I admit not being the biggest hip hop fan out there – not in the sense that I don’t like the genre and trying to be polite but I do like it, just not as much as hardcore heads. In some eyes this may disqualify me from commenting on all things Zim Hip Hop but hear me out for a minute. I am seeing interesting things.
Genre purism forms an important part of music listening habits and kinda reminds me of the old school ways I used to listen to music. Kana wanga uri munhu wemaTune you were 100% dancehall or if you were hip hop you were 100% that etc. You would champion for that genre and go out of your way to discover more artists within it. Times do change fast, don’t they? Although genre purism still has its place, we have a highly musically-educated listenership that has access to more music than they can possibly consume. They listen to multiple genres and love the a la carte approach.
The first CD I ever bought was Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front around 98/99 as a 12 year old. It beats me how my musical tastes were never policed but I know I loved Hip Hop. I identified as a hip hop head for a long time in my teens into my 20s partly because it was cool to do so. You can’t tell me you weren’t hooked on Ruff Ryders Anthem by DMX in ‘98 or Mo Money Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G in ‘97 if you were a young boyzen my age at the time. I wouldn’t believe it.
On the Zim front we were doing quite well and had Mau Mau, Kataklyzim, Trixx n Games, Mizchif, Wargames, Culprit Cartel, Nota, Mo V.I.P, Metaphysics etc. Those were fantastic times for Zim music. We were brimming with potential even though we knew we still had ways to go. I eventually grew out of the Hip Hop zone and 20 years later my musical tastes have widened and become less restrictive.
Zim Hip Hop interests me in many ways. For starters Zim Hip Hop was really the first separatist youth genre from the popular all-encompassing “Urban Grooves”. They never wanted to be part of it. Think of the late Kingpinn, at no point was he ever considered an Urban Groover in the fashion that Maskiri was considered an Urban Grooves rapper. Then you had Major Playaz, their musical core was really Hip Hop and RnB but one of their biggest ever hits, Shake Umzimba Wakho, would never fit there. Maybe Bulawayo’s P.O.Y? Hip Hop. Hip Hop never wanted to be part of Urban Grooves, ever. There was this unspoken rule that if you rapped in Shona or Ndebele or Shonglish or Ndenglish you weren’t really hip hop. Or if you rapped on Urban Grooves beats that weren’t hard core boom bap rap, you weren’t hip hop. You were Urban. This put some classic Zim Hip Hop artists such as Gau Gau and Q Riggah in a bracket they were never meant to be in. Deep down we knew it was Hip Hop but there’s a certain denial to it all. ExQ’s Salala is one of the biggest Hip Hop records to ever come out of Zim. Don’t @ me. Oh how we love labelling things in Zim.
Remember this one, the hottest music video in Zim at the time:
I believe one album helped kickstart changes to those perceptions: Munetsi’s Muzukuru WaGogo (2004). It is one of the earliest examples of a full body of work where Zim Hip Hop found a sound that it could identify with long term. Much like Mau Mau’s debut, the template was there but the genre needed to grow and mature first. Trying to sound American wasn’t going to cut it. It took a while but I think we are here now – our Hip Hop just sounds Zimbabwean.
Currently, Zim Hip Hop is in a very exciting space. I know all the hullabaloo is about Zimdancehall/Mangoma this year but something is quietly brewing in Zim Hip Hop.
Here are 6 reasons why Zim Hip Hop will own 2019:
1. Seeds were sown in 2018 – this year has seen a number of quality projects being dropped and the level of competition being raised. We’ve had stellar albums from Noble Stylz & Blacperl, Crooger, Kikky Badass, Mariachi Muzukuru, Karizma, to name a few and some seriously hot singles. Can we add Takura in there? This bodes well for Zim Hip Hop. Zimdancehall/Mangoma iri muvanhu, it is the popular genre on the ground but there are many youngsters that are into Zim Hip Hop. It’s hard to ignore that. What makes this even better? It’s not just albums.There’s material such as Munetsi’s MU Sessions video series where he raps over popular beats and has Facebook all eyes and ears. Kap City is dropping killer freestyle verses via IG and Facebook.
2. Female MCs are at the centre of the action – Some of the best and most exciting songs to come out this year in Zim Hip Hop were from female MCs. It’s exciting because we have female MCs having their piece of the pie. It’s no longer just a boys club and that is quite refreshing. The music we are getting from these MCs is top notch and they are pushing the bar. Having more female MCs has also seen an image makeover for the genre especially when it comes to lyrical content and music videos.
Locally we have the likes of TiffCake, Kikky Badass, AWA, Alvina, Tru North, Trae Yung, Blacperl, Natasha Muz, Whitney Ca$h and then continentally Nadia Nakai and Radiofien, then internationally Tkay Maidza. Zim Hip Hop is in good hands with all these ladies.
3. The class divide is being erased – Zim Hip Hop over the years was notorious for being elitist. Among the reasons included the view that the genre attracted a lot of middle to upper class kids with the wannabe American accents so yanga iri yemaSalad. This was fuelled further by the whole North Samora vs South Samora divide from a couple of years back. Right now, there is far less bickering and more music – the way it should be. You can get TiGonzi bringing his style, Tru North with hers, Asaph with his, Kikky with hers, Briss Mbada with his and nobody trying to nitpick unnecessarily. This will filter into the fanbase and break the class divide. When that happens… the genre will blow.
4. The diaspora based artists are no longer outsiders – The diaspora people have been putting in some work. Karizma dropped a killer EP called Fakazi which comes after landing himself on the soundtrack of Africa’s social consciousness TV Show MTV Shuga. Moves. Mr Ndipe Sadza a.k.a Icey Stanley gave us contender for verse of the year in 2017 then came through with a massive single alongside Tocky Vibes called Something I’m Needing. Moves. We also have the likes of Wamambo, who came to our attention on Got Your Back featuring Takura and then followed up with Kazz on Sarudzai. Moves. We are getting far more diaspora-based artists making names for themselves in Zim and to Zimbabweans all over. That is very important for the music space and Zim Hip Hop in particular because it paints a more accurate picture of ‘Zim Music’ while raising the bar. Music is no longer made in one environmental vacuum that doesn’t challenge tastes and styles.
5. Bulawayo – Bulawayo artists in general are on a serious vibe right now. I’m not saying this because I was born there. No, really. Cal_Vin and Asaph are leading the way for Zim Hip Hop from Bulawayo with consistent releases, good music and dope collabos. On the other hand we have AWA who is internationally renowned for her rap and poetry skills. She was on Noisey a couple of years back. There was no way Bulawayo was going to get left behind on the greatness with the amount of talent it’s producing. Bulawayo is the City of Kings after all. Bulawayo Hip Hop was already pretty deep with the likes of Orthodox Six who was grinding for years to keep the culture relevant.
6. Producer diversity – Unlike Zimdancehall where the most popular riddims and songs come from the same 3 producers and studios, Zim Hip Hop has become so diverse. You are getting a mix of local, continental and international Zim beatmakers with different levels of exposure and skills running things. Some names to mention here are RayoBeats, C.O.G Beatz, McKnife, YoungNash, Kiva Q Kill, Mr Masinh, Quazor, Squash Beats, TRK, Larynx, Futronic, CrayBeatx, Rodney Beatz, Leekay, Jusa Dementor and many more. The Zim Hip Hop sound has gotten better and better over the years. It will get even better.
The above and a good work ethic with smart moves all combine to make 2019 a very interesting year for Zim Hip Hop. Will the gatekeepers take up the challenge and make it count?
Time Will Tell