Sebenzaby Ts’eliso Monaheng / 10.12.2012
“The future’s already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson
Three producers from South London collectively known as LV took the best of what house, grime, UK funky and other variants of their hometown’s underground club circuit has to offer, and fused it with three of our most interesting lyrical talents. In so doing they gave birth to an album brimming with varying shades of confusing. Over fourteen tracks, Okmalumkoolkat of the Jozi-based, KZN-born duo Dirty Paraffin (he tallies up the most number of guest spots) and international kool kid of note, Spoek Mathambo, represent one side of the mould: young and perennially fresh.
The third addition, sandblasted and dusted by die Kaapse dokter, is a duo representing the slick, clean-cut side of the township. Their name is Ruffest, and they make the second-most number of appearances at four.
Lyrically, the album hops fluidly between mash-ups of straight-up raps, and repetitive phrases recited in the kwaito tradition. Okmalumkoolkat’s words sway casually between self-congratulatory banter and extended expressions of his insatiable appetite for material possessions. When he spits, it’s always in the context of things he has or aspires to.
Not to say there is anything inherently wrong about aspiration – if anything, it is refreshing to hear such manner of expression within the context of club music. However, the over-the-top, inward-looking approach to song structure makes the music more highbrow fashion than middle-of-the-road stuff relatable to the common man. At certain junctures, he appears to be rapping for an inner circle of acquaintances where everyone is in on the joke. Perhaps the same can be said of Mathambo, but that would be an unfair assessment considering that he only makes two appearances.
Ruffest, on the other hand, are closer to the care-free, feel-good energy of early kwaito; think Makhendlas meets Ma-Willies in a town hall booming with beats from anyone of kwaito’s figureheads: Sebitlo, Mafokate, or even Masilela. “Hustla” finds Ruffest interchangings rhythmic rhyme patterns every four bars to great effect. A Brickz-esque rhyme structure is apparent on this song; one only needs to add Brickz’s signature snarl (‘heh’!) in order to complete the puzzle. Sample lines: “Numba1 sghebengu, numba1 tsotsi/ […]/numba1 sghebengu, numba1 gangsta/ vula masango singene, angekh’uzo smema”.
Listening to the title track, “Sebenza”, it is hard to not wonder why every taxi from Mofolo to Nyanga, Umlazi to Gugulethu, and Umtata to Maseru is not playing it. A synth-heavy, bounce-ready concoction of pop culture references and new-age niche-marketing, the tune literally screams and shouts “I am a hit, play me damnit!” from the first note. The chorus, a phrase culled from the meanest, roughest corners of the Johannesburg CBD, should – in theory – incite the massess into fully-formed riot. “Siya sebenza, siya sebenza, siya sebenza only rest in dezemba!”
Okmalumkoolkat provides the words to that album opener. Pay attention to how he pronounces the month: Dee-zem-bar. A testament to the desire to be unique; to be seen, heard, and felt. He makes an appearance on seven more songs, with wildy-varying styles and equally widely-varied consequences. At one juncture (“DL”), the results are just drab garbage masquerading under the guise of cool chic. The music, however, saves the song. Its bouncy, half-step format is perfect fodder for letting off groovy patterns on the dancefloor.
It would be unfair to apply the purist template of ’emcee’ to Koolkat’s rhyme structure; he wouldn’t make the grade, neither does he fit that traditional mould. What he represents is a shift (or is it a regression) in the lyrical aspect of rap: storytelling takes the spotlight instead of flow. The words become a space where ideas are posted, reblogged, and printed on a t-shirt by obscure bloggers and fanboys from all over.
Is it supposed to be ironic? I do not know.
“Work”, re-imagined on Spoek’s “Father Creeper” album, reveals its roots as a bleepy sidekick thrown into LV’s bag of tricks. It is one of Mathambo’s two contributions.
Sebenza is brimming with examples of duality; where Koolkat references Nike sneakers and Macbook pros, Ruffest’s point of reference is more concerned with purely kasi aesthetics: shisanyama, streetbashes, and, for older folk, stokvels. It begs the question: from what vantage point do you listen to your music? If it is for replay value, this is not for you; most of the items covered in the lyrics will probably not be relevant in the next ten years. But if you prefer your music to reflect the status quo: manic, displaced, short-term, then this is the album for you. This is that ‘hear a punchline on the way back from a heavy night in the back of an overloaded car, wild out, then move onto other things’ type of music; the soundtrack to shutter the very core of bass-obsessed youths across global ghettoes and metropoli.
The album is reflective of the cult of personality endemic in today’s youth. It is the symptom of countless hours spent online building a profile of the imagined self; it is the reflection of the quest to attain the things and be the beings we aspire to, the culmination of wasted data bundles, misspent nights online and the realisation that life happened while we were stuck in the matrix. In conclusion, it is the album for now and should be treated thus.