Despite influencing international charts for two decades, hip hop has only recently entered the mainstream here in Mzansi. Better late than never, mix “tapes” have lately become all the rage for local hip hoppers hoping to cash in. Look no further than DJ C-Live, who has just dropped The Taste Maker Mixtape with the help of sponsorship from Levi’s.
The CD rounds up a host of top up-and-coming artists on a bumper 20-track disc. Evidently, the problem with local hip hop remains that most aspiring rappers think they need to impersonate their two-bit American idols. Instead of dealing with real social issues like good hip hop always has, these wannabe American gangstas harp on about pimps, hos and big rims (AKA’s “Ladies is Pimps too”), expensive sneakers (C-Live’s “Clap” and Ill Skillz’ “Coolest in the City”), booty calls (C-Live’s “Wake up”) and bling (Hydro’s “I Got Swag”). Best of these l’American tracks, AB Crazy’s “Man of the Moment” draws heavily on new school R&B acts like Rihanna and Drake, yet still claims to be “representin” Mpumalanga. Nice track, perhaps, but as for “keeping it real”? Yeah right.
Despite these misguided aspirations, however, this “tape” does tap into some of Mzansi’s biggest names, including Bongani Fassie, who produced Maggs’ “Don’t Believe Everything” and features on C-Live’s “Wake Up”. Thankfully, after listening to a dozen dirty tracks, just when all hope is lost, some decent hip-hop finally kicks in on the final third of the album. In one fell swoop, Tumi’s “Asinamali” chops the wannabes down at the knees and shows why Mahala recently called the guy “one of our most wildly original, authentic and relevant hip hop acts.” Quoting John Lennon, he reminds hip hop fans that “a working class hero is something to be” – something his bling-obsessed compatriots would do well to consider.
Tumi’s track is followed by Nadine’s “Falling Away”, one of only two chances to listen to a female rapper on the album, albeit in a British accent a la Ms Dynamite, Lady Sovereign or MIA. Nadi Nakai’s “Wildest Dreams” is also guilty of drawing from the usual American soundscape, but she pulls it off with a suitably sexy attitude, and the novelty of a female rapper in this sausage-fest still scores some points.
Also towards the end of the disc, Whosane favours smart, conscious lyrics over the yankee yawn on “Mamela”. Wrapping things up are two of the brightest new stars of Mzansi hip hop, Dirty Paraffin (“A-ha”) and Spazashop Boys (“Bobby Brown”) are the only ones smart enough to look beyond standard and generic Western hip hop formulas and draw on electro, dubstep and drum ’n bass influences.
Unfortunately, just when the album seems to have redeemed itself, C-Live steals the last laugh when he feels the need to advertise his Facebook and Twitter over the final track, Les B’s “How can I”. Surely the point of promoting Facebook at all is to get people to listen to your music. So when they’re already listening to your songs, spelling out your Twitter profile reeks of amateur desperation. It’s this that makes The Taste Maker Mixtape a mediocre one, instead of a fair reflection of the best, smartest, “realest” Mzansi hip hop.
If you’re already a fan of nu skool local hip hop, this might just keep you satisfied. For those who are new to it, however, this is unlikely to win over any fresh disciples. That’s if a pompous name like the “Taste Maker” didn’t set your bullshit detectors off from the outset, given what others have had to say on the subject:
“Good taste is the first refuge of the non creative. It is the last ditch stand of the artist.” – Marshall Mcluhan.
“It is good taste, and good taste alone, that possesses the power to sterilize and is always the first handicap to any creative functioning.” – Salvador Dali
“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.” – Pablo Picasso