South Africa is almost indisputably leading the pack right now in terms of quality hip-hop music produced on the continent. South African rappers, more so than any other African rappers I’ve researched, have that distinct level of lyrical ability and production quality which makes hip-hop great. In an article highlighting some of the top African Hip-hop artists, Joey Akan says that “the power of hip-hop lies in the South of the continent, as rappers from South Africa continue to drive the pulse of the culture. Much of the hip-hop in South Africa is derived from Western beats and samples mixed with localized rhythms and accents and drives the urban culture of the continent.” As I dove into the discography of different South African artists, I could almost immediately identify an American hip-hop song that I felt it paralleled. Some artists rapped over more mainstream style beats, whether it’s upbeat with African drums or bouncy r&b vibes. Most artists in this mix rap in their native languages- including Zulu, Swahili, and Xhosa. They mix in AAVE fluently. Sometimes verses will be all English. There are different factors that determine what language an artist speaks. Most of the time, it is just what depends on how they are most comfortable delivering the message. In the case of more mainstream artists, they will rap/sing in English to reach larger audiences. In All of the songs I selected for this mixtape, I felt the artists were right “in the pocket” in their verses. Being “in the pocket” in both music and dance means to be rhythmically in sync and fluid. Each of these songs I felt had complex cadences, fluid transitions, and essential elements of quality hip hop.
Speeka- “Party ya Mapantsula”
The first song on this mix of very talented South African artists is “Party ya Mapantsula” by Speeka featuring Noks Matchbox, Sfilikwane, Mthizo & Jef. Speeka is a well-known producer in South Africa who collabs with many rappers. Rappers are eager to hop on his beats. Most of the song is in Zulu and what sounds like some Xhosa- both are South African languages. Mapantsula is a Zulu slang term meaning petty gangsta. So the song title means Party with petty gangstas or Party of petty gangstas. The vibe of the songs parallels group songs by American artists like- “Mercy” which features Big Sean, Pusha T, 2chainz, and Kanye Wet, or “Down Bad” which features JID, J cole, Bas, and Nudy. “Party ya Mapantsula” takes on the general braggadocio style rap, where rappers talk their shit- explaining their come-up, lifestyle, and origins for 16 plus bars.
Next in the mix is Sfilikwane’s “Vandal’”. I selected this song purely because of the sonics. Most of the song is in Zulu, and does not have a translation online. However, Sfilikwane’s delivery and flow throughout the song is masterful. It stood out to me because I felt the execution was equal if not superior to that of American artists. The instrumental has an old school boom-bap vibe, but the lyric cadences are complex enough to make it sound modern. In other words, Sfilikwane was right in the pocket on this record. Many of the comments on this video read something including “uyakhafula” which means “You spittin”.
Sho Madjozi- “John Cena”
Sho Madjozi represents for the ladies on this mix with her song- “John Cena”. This song embodies that upbeat braggadocio style of rap, but with more of an identifiably African style beat. The song is mostly rapped in English. The hook goes, “ Some wanna act rough like John Cena, Some wanna get buck like John Cena! He use to be cool when I use to come through now you wanna act tough like John Cena!” She performed this song on the popular American internet music show- Colors. The performance got her mainstream recognition from artists like Missy Elliot and Pharell. It also got reposted by John Cena himself. Sho Madjozi sits in that braggadocio pocket very well. Her lyrical ability also made me include her in this mix with her very talented peers.
Gigi Lamayne- “Stoners Prayer”
South African artist Gigi Lamayne joins the many artists who have made songs that are odes to marijuana. Gigi’s “Stoners Prayer” is her own take on this common theme in hip-hop. The lyrics go, “ Dear Lord, thank you for the herbs you grew, Dear Lord, thank you for the munchies too.” The theme of the song immediately made me think of Jhene Aiko’s “Sativa” – where she sings and raps about Sativa strains of weed and their effects. I also thought of Wiz Khalifa’s “Young Wild and Freee” where the lyrics repeat- “So what we get drunk, so what we smoke weed, we’re just having fun, we don’t care who sees.” Gigi mostly performs in English and makes music with more mainstream themes. Nonetheless, she is just as skilled her more conscious or lyrical peers.
AKA & Anatii – “10 Fingers”
Last on the mix I’d thought I’d end it out with a banger. “10 Fingers” is a collaboration between internationally recognized artist- AKA and Anatii, both from South Africa. 10 fingers is the typically “ I’m getting money, I’m living the life” type of hip-hop record. Anatii adds some R&B flavor to the song. From just the song, you couldn’t really tell that the artists are South African. They speak all English and fluently use AAVE in their lyrics. Their sound is very attractive to mainstream radio stations. There is low profanity, upbeat tempos, and, of course, catchy hooks.
All in All, the songs on this list fit into that effortless braggadocio style of rap. The cadences and delivery in these songs are on point, and truly embody what I believe is the essence of hip hop. All of the artists featured in the mix are also very technically skilled rappers, and it was possible to determine that just based off sonics for those songs performed in African languages.