The rise of “big money” in local hip-hop has strengthened the obsession with things like Rollies, Bentleys, grills and bad bitches has popularized a vocabulary filled with terms such as “niggah,” fitna” and “bando.”
This makes it is easy to understand why much of the criticism levelled against South African hip-hop artists hinges on the belief that they are trying to be American but if you look closely enough - that is not the case. They’re not trying to be American, they just inadvertently behave and speak that way due to cultural imperialism.
Often times, this fact isn’t even stated as a critique but more of an observation as the UK’s Ubunifu vloggers did when they experienced Nasty C’s NDA video for the first time.
Critique or observation often takes a very surface-level look at hip-hop artists and their personas, viewing them as people who consciously choose to do their best imitation of the artists they grew up listening to and not victims of the residual effects of imperialism.
Despite the trouble it continues to face, America remains one of the world’s superpowers and that position affords a sort of cultural hegemony that allows it to export itself (languages, dress, food, history, art and other ways of life) through various media.
A lot of us, all over the world grow up on consuming these products; learning to be American without even trying and that is probably why we don’t even see it happening.
You could probably name the capital city of states such as Louisiana, Massachusetts and North Carolina but not of provinces such as Free State, Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape. And that isn’t even your fault, you were born into a world where the 90% locally produced content policy was introduced in adulthood (if you’re a millennial) and it didn’t even stay in effect that long.
The same thing applies to all our favourite rappers however. Despite the fact that rap music and hip-hop culture originated in The States (and therefore continues to sound like its home), all of the South African rappers currently in existence are the first and second generation of our very own hip-hop culture.
That means they have no one to emulate as they are all currently creating, experimenting with and settling into their own personas and sounds.
In finding themselves, they are then changing the game.
They do it through rapping in their home languages, they do it through reviving and remixing old South African beats and they do it through exporting their (our) music during their travels and performances abroad.
What they aren’t doing enough of however is supporting local brands and pushing agendas beyond their own.
What exactly does this mean?
Well, in recent years, they have joined the ranks of many local musicians who (complain about the system being set up to ensure that they die broke) but how can you ask people to buy local in reference to music and then rap things like “you’ll never catch me in Carducci, maybe Gucci”? Don’t designers and local clothing manufacturers deserve to eat too?
If you want the masses to listen to your call, set an example and then lead by it. Monkey see, monkey do.
If you’re wearing a Rolex and not Era by Zinhle, how do you expect your message to hit home?
I’m not saying turn down the sponsorship and endorsement deals from big brands or the awards from international ceremonies, that brings money into the country and that can only be a good thing but once that money comes in, what are you doing with it?
Are you buying local and inadvertently helping a young creator/entrepreneur on the come up or are you taking your millions and spending them in Milan, LA or London and dissing us back home for eating King Pie after we spent money on your album?
Now that you know wassup, what are you doing to change the status quo?
Main image credit: instagram.com/nasty_csa/