Op-Ed

Tumi Molekane is the Only OG Releasing Albums We Care About

Sabelo Mkhabela talks Tumi Molekane's new Stogie T album in the latest edition of his South African hip-hop column for Okayafrica.

Welcome to the fifth instalment of Cape Town-based music journalist and radio host Sabelo Mkhabela‘s South African hip-hop column for Okayafrica.


South African rap OGs like ProVerb and HHP are still releasing albums. Which is a great thing. But their music just doesn’t have the same impact as it used to in the mid-2000s and early 2010s. Maintaining a rap career, especially in South Africa, is tough. The lifespan of an artist in the mainstream is scarily short. Skwatta Kamp, Teargas, Pitch Black Afro, all had their time.

Then there is Tumi Molekane. He has maintained a rap career that spans more than a decade. And, unlike his counterparts, his music still matters. When he releases an album in 2016, it’s still a thing. His latest album, Stogie T, opened at number one on South Africa’s iTunes.

The rapper recently changed his name to Stogie T. The music is a little different, too, sounding more mainstream than his previous releases. One way T has been able to remain relevant is by understanding the game and his position in it. Also, by staying true to himself, while still progressing; by not sticking to one sound and telling the same stories.

Tumi understands that music changes. He might not be entirely happy with the direction South African rap music has taken (as expressed on his song “Too Long”), but unlike the average OG, he understands that new school rap isn’t all trash.

“Just because people are not rapping as prolifically as they did before,” he wrote on Instagram a few weeks ago, “doesn’t mean hip-hop has gotten worse. I actually believe there is magic in how young artists can catch a vibe or wave and build something you can feel without a clear formula or science.”

It reflects in his own music. Even though, he remains the potent lyricist he was on his earlier projects, T is constantly changing. His first solo album Music from my Good Eye (2006) had its own character, as did his second, Whole Worlds (2010). On the latter, he featured the kwaito star Brickz on the lead single “Bambezela.” That was way before working with kwaito artists was a thing for hip-hop.

Return of the King was pure genius. It had a sound that tied it together, and featured an array of guests. And it still didn’t sound like a DJ compilation. Live at the Bassline (2004), Tumi and the Volume (2006), Pick a Dream (2010), the three albums he released with the band The Volume, all sound different. And let’s not forget The Journey, his 2015 collaboration with French producer trio Chinese Man.

Stogie T is another coherent body of work. T always knows what he wants from an artist when he features them. He will put lyricists such as AKA and Nasty C only on the hook (“Miss Joburg,” “Clean Stuff”), and have Da L.E.S just talking crap and not rapping (“Freakend”), because he feels that’s what they are good for on that particular song.

Tumi doesn’t force change to fit in. Neither does he try to create the same album over and over again, which a lot of rap artists who have been in the game for years usually do. And it’s not just in South Africa; in the U.S., an artist like The Game will either feature whoever’s hot at the moment and end up with a scattered project or tell the same stories over and over again with another iteration of The Documentary.

On Stogie T, Tumi is giving us his reality. He isn’t a struggling up-and-comer borrowing money from his mother anymore, like he was on the song “Breathe” from Music from my Good Eye. He now has rich people problems. He is eating four-course meals at Cape Town’s Four Seasons Resort (“Diamond Walk”). On “By Any Means,” he raps, “It was hard for my bae/ We struggled to pay/ She stuck it out with a nigga, now it’s hard to figure St Tropez or Champs-Élysées.”

A rapper like ProVerb (one of Tumi’s peers) is also pretty good at giving us his reality. But it’s the music ‘Verb chooses that kind of lets him down. Recently he has chosen to produce most of his stuff, which hasn’t helped much. With Tumi, however, the music is forever exciting. And that feat comes with challenging himself, failing if he has to, or roping in young talent—such as the producers Tweezy and Tru Hitz—and having them work out of their comfort zone to achieve his desired sound. He’s the type of artist who would rather fail trying to progress than play it safe with the same tried-and-tested formula.

T was trying something new on “Hello Kitty,” a song which didn’t work for his fans. “I was leaving an incredible legacy with a band,” he told me last year. “I was like, ‘It’s new, guys, I’m now shooting in the dark and I’m reaching, and it’s important for you to see that process.’ And when you get to a track like “Broke People” you’re like, ‘Oh now I get it, the strokes are finer now’.”

It’s also his approach that sets him apart. While most artists collect beats and write to them, Tumi sits down with musicians and gives them his vision. On Return of the King, he had the Swiss producer, Fred Hirschy, design the album’s sound. The uniformity wasn’t a coincidence. It was craftsmanship at work.

The new album is another example. The emcee worked with musicians one wouldn’t picture him collaborating with, such as Nadia Nakai, Yanga, Da L.E.S and Emtee. Unlike that of most old school hip-hop heads, Tumi’s judgement of talent isn’t clouded by nostalgia; he recognizes talent for what it is. It explains why he signed Riky Rick to his Motif Records stable a few years ago. At the time, Motif’s roster included lyricists like Reason, Nova and Perfecto. Riky seemed an odd signing to many fans. He wasn’t half the lyricist Reason was, but that didn’t mean he was a bad artist. Tumi understood that. Riky is now one of the most successful artists in South Africa.

As an artist developer, he also catapulted an artist like Reason into the mainstream. Reason had released his debut album, The Reasoning, a few years prior. It made no impact, partly because of the nature of the music—it was nothing innovative. Tumi was the executive producer of Audio 3D, Reason’s first album under Motif Records, and the best of his career thus far. Tumi sat in on sessions and was involved creatively, pushing Reason to work out of his comfort zone. Most of the music on Audio 3D was electronic and EDM-related, a great departure from the tired boom bap production of The Reasoning. It goes to show what a genius Tumi is—he has the ability to craft progressive music without being a parody of what’s popular.

It doesn’t stop with music. Another way Tumi has been on people’s radar is through rap battles. He’s the only mainstream artist to participate in Scrambles For Money, South Africa’s biggest battle league. Most of the participants have been underground rappers. It takes guts to put yourself in that position as a reputable artist (ask Drake). T entered. His first battle was with the backpack rapper One-L. Losing that battle could have tainted his reputation. But T doesn’t play it safe. He’s forever progressing, rapping alongside new talent like Youngsta, Nasty C and Ginger Trill and thus ensuring his presence is felt by the new generation his peers fail to impress, and end up sneering upon.

It’s because of all the above, and probably more, that out of all the OGs who are still releasing albums, it’s Tumi’s that we genuinely care about. Not just for the legacy, but the actual music itself.

Sabelo Mkhabela is a writer from Swaziland, currently based in Cape Town. He also drops award-winning tweets as @SabzaMK.

Featured

This Afro-Feminist Marching Band Is Challenging Negative Stereotypes of Black Women In Paris

30 Nuances de Noires is fighting the erasure of black women in public spaces one march at a time.

If you stroll through the streets of Paris and its suburbs and stumble across a parade of black women wearing shiny outfits, singing and dancing, consider yourself lucky: you've just come across the Afro-feminist marching band '30 Nuances de Noires' (30 Shades of Black).

The band was created by dancer and choreographer Sandra Rose Fanchine. Tired of the erasure of black women in the public space and of the negative stereotypes associated with them, Fanchine has brought women (and a few men) together in this project. Professional and amateur singers, dancers and musicians, they have all accepted to embark on this journey and use their talents to launch this much-needed conversation in France.

Sandra Rose FanchinePhoto by SEKA photography

The band's musical coordinator, Célia Wa, is a flautist, singer and composer. When Fanchine invited her to take part in the project, she was very enthusiastic to have the opportunity to play alongside other black female musicians and take part in something that portrays black women in a positive light and in a flamboyant way. She was also keen to play alongside other black female musicians and coordinate them, outside, in the public space, where music is accessible to everyone. But it wasn't easy going. "It's hard to find women who play wind instruments" she explains. "But especially black women. So, we decided to incorporate a few black men musicians—men who understand the meaning of the project and support us. They don't try to dominate the space, they wear dresses and headwraps, they really blend into the group."

Célia WaPhoto by SEKA photography

Wa hopes the project will encourage many young girls to become professional musicians by showing them that being a fulfilled woman, having a music career and a family life, is possible.

Awori is the singer of the band Kamiawori, and a singer and dancer in the parade. She accepted Fanchine's invitation to join the band because she realized a brass band made of women—especially black women—was something unique that she wanted to be part of. "Throughout history, women had been forbidden to play wind instruments because blowing into those instruments was assimilated to a sexual act", says Kamiawori. "As a result, nowadays, the majority of people playing these instruments are men, so the fact that Sandra was looking for black women only was really appealing to me".

Earlier this year the band had the chance to travel to French Guiana to do a performance with black Guyanese women. This is the kind of future she wants for the project. "I want us to go to places in France where there aren't many black people, as well as to the former French colonies and the French overseas territories," she says. She hopes the project will start conversations everywhere, and empower black women to talk about their issues in their own words and organize their own emancipation.

AworiPhoto by SEKA photography

***

Read on for our conversation with Sandra Rose Fanchine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I'm 51 years old, I was born in Martinique and grew up in Côte d'Ivoire. I'm a hip-hop dancer and choreographer. I first came to France 22 years ago to study graphic design but along the way, I found hip hop and started dancing out of passion. With my background in graphic design, I knew I was going to be a choreographer eventually, I was convinced I could use hip hop beyond its performance aspect, bringing my visual artist's knowledge to it and using it to promote a narrative. So, when the age of maturity came, I became a choreographer. My first work considered the social construction of femininity, and I then created a piece which dealt with the memory of the black body. 30 Nuances de Noires is my third choreographic work.

Where did the idea of "30 Nuances de Noires" come from?

It came from my professional frustration as a black woman. When I was looking for a job after my studies, my graphic design work was very culturally influenced by my life in Martinique and Côte d'Ivoire. I was proud to show the aesthetics and the colors, to me it was beautiful but it wasn't seen as such, it was seen as something unworthy and my work was always devalued.

I also had to face that devaluation in my personal life. I wanted to partner up with a black man, but I could see that black men didn't value me, didn't give me space and in general chose to have solid relationships with white women. I am light-skinned so I used to pass black men's colorist filters, but this privilege stopped as soon as commitment was mentioned. I looked around me and saw a pattern in the way black men treated black women, in the way people in general treated black women, how we were looked down upon. I wanted to create something about that topic.

Photo by SEKA Photography

Why did you choose that name?

I chose that name to criticize the movie 50 shades of Grey, which from a feminist point of view is a sexist and misogynist movie, that glamorizes violence against women. Moreover, black women, in the global conception related to sexuality and sentiments, are continually eroticized in a very specific way: animalization, exotification and fetishization. I chose to reclaim these stigmas, just as Audre Lorde writes about in the chapter of her book Sister Outsider named "the use of eroticism, and the use of anger: the response of women to racism."

How did the people around you react to this project?

At first, I wanted to do a piece about sexuality, love and the neocolonial aspects of interracial unions but I faced a backlash from people in the cultural institutions and people in the hip hop industry. Whenever I talked about my project I was completely shut down and called a racist.

After all that rejection and denigration, I went back to university and studied gender studies for two years, and around the same time I became an Afro-feminist activist. In the meantime, the project evolved. I used to work at festivals where there were many brass brands and I already wanted to create a marching band with hip hop dancers so I just mixed the two ideas: highlighting black women's issues and creating a marching band.

After equipping myself with the relevant intellectual tools, surrounding myself with other black women and realizing we were all going through the same things, I was capable of demonstrating the systemic nature of what I was talking about and the barriers fell. I was finally in the right place at the right time. I found the artists very easily, the first musicians I met brought other musicians, the first dancers brought other dancers, it all happened very organically.

Photo by SEKA Photography

What type of women were you looking for?

I was looking for women who were strong enough to embody and address those issues unapologetically. They had to be capable of dancing on the streets with an attitude that says "I am standing up straight, I am black, I am glowing, I am shining and you will look at me and ask yourself how you really see me because I am not all those stereotypes you believe I am." Naturally, it first attracted feminists, women who were already aware of those issues. The women who later joined us and weren't aware of those issues are now more conscious and politicized.

What are the musical and aesthetic inspirations behind the project?

I really wanted visuals inspired by the aesthetics of the 70s and 80s because the dances present in the parade—locking and waacking—emerged at that time. For the musical aspect, I looked for songs that talked about black women and their issues: sorority, colorism, equality and resilience.

Photo by SEKA Photography

How do you see the project evolving in the future?

I want to do a world tour, I want us to dance with Beyoncé and Solange, I want to take this message of empowerment everywhere there are black women who need to exist, shine, go outside and assert their presence in the public space. Because of harassment, sexism and prejudice, it's still pretty complicated for women to simply exist. I consider myself lucky because I can see that the band does what I wanted it to do: it really empowers black women and seeing that happening gives me a lot of strength to take it further.

popular
Seyi Shay. Image provided by the artist.

Seyi Shay's 'Electric Package' EP Is All About Love & Positive Vibes

We talk to Seyi Shay about her new EP, an intimate mix of different afrobeats blends topped off by Gqom.

Talented Nigerian singer and songwriter Seyi Shay recently dropped her brand new music project, the Electric Package EP Vol. 1.

It's her first project in three years, since the release of her debut album, Seyi or Shay, in 2015. The EP, an intimate mix of different blends of afrobeats, contains six tracks, topped off at the end by the Gqom brand of South African house music.

The project features artists from different corners of Africa, including rising singer King Promise from Ghana, Afropop songstress Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, and rapper and producer Anatii from South Africa, giving it a pan-African outlook.

However, she didn't forget her fellow Nigerian acts, as seasoned highlife singer Flavour, young Afropop superstar Kiss Daniel, and fresh act Slimcase are also on the bill.

Several DJs were also involved in the project, hosting different songs in mixtape fashion; DJ Spinall, DJ Consequence, DJ Neptune, and DJ Cuppy from Nigeria, Vision DJ from Ghana, and DJ Tira from South Africa. The songs were produced by Killertunes, DJ Coublon, Krizz Beat, Lush Beat, Anatii, and Chopstix.

We caught up with the singer to discuss Electric Package. Read our conversation below.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Photo courtesy of Nike.

OkayAfrica & Nike Present: Naija Worldwide

We're linking up with Nike to celebrate Nike's fire Nigeria kits and to send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style.

Partner content from Nike

We've teamed up with Nike to bring the Naija spirit to the world with "Naija Worldwide," an epic bash to celebrate Nike's triumphant Nigeria kits as we send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style!

Join us on Saturday, June 2, from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Well in Brooklyn as we mark the occasion with music by DJ Tunez, DJ Moma and DJ Moniki. The vibe also includes art by Laolu Senbanjo, Nigerian cuisine, and a surprise performance by one of Afrobeats' finest.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.