A Shopping Spree of Free Thoughtby Ts’eliso Monaheng / 10.07.2012
Ben Sharpa charts specific territory as a South African underground hip hop figurehead-cum-electronic music practitioner. As producer, he is responsible for the dark, anti-pop leanings which marred both the Groundworx and Audio Visuals’ output in conflicting shades of detuned classical music samples, clipped audio sketches, and down-tempo drum patterns. As an emcee, he is always willing to speak truth to authority – a truth draped in layers of densely-populated metaphorical undertones, referencing anything and anyone from Asanda Baninzi to the late Hueman. He possesses the wit of an elder, chosen to go forth on behalf of all human beings to gather nuggets of wisdom from creatures beyond this dimension, if you’ll excuse the flurry. In his own words, he has seen “players pray with priests/ pimps in shiny, polished suits/ politicians, poor people, pack rats and prostitutes”.
When, in 2010, I asked about the follow-up to his B. Sharpa album released earlier on Pioneer Unit, he paused for a brief moment, recollected his thoughts, and then replied, “what do you mean, the new material is right there, it’s the B.Sharpa. You just need some time to digest that.” As he said it, he stretched every vowel of the latter part of his response, perhaps to highlight the importance of the digestive process one needed to undergo. Later that year, in the midst of a series of dates on a European tour, he managed to get work done with a dizzying selection of artists, from Puerto Rican rapper Siete Nuevo, to regular Robert Glasper collaborator Chris Dave; he caught wreck with the Foreign Beggars in England, and toured with bass music producer Milanese. Meanwhile, Dplanet (one half of the duo Pure Solid) and the principal behind Pioneer Unit records, was working out a model aimed at a “dance-type crowd, for festival appearances.” This improvised, chant-infused blueprint would ensure that people get entertained without necessarily having to be bombarded with Sharpa’s dense lyrics and antipop leanings.
As Dplanet says: “The whole theme is to take people on a physical journey through music. Sharpa’s narrating the whole thing – messages of consciousness, positive living, and all these ideas which borrow from the B.Sharpa album, but [translates them] in a way that people can comprehend more easily.” Spo0ky (the other half of Pure Solid) is responsible for the visual elements, and constructs imagery (stills and video) to capture both Dplanet’s beats and Ben Sharpa’s soundsystem-style lyrical chants.
Fourth Density Light Show (4DLS for short), the new offering from Ben Sharpa and Pure Solid, is “a collision of uplifting conscious hip hop, live electro-dub beats and bespoke multimedia visuals.” At least that is what the press release says.
A considered listen reveals a well-executed set of ideas and principles, unorthodox and non-conformist in nature. More a reflection of Ben Sharpa and Dplanet’s shared love for left-of-centre audio experiments. It is not enough to just hear what is being said; the secret lies in experiencing it: Dplanet playing the role of sound architect as well as modern-day soundsystem revolutionary (with sirens to match); Ben Sharpa hollering martial arts-like phrases in the lead-up to his lyrical sermon, echoes of each “whoo” and “hah” trailing behind in lock-step with the beat; and spo0ky revitalising the senses with alluring and impeccably-constructed graphic interpretations of the words and the sounds, effectively creating ‘music for the eyes’.
Essentially, Ben Sharpa went on a shopping spree for free thought; in the midst of it all, he thought himself out of a bad reality, consequently shedding all that hindered him, the artist, to fully acknowledge and embrace his calling. Over the course of fourteen dub-infused melodic riddims, the listener gets schooled in the Sharpaganda philosophy – the ‘proper propaganda’ – and its inner machinations. Sharpa and Pure Solid’s offering injects energy into a morose, meme-obsessed musical consumer’s conscience, straying from conventional sonic territory in favour of a more affecting end-product that challenges the boundaries of how dub and rap are allowed to co-exist.