Africa Raps

A couple of months ago, I went to Africa. I went for a lot of reasons: because I had always wanted to see that part of the world, because I’m writing a book on global hip-hop and my friend Sol (who has been several times) insisted that I couldn’t even think of writing it without going, because I’d heard African hip-hop was on fire, because I felt compelled to somehow acknowledge the AIDS epidemic there and see what a person could do about it. Because the first-ever African hip-hop summit was taking place in Johannesburg, because artists from all over the continent were coming, and last—but certainly not least for a freelancer—because a Canadian youth organization offered to foot the bill.

People often ask me what Africa was like. It was like this: I went consciously prepared to see a lot of suffering, trying my best to ignore warnings about safety (Joburg is supposed to be the murder capital of the world), with vague TV images of poverty crowding my mind. It was nothing like I thought it would be. Nothing at all.

I spent a week at the conference, going to shows, sitting in on panel discussions, and interviewing grassroots hip-hop organizations. I was staying at the same hotel as all of the artists and every night we would stay up for hours in the bar talking. They told me about the hip-hop scenes in Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal. We talked about everyone from 50 to Kanye (his “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” had just dropped there) to Guru from Gangstarr (who was performing at the summit) to all of the local hip-hop heroes.

The day after the conference ended, we all caravanned out to the township of Soweto for their weekly outdoor block party Black Sunday. There were a couple hundred people crammed into a park in Zone 1, huddled around a sound system. A group of mothers had cooked up a huge spread of macaroni salad, roast chicken, rice. Young boys wove in and out of the crowd, chattering (shout out to Siya, Fani, Thabo, Sindi, Lindaeni!). People danced, ate, sprawled on the grass talking, played with babies.

The headliner for the day hit the stage as a pink sun set over Soweto. Pro Kid, one of the top rappers in South Africa, is from the South Western Township. As soon as he took the mic, the crowd pressed close to the front. A dozen children climbed a tree next to the stage and started shaking the braches with all their strength. Pro Kid launched into his anthem “Soweto” and hundreds joined in, letting out high-pitched whistles, and belting out the chorus. The kids that were showing me around beamed with pride and pulled on my arms to look up. Above our heads, my friend Lee Kasumba (shout out to the Queen of Joburg, editor of Y Magazine and DJ at Y Radio!) had climbed on top of giant delivery truck and was dancing up there.

When I think of African hip-hop, I think of that swelteringly hot day in Soweto. I think about a generation faced with violence, illness, extreme poverty—and coping with incredible energy. With talent, creativity, motivation.

All over Africa, artists are channeling their hunger for change into hip-hop. They’re speaking out against police repression (shout out to Krazy Native), challenging corrupt governments (shout out to Gidi Gidi Maji Maji), calling out warlords (shout out to K’naan), and protesting the use of child soldiers (shout out to Emmanuel Jal). And they are making seriously dope music while they’re at it.

Many are using independent entrepreneurialism to fund community development projects. Groups like Black Sunday, R.I.S.E., the Ugandan Hip-Hop Foundation, and Black Noise sell self-published books, self-produced CDs, and handmade clothing. They funnel the funds that they raise into arts, education, and mentorship programs for the youth coming up.

Don’t get it twisted, it’s not all about politics. There’s guys that rhyme about crime, sex, and/or partying. There are abstract, experimental, poetic guys that aren’t political at all. There are grimy street stars that lean left. There are dudes that are feeling 50 and dudes that dig Mos—plus lots of dudes that love 50 and Mos.

African hip-hop as a whole—with all its disparate sounds and styles—is currently experiencing a renaissance. It’s an exciting time, one full of hope.

Let me leave you with a quote from my friend Sol, speaking about his new TV show to the Georgia Straight newspaper in Vancouver:

“We’re trained that people in Africa are waiting to die,” he said. “But poverty is not a strip ticket to death. It’s a space where community is formed and people care about each other. They love harder, care harder, fight harder, and dance harder. They’re making songs and making babies, and everything is happening at a breakneck speed.”

For more on African Hip-Hop, check out:

http://www.africanhiphop.com/

http://www.unitednationsofhiphop.com/index.php

http://www.harambeafrica.com/ 

Here’s my current African hip-hop play list:

Pro Kid “Soweto” (South Africa)

Proverb “My Vers’d Love” (South Africa)

Black Noise “Getcha on the Floor” (South Africa)

K’naan “Soobax” (Somalia/Canada)

Krazy Native “Wansi Wagalu” (Uganda)

Iron African “Cheers for Rap Money” (Uganda)

Gidi Gidi Maji Maji “Unbogable” (Kenya)

Positive Black Soul “Boul Fale Remix” (Senegal)

X Plastaz “Msimu Kwa Msimu” (Tanzania)

Emmanuel Jal “Gua” (Sudan/Kenya)

Mode 9 “Flawless” (Nigeria)

Randy P “Sexy Lady” (Cameroon)

Reggi Rockstone “Eye Mo De Anaa” (Ghana)

Bhubesii “Sowe-to Stylz” (South Africa)

Tumi & The Volume “People of the Light” (South Africa)

  • http://www.myspace.com/geoffdilkes G Off

    Very inspirational! Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.unitednationsofhiphop.com Boobah Siddik

    Niceness, i can’t wait for the day the movement catches the whole world by surprise, soon come though!
    We will link up!!!

  • Pap

    Crap, I am Nigerian and i can tell you just stayed in your hotel room and digested hip hop trends in Africa from word of mouth. Go out there in the streets next time if you want to write about African Hip hop.Shame on you!

  • http://www.wghfilms.com/bling.htm Reem

    Good read. I think K’naan is going to be one of those next big hits. Here some more on Hip Hop and Africa, its a film a about conflict diamonds and Hip Hop. The film is called Bling: Consequences and Repercussions and its narrated by Chuck D (Public Enemy).

    http://www.wghfilms.com/bling.htm

    Peace!

  • http://www.calabashmusic.com Erich

    Tara –
    Great article! As one of the other North Americans who was there in Jozi, Tara gets it right. African Hip Hop is going crazy, hitting it in all directions. Taking it back to the roots and moving it forward to places we’ve never thought of. For a sampling of what’s going on round the world, and to support these wonderful artists check out http://music.calabashmusic.com/world/Hip_Hop
    and look for the artists mentioned in Tara’s article.
    peace.
    erich

  • http://Africanhiphop.com Juma4

    Thanks for the good article.
    Some bad news about one of the members of X Plastaz, he passed away last night… more info at http://www.xplastaz.com

  • A-Queen

    I loved that you took time to do this Ms. Tara. And for teens who need an introductory course, yah should check out the May issue of Black Beat Magazine (with Rihanna on the cover) for a feature on African Hip-hop with commentary from Akon. Don’t ask me how I know, but do spread the word!

  • http://www.africanhiphop.com afro-puff

    Cool article, but you should mos def have more Mode-9 (www.modenine.net) tracks on there and there’s another guy named Rukus who is coming up but he is in the US (www.myspace.com/rukuslive).

  • http://www.unitednationsofhiphop.com SANDSTORMJA -shadow zu

    Yo T, tight article, Check out the African hip hop repertoir at http://www.unitednationsofhiphop.com.

    Peace

  • Maude

    Great article!

    I discovered the hip hop scene in Kampala last year… pretty amazing stuff. Africa definitely IS the place to be…!

  • Alex

    Go ahead gal thats amazing you stood up said let me do this now the next thing is every one is gonna want to come to see what hiphop is all about in Africa keep the good work movin im impressed by ya work let the world know whats like out here

  • http://anewwaymedia.com Jmcarr

    You’re doin’ it, girl! Nice article.

    J.

  • MK

    It’s funny how you pretend to know and understand Africa. We were at the UN Hip Hop Summit but the irony is that the UN doen’t even know what’s happeing. That’s what you need to talk about.

    You’re as qualified as the aid workers who are sending us free rice and dog food. Don’t get it twisted, you should ask an African to write about Africa or at the very least a Canadian with a deeper understanding of the crisis. Not someone who was curious and had a free ticket. You should ask someone who knows what gun powder taste like to explain Africa.

    If enough people read your story maybe we’ll get more free food and pitty. Don’t get it twisted.

  • http://beneathdasurface.com Shogunate

    Dope article…impressive

    peep more at beneathdasurface.com

  • bluerid

    go fuck yourself!

  • poisonhusler

    yeah i feel this. its official now.

  • Ayob vania

    for audio of south africaan and african hip-hop go to http://www.harambeafrica.com

  • farai

    I am a Zimbabwean aged 20 and I am also an emcee commenting on the african hiphop its excellent but my concern is back here in Zimbabwe we are affected by politics whereby our music is not played on radio coz they are saying there is a lot of americanism and this goes back to colonisation issues.Is there any alternative for us to be heard around africa.Help please.

  • http://www.camerhha.com DAMON WILLIMAS

    Yo wassup.

    Just to let’s you know that the cameroon hip hop awards

    is being organized. The large festival will be in November. From June onwards, several pre-shows will take place to warm up for the event. The next pre-show will be in June with artists such as J-Ro (The Alkaholiks,U.S http://www.thaalkaholiks.com, Solano (Dominican Republic)www.smelimited.com, La Fouine (France)www.lafouine78.com as wel as several cameroonian local artists.

    You can check out our site http://www.camerhha.com for more info. Let the word be spread.

    If you know good african rappers that are interested, please let me know. camerhha@gmail.com

  • Dodger

    Johannesburg was never actually the murder capital of the world. It’s been Medellin, Colombia since the late 80′s with Sao Paulo taking the title a couple of times in the late 90′s/early 00′s.

    Since 2002 when Medellin again finished first, it’s murder rates have plummetted and it’s been replaced by San Pedro Sula in Honduras and Baghdad.

    San Pedro Sula is terrible (never mind Baghdad!) and may be even worse than Medellin’s most violent period in the early 90′s.

    That is all.

  • http://N/A Maeini-moe

    Durin the month of April we got a friend from the states and we gave him our material that we had previously worked on and, he was very impressed that he offered to slot our studio and our collection on music including the artists that we have.
    Guys next tym can you please route through Botswana it is a great land for all earth most contained.

  • African Cat

    my brethren are doing they thing. am from tanzania myself. i would’ve apreciated a lil more research or atleast writting that showed evidence of real research.

    really does sound like u stayed in a hotel room n wrote based on word of mouf.

  • sinic

    beef is cheap, so why do kats use it whilst wanting to be chief? Hip hop in Africa is still growing and so we need as mcees to stand together and help it to, so from the bottom of my heart I say,”FUCK BEEFIN.” African kats unite.

  • Macdrop

    i saw your playlist n i notice most of the artists are from south africa,well,may be that was ur country in focus.But i want to let u know that Mode9 is not the only “REAL MC” in Nigeria.So next time don’t even recognise one if u cannot recognise others.

  • http://www.yahoo.com calildude

    GHANA IS THE SHIT WHEN IT COMES TO HIP HOP.

  • http://www.myspace.com/jfedah Jay-eF

    I been telling these dumb asses who been there thesame. It’s real outhere.

  • TOMO

    MODE 9 IS THE ILLEST LYRICIST IN AFRICA.HE IS JUST STRAIGHT UP..HARDCORE..HE’S EVRYTHING HIP HOP SHOULD BE.HIS MIXTAPES ARE ALL TIME GREATS..MACOM IX,PENTIUM IX AND E PLURUBUS UNUM.HE IS THE BEST

  • http://www.myspace.com/terriegunz terrie gunz

    big up the kunta kinte conscious clothing mixtapes,for bringing out african hiphop to the rest of the world also featuring some usa rappers such as talib,slum village etc..

  • http://ljdarkllycos.com lj

    its nice but you can do better

  • Lucien

    African Hip Hop is rising, and there are many of our acts, that would give many of the chart toppers a run for their money. Being from nigeria in most farmilar with naija artists such as Mode 9,Terry tha Rapman,OverDose, Pheroshuz,Freestyle,Blaise, Eldee to mention a few.
    Big up to Naija hip hop acts

  • http://www.asongoneal.de Asong Oneal

    Thats whats up.Afica is in the building.Ayo checkout the A-team and what out for that African Dreams mixtape popping out soon!Holla
    http://www.myspace.com/asongoneal
    http://www.myspace.com/asideboys

  • http://www.myspace.com/souljazzfam Aqbar

    African Hiphop is on the rise for real. If in doubt, try
    http://www.africanhiphop.com and download the Head Science mixtape.
    Also, check out ya boyz SOULJAZZ at http://www.myspace.com/souljazzfam and
    http://www.soundclick.com/souljazz

    HAVE FUN WHILE YOUR AT IT!