Slowly over the past three decades, South African hip-hop has emerged out of the shadows of kwaito to become a dominant force on the local music scene.
Hip-hop grew from a form of political expression in Cape Town in the 1980s to the glory of 2016, when AKA became the first local artist who rapped in English to have a platinum-selling album – and, in so doing, increased his following not only on the continent, but abroad too.
And, notwithstanding the time it took for hip-hop to rise in music history, it was quickly overtaken by a new genre – gqom.
Gqom is a style of dance music emanating from Durban’s townships; a kind of House-meets-kwaito hybrid. It is thrilling deejays and music producers in the UK, Europe and North America.
Commerical rappers have only themselves to blame for that powerful takeover.
South African hip-hop has no clear identity and future – it is just coasting along.
That may be the reason Cassper Nyovest is struggling to convince fans and commercial supporters of hip-hop to get behind his #FillUpFNBStadium concert, scheduled for next month.
Of late, most rappers spend their time doing a local version of US trap music. At best, they rap on old-school House samples, depending on autotune.
Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things – it’s just lazy and does nothing to grow the genre or raise the bar that was set in 2014 and 2015, when the genre was at its peak. As for its message, commercial South African hip-hop is all booty, bucks and bling. The end.
This is by no means a call for hip-hop to go back to meaningful lyrics and a political conscience – times change, after all.
It is more a request for the genre to remember the authenticity it once enjoyed and to be inspired by it; to remember that there is more to life than what car you drive.
Today’s generation has a roaring political voice and a meaningful contribution to make – because hip-hop should, by its very nature, talk truth to power.
This is not the opinion of a purist (I let that go years ago), but right now it’s all about ego and “me, me, me” in twangy American tones.
So now gqom, an authentic sound that brings the street back to the dance floor, is rising because it offers something new and has authenticity – and because we actually relate to our own languages and cultures more than the imperialist clichés of a borrowed American culture.