South African Hip Hop

by David Mindich, http://neovox.cortland.edu, December 3, 2010

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"Wat kyk jy?" Pronounced, "vat kayk yay"-- the term is Dutch (or rather, Afrikaans) for "what are you looking at?" It's also the title of one of Die Antwoord's more famous songs. Never heard of them? Don't feel bad, not all too many people know the Cape Town (that's South Africa, yes) hip-hop trio. But after some recent success at getting their name out over the "interweb," this may soon change.

Die Antwoord comprises three members: Watkin Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, and their DJ, DJ Hi-Tek. All three of who bring something very unique to their tracks and, combined, make Die Antwoord just what it is.

Jones, according to Wikipedia, has been a player in South African hip-hop for years. Often taking on an alter ego during performances, Jones assumes the persona of "Ninja" for Die Antwoord. He describes this personality as Clark Kent's Superman, except for Ninja, the suit doesn't come off. As far as what that means for the listener, Ninja is your main stream hip-hop artist; he loves sex, money, and of course, talking about how great he is. While his lyrics can make him seem at least a little big headed at times (he breaks off toward the end of one song to relish in how it's "like, the coolest song he's ever heard in his whole life") you can't deny his skill. He switches from English to Afrikaans throughout his rhymes seamlessly, producing an absolutely fantastic flow. His lyrics can go from almost uncomfortably candid and vulgar to downright goofy in seconds. For a good idea of what all this sounds like, think a young, Dutch, Eminem.

While Ninja is considered the leading man, Yolandi Visser (or Yo-Landi Vi$$er) is definitely a major contributor to Die Antwoord's style. Sharing much of the vocal time with Ninja, and even being featured on several tracks, Vi$$er can flow through a beat with as much skill as anybody. She has a small voice, but rocks a huge attitude; think Minnie Mouse, only substitute the ears and bow for a mullet and the white gloves for a switch blade. Vi$$er's the type of girl who'll follow you home from the bar, only to rob you at knife point as you stand there in your boxers--shocked, terrified, and still kind of interested.

DJ Hi-Tek produces the beats for Die Antwoord. Considered by some to be a hip-hop/ rave group--it's Hi-Tek that gives the band their house music feel. Working only from a PC, some of Hi-Tek's beats actually sound ironically low tech, but from the interviews I've seen on the band, it seems this is more due to a lack of funds than ability (he and Ninja still live with their parents or grandparents in a pretty run down looking neighborhood). Regardless, DJ Hi- Tek produces a beat that's good enough for Ninja and Vi$$er to unload on, and that's really all those two need.

Put all three of these characters together and you get a real gritty and unique sound; ranging from almost obnoxiously antagonistic on their old school opening track, "In Your Face," to angry and pulsating yet smooth as butter on "Wat Kyk Jy?," to an epic anime-opening-title-sequence-esque deal on their claim to fame single, "Enter the Ninja." They're an old school hip-hip band that got dragged through the streets of Cape Town by a van bumping house music, handed a mic and told to drop some rhymes, smiling and still dripping with mud.

Friends since "they were small," Jones and Visser have worked together on several other projects, but Die Antwoord has clearly been their most successful. They owe most of their fame to their single "Enter the Ninja" which went viral on YouTube and caused so much traffic to their South African based web site that they were actually shut down from too much bandwidth usage. Their story says a lot about music in the internet era. Never before could a group from across the globe with no money and no publicity and go from nothing to something in the span of a few months. Here's looking at you, Die Antwoord.


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