Snoop Lion and Sniffa Doggsby Kimon de Greef / Images by Ignatius Mokone / 28.05.2013
Getting to Grandwest Casino by six o’ clock entails joining the exodus from the city to the working-class-suburban hinterland. Out on the N2 the bus drivers are cowboys bashing through the traffic, shunting rows upon rows of tired commuters home. Minibus taxis strafe the fast lane like velociraptors. This is no place to be fucking around on a scooter with a worn drive belt; this is the mad radial dash through the concentric circles of apartheid planning that’s been happening twice daily for more than thirty years. I’m spinning down the yellow line watching for trolleys and unlit bicycles in the dusk.
Arriving at Grandwest is like entering an airport. The entrance road splits into a million channels, each leading to a Tuscan archway with a boom gate. The ticket machine spits, the mechanical arm raises and… suddenly, you’re admitted to a different realm. Everything is immaculate. Well-dressed people are crossing the asphalt towards the entrance. A flock of perhaps 150 starlings are chirping in the moonlight, bedding down for the night.
A warm-up DJ is rinsing hits—DMX, Kanye, Ludacris, 50 Cent—to a mixed crowd still finding their Golden Circle feet. There are Model-C bros in fitted caps and muscle tees, dolled-up honeys in miniskirts, family men, preppy Indian couples, gangstas with studded earrings, pimply teen stoners, denim shirts, limited edition sneakers, leather jackets, asymmetrical fringes, a smattering of dreadlocks, Rasta beanies, Jamaican flags…
An Alsatian with a shaggy mane, strapped in a bulletproof Narcotics Unit vest, is led through the crowd, sniffing at people’s feet and pockets. Just imagine the sweaty paranoia this triggers!
Then Jack Parow strides on and toasts the audience with brandy and coke. The bars outside flog Castle, Reds and wine… but no hard liquor. Queueing is like waiting in line at a tuckshop; it is too brightly lit to feel like legitimate drinking and the early drunks heckling the till ladies look bizarrely out of place.
“Sorry for you,” Parow mumbles and kicks off. Somewhere a sound engineer has flipped the subs on and low frequencies from Hades start thudding the crowd in the gut. People are staggering like jellyfish in a dishwasher but digging it, and by halfway through the first song a sea of fists is pumping to Parow’s zef-rap beat.
A guitarist, bassist and skinny blonde girl in a push up bra join the rapper and his DJ on stage. This is his band. The girl is the drummer and they proceed to play a strange hybrid stadium rock / hip hop set. Perhaps one in ten people are losing their shit to the recycled riffage, banging their heads about, and the rest look confused by the onslaught.
A single Rizla falls slowly, twirling end-on-end, presumably dropped by a lighting technician rolling a number in the ceiling.
Then Led Zeffelin finish up and the tension ratchets higher. It’s time to claim your spot and wait for the King. But which King are we waiting for? Snoop from the Doggystle era, who beat off murder charges and whose violent and misogynistic lyrics prompted outcry across the civilized world? Snoop the party pimp, recast in a friendlier role after the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie Smalls juddered gangster rap to a commercial halt in 1997? Snoop the tame pop phenomenon, sharing mics with The Pussycat Dolls and Katy Perry on MTV? Or Snoop Lion himself, Jah Rastafari messenger of love and peace, freshly returned from a spiritual awakening in the Jamaican jungle?
A swarm of smartphones hovers as final preparations are made on stage. The DJ booth is wheeled aside and two MCs promise that this is the last time we will see them all night… and this can only mean one thing:
Incongruously there is commercial house music playing. A bassist, keyboard player, drummer and new DJ wait. An unremarkable American man with short dreadlocks takes the microphone and…
More subsonic bass explodes through the rig and everybody screams…
The house music cuts. We are waiting for a bomb; we are the fuse —
The DJ bellows, “Are you ready Cape Town?” and lobs a fireball into the pit.
It’s 2Pac’s California Love and by the time the beat lands the entire Arena has ignited into a heaving mass of West Coast rap insanity. In seconds the crowd is bouncing as one, thousands of hands thrust high in the air, thousands of strangers thrusting against each another with abandon…
And then Snoop prowls on stage looking like a mythical feline and a sweet fog rolls in at nose level as fans everywhere light up to salute their icon. It’s safe to assume that more bongs have been hit to this man in Cape Town than any other rap artist and it’s like witnessing a ceremony, a ritual offering to a counter-culture god.
He’s wearing shades, a leather jacket and an open-collared African shirt and his movements are the exact embodiment of his drawl. He leans back and regards the seizures of joy taking place below him — yet another expanse of utter adoration for this most high priest of cool!
And then guards in yellow jackets appear and start marching dagga smokers off the floor.
A hipster girl in red lipstick evades capture by ignoring the figure at her shoulder until he gets awkward pawing her sleeve and moves on. Others aren’t so lucky: a thickset bearded man has attracted the attention of two jackets and they seem angered by his attempts to resist. His small girlfriend pushes through the crowd after them, looking fearful.
On stage next to Snoop is a dancing figure wearing a giant cartoon dog head —like a mascot at the cricket— and this dog is wagging a massive fake spliff the length of a ruler to the beat. Another yellow jacket brushes past me with darting eyes and a hand cupped to his earpiece, tracking the latest zol offender.
Most of the set is old Dogg hits and the crowd roars guttural approval for every one. It’s all there: ‘Gin & Juice’, ‘G Thang’ and ‘What’s My Name?’ from the gangsta days, collaborations with Dre from the early 2000s, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and ‘Signs’ from the Pharrell Williams era, that regrettable Akon track that made it to Number One… and sprinkled between, like tiny balls of hashish in a hand-rolled cigarette, are token excerpts of reggae.
“Smoke break!” Snoop yowls as the beat cuts, drifting behind his DJ to spark a finger-long joint. A few hopefuls in the crowd take this as a sign that smoking marijuana has been officially condoned and once again the yellow jackets swarm in with fingers pressed to their ears…
A few newer Lion cuts get airplay too, and towards the end of the show comes a sentimental video montaging Barack Obama speaking about a US school shooting with an irie Snoop urging people to get rid of their guns and be peaceful. Of course, the very next track is ‘No Guns (ft. Drake)’ and we all melt into puddles of righteous love. The final song is also brand new – ‘Young, Wild & Free’ – and ends the show on firm pop footing.
“What’s my motherfuckin’ name?” Snoop shouts. We yell.
“Make some fuckin’ noise for Snoop Lion!” urges the DJ.
“Cape Town, I love ya’ll,” croons Snoop. “I’m a end now with the words of… Bob Marley.”
And all I can make out are the words: “Jah! Rastafari” before the catlike, mythical figure is gone.
Straight away the lights come up and ‘Jammin’ starts playing at half volume. Dazed, we file into the bright, tiled lobby with plastic plants, through the Mediterranean food court with the lit ceiling where it is always fifteen minutes past sunset, past the casino pit where rows of white-haired ladies pull levers in front of endlessly spinning neon wheels, out through the turnstiles and back into the night.
* All images © Ignatius Mokone