I listened to was D’banj, a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and TV host. His song, Oliver Twist, borrows more from the “pop” genre than Cassper Nyovest’s Doc Shebeleza. The first thing I noticed about Oliver Twist was its use of autotune. The fast rhythm, heavy bass, repetition, and automated singing reminded me of Jamaican Dancehall music. It was difficult, however, to discern what D’banj was talking about in his song. It seemed as though he could have been talking about sex with lines like, “Hey why you come dey shakey, shakey, bum-bum.” At other times he spoke about American artists. “See I like Beyonce, but she dey with Jigga. I like Nikki, her yarsh is bigger.” His message wasn’t clear. However, I am assuming that the point of Oliver Twist was to produce a song for young people to dance to.

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