$O$by Roger Young / 29.10.2010
By most accounts Waddy Jones was always a bit of cunt. And now Ninja, with the fame rushing to his head, is starting to display the same paranoid cuntish tendencies. Witness his FB statuses of late, dissing magazines in general, Deadmau5’s production values and Sean Metelerkamp in particular. They read as a desperately insecure little stabs at hardcoreness; which is strange because if $0$ is anything to go by Ninja and crew have nothing to be insecure about.
Two thirds of the album is pure genius. The other is typed in angry CAPS LOCK, a weird combination of fronting and dissing of past collaborators that should make anyone nervous to work with him. (Will there soon be a Die Antwoord track dissing Griffin and his watkykjy.co.za’s asskissery?). If you are not with Ninja totally, you are against him; even if you’re with him you might just be using him. Ninja believes in ideas, he does not compromise his art to please people but he also seems to believe that all ideas are totally his own; strange for a man who collaborates so often and who draws so heavily on Roger Ballen, Watkykjy and District 9. We tend to make excuses for the behaviour of great artists (see Picasso, Hemingway or James Baldwin). Asshole-ish behaviour is often a necessary function of “the heartlessness of ideas” but how much leeway to be a prick does $O$ give Ninja?
Zef and hip hop are closely related, in essence. Zef, like early hip hop, takes whatever materials are at hand to enhance whatever it is you have; in zef terms, putting a spoiler on the back of your Opel to “look fancy”, in early 80’s hip hop space, learning to beat box or scratch because you can’t afford, or play, “real instruments”. In his twenty years or so of training to be a Ninja, Pre-Ninja Ninja, through various other projects, amassed skills, ideas about South African culture and outsider art as well as access to equipment and favours. He then put them through the dual blenders of zef and hip hop and found the gestalt of Die Antwoord. But where music journos and cultural theorists have got it wrong is that the relationship is between the artist’s persona and the audience, what actually glues them together, is the music. Without the music none of this would have happened. With this in mind it now falls to me to dissect the new pimped out version of $O$ in order to raise our hit count and leech some more traffic off of Die Antwoord.
Not surprisingly $O$ opens with a diss track, “In Your Face”, it’s target? Everyone who doesn’t like Die Antwoord but secretly wants to be them (but’s it’s okay because these holnaaiers don’t matter). With an opening chant of “jealousy makes you nasty. In your face!” set to an electrometal grind, with Yo-landi’s point perfect nursery rhyme rap style and Ninja’s description of what he does with Business Class wet facecloths, over a deep bass stoppy starty almost early Beastie Boys beat “In Your Face” is Die Antwoord at it’s most moronic thematically but on best form musically. Mosh pit action, lyrics to shout along to, peppered with breakdowns to get your breath back. But one question to Yo-landi; surely the purpose of fucking with someone’s brain is to make them think about it?
“Whatever Man” is Die Antwoord’s manifesto. Which is basically that they are totally aware of the intricacies of what it means to be a South African and that they don’t give a fuck. It’s very telling that this stating of “theme” has been moved from being the original $O$’s opener to second place. As if telling everyone that they’re better than them is Die Antwoord’s new artistic purpose. Next up is “Enter The Ninja” and what more needs to be written about ETN? It’s fucking Boss. The End.
“Wat Kyk Jy” is Robin S. on Crack with Ninja doing super laid back and creepy nasal styles. It’s like being an ecstasy dealer in the 90’s and getting caught cutting your pills with speed. Yo-landi shouts the anthem of a generation “Drive Fast Play Kak Music Loud”. Essentially it’s an ode to Watkykjy.co.za the website that turned them onto this whole Zef thing in the first place and set to something house music enthusiasts would call old school. Any one of the elements in this track, the beat, the synth, the chorus would sound silly on it’s own; as a whole it’s definitive Die Antwoord.
“Evil Boy” is everything that Die Antwoord do well, collaborating, mixing ideas, actually providing real discourse on a subject and then contrasting it against profanity and crassness, creating a slinky swapping cross cultural landscape. With Yo-landi and Ninja alternating mad flow with nursery school taunting. Wanga’s circumcision rap and Diplo’s beats take it next level, with Ninja and Yo-landi stretching themselves to new heights of playfulness with their flow. It’s only downfall, the District 9 references are starting to read like a marketing ploy. “Wat Pomp” is another track that displays how clever Ninja is at bringing in other artists to alter the landscape. Yo-landi’s rap is genius, Parow’s is one of his best still. Ninja’s is about how people are stupid because they never got Max Normal. But you know, dope beats and shouty chorus.
Yo-landi’s “Rich Bitch” with it’s smooove synths and slow staccato flow is sexy and untouchable and taunting on it’s surface but underneath is an astute discussion on how money and success can change you. It’s kinda eerie that they wrote this before money and success came to them. “Liewe Maaitjies” gets all slow ridey, like an early Massive Attack track produced in Fietas, a perfect ironic stoner track that sneaks in a few rhymes about having coloured blood. This is a theme that Ninja returns to and is probably the most pertinent thing about his discussion of South African culture. When he gets on this trip he exposes all kinds of hypocrisies in our current cultural climate. “Wie Maakie Jol Vol” is another classic co-lab with Isaac Mutant, Knoffel, Jaak Paarl and Scallywag’s complex high energy flows melting into a throwdown; again Ninja’s skill on this track is creating something using the contributions of many artists. Also includes a District 9 reference. And a Locnville diss; you know Locnville, the teen pop band that Die Antwoord are sharing a bill with for three dates in December.
“Fi$h Pa$te” replaces $uper Evil and is essentially about $uper Evil as well as the meltdown of the collaboration with Markus Wormstorm and Spoek Mathambo. Another nursery school chorus in Yo-landi’s spooky sexy voice, elastic synth and an early 90’s feel. Thematically a repeat of “In Your Face”; musically seductive and smooth it’s like being hypnotized by Hentai, it’s at it’s best when Ninja gets into the rhymes about his inner coloured. “$copie” is a Nintendo like taunt, “Beat Boy” features Ninja sex fantasy flow against 80’s references with Yo-landi taking a back seat, just knocking out a sexy chorus. “Pretty Girls” is a skit that has a similar feel to the vimeo film they put out a few weeks ago; a presentation of the zen of white trash stupidity.
As Rich Bitch is Yo-landi’s moment, “She Makes Me A Killer” is Ninja’s and the standout track on the album. A mix of new romantic sequencing; tortured ballad-like vocals and tales of sexual failure, it’s an epic track that posits Ninja as a man moved to violence by his own insensitivity to women’s viewpoint. It’s also hilarious.
“Doos Dronk” is another colab; this time with Jack Parow and Fokofpolisiekar. It’s a genius examination of domestic violence, binge drinking and alcoholism. It’s high satire, irony or whatever you want to call it. Yolandi and Ninja bring their own special violence between a rugby chant like chorus’s set to a relentless driving beat. It’s Die Antwoord at their most chillingly effective.
When Die Antwoord is reaching the levels of satire and social commentary on tracks like “Doos Dronk”, “She Makes Me A Killer”, “Evil Boy”, “Rich Bitch” or even “Whatever Man”, I call them genius; then I regard his overprotectiveness of his ideas as a necessity to keep the vision pure. When he’s fronting like a park jammer on tracks like “Fish Paste” or “In Your Face”, I feel a little sorry for him, like all this validation has just taken him away from what was seemingly Die Antwoord’s original direction. Ninja and Yo-landi are loved the world over for the surface and aggression of their image; but Die Antwoord’s real power and genius lies in it’s pushing the boundaries between social commentary and profanity, their sense of humour and cunning intelligence when dealing with tough issues like the meaning of racial identity and sexual alienation. When they get primal, Neanderthal and angry; when they say “So what, this is all I got, so what, fuck you, I’ll make it fancy” then they are speaking for the disenfranchised everyman on many levels, capturing the source of frustration and poesklapping it into the void. When he’s the angry CAPS LOCK on the diss tracks and Facebook; I see him marching toward a lonely, wealthy Michael Jackson-like future and I just want to say, Ninja, come on, you’re better than that.
*Images © Andy Davis.