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No School like the Old Skool

by Siphiwe Zwane / 18.06.2012

A while back respected hip hop wordsmiths, Tumi and Zubz, released a kwaito mixtape. No typo or new slang there, it was a kwaito mixtape. The beats were re-engineered by respected producer slash rapper Instro, while the duo take to the mic adding conscious new hip hop flows to those old kwaito beats.

The mixtape is like a 90s nostalgia trip back to a simpler time when kwaito was the anthem of the youth of South Africa. The songs range from Twistyle to Thebe to Mandoza and even the love anthem by Mshoza and Mzambiya “Kortez” is revived by the hip hop duo. And the bass on the song “Mambotjie” from the classic TKZee album Halloween, just brings the nostalgia flooding back. Mdu’s rough voice on the song “Chepad” reminds you of the days of Chafkop and Not Guilty orange overalls. They even dug as deep as Bongani Fassie’s first dance with the music industry with “Ujole Next Door”. Heartfelt verses are sprinkled over B.O.P’s “Egoli” with Mageu (RIP) detailing the dangers of getting drunk ‘n reckless in Joburg.

I guess the real question is what would prompt two respected and highly prolific hip hop artists to release a kwaito mixtape on an industry which is short of quality new hip hop albums? The answer is simple. To show love and respect to a great moment in South African musical history and to highlight the influence each genre has had on the other.

Kwaito was birthed in the early 90s. It was the street’s soundtrack, the getaway sound for the youth at a time that had previously been defined by the politics of an apartheid stricken country. This was the first parp of the liberation vuvuzela. It was the first free voice of young South Africans in a new dispensation. Who could forget Arthur’s videos with dancers clad in camouflage and Mandela’s voice as the intro. Who could forget Arthur’s song “Kaffir”? Kwaito gatecrashed the wedding like an uninvited guest, a force to be reckoned with. Doc Shebeleza had bangers, Mdu was wearing leather do rags and Kabelo from TKZee was just a skinny kid.

TZ Deluxe

As Kwaito evolved, songs became more than just about partying, verses were born tackling socio-political topics, moving away from the stigma of one-lined songs and heavy bass “dance” beats. Kwaito developed verses and bars. Hell, Thembi was rapping on Boom Shaka’s Words of Wisdom album. Zombo was the rapper in 999 stable. At the same time hip hop in the States was really taking off, dining with the mainstream.

The issue back home was the language barrier, to this day I still need to listen three times until I understand a Wu Tang Clan song. Hip hop was English, kwaito was tsotsitaal but both spoke to the youth, tackled the everyday struggles of crime, hunger and the dream of a better life. Listen to TKZee’s “Serenade”, that is pure rap. Flows, punchlines, ridiculous rhyme schemes. Kabelo and Tokollo, both respected kwaito artists, were rappers in that song. Hip hop in SA grew rapidly alongside kwaito, but always looked to the USA for influence. This era spawned the legends of today. P.O.C and Brasse vannie Kaap rooted the scene. They were SA’s Public Enemy followed by a steady production line of soldiers: Amu, Selwyn, Spex, Robo, Pro Kid, Tumi, Dj Bionic, Skwatta Kamp, Optical Illusion, Ramesh, Mizchief, Kaydo and the list goes on. Rappers started incorporating vernac and tsotsitaal and ‘kasi rap was born. I still spazz out to Fortune’s offering “Abom’rapper”.

As kwaito and local hip hop grew side by side, cross-pollinating and erasing their boundaries, the genres became like left and right hands embracing the emergent SA youth culture. It’s good to see colabs like TZ Deluxe paying respect to the roots of this original culture and offering the forgotten pop hits of yesterday a new lease on life… and giving the kids the opportunity to experience the Old Skool. The Where Were You mixtape taps into a unique moment of creative production in this country. And it’s something that we as South Africans should be proud of. I’m kind of astounded that this free mixtape hasn’t received much more love…

You can still download the Tumi and Zubz Where Were You? mixtape here. And it’s 100% Mahala.

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