Photo: Sabelo Mkhabela

HHP, the Ultimate Bosso, Gave Me a Childhood Filled with Feel-Good Jams—Sizom'khumbula

Remembering the music and life of the icon Hip Hop Pantsula.

Music was the hallmark of my childhood. Whether we were in the car, holidaying to Zimbabwe, or in the house, the aromas of a home-cooked meal in the air, music was a constant. And more often than not that music came from Hip Hop PantsulaHHP. And like so many local Hip-Hop fans who found out about Jabba's passing today, my heart is incredibly sore.

…Music and light
Mona we pass time ka di blues delights
Move only in the heat of the night
Get down down to a flow in sight
Get made by the end of the night…

These are the lyrics to one of my absolute favourite songs from HHP. It was his effortless flow that made this and so many of his other tracks including, Bosso, Jabba and Tswaka such classics.

Jabba was a vibe man, a whole fucken mood and had me rapping along (no matter how badly) with such confidence that I swear at some point I wanted to be a rapper. What I loved about Jabba was how his flow was always so smooth. Rapping in vernacular is not as easy as just rapping in English and I can assure you the lyricism is more difficult. Bosso ke mang translated to "who is the boss?" was a whole movement when I was in high school. It became more than a song; it was the catchphrase of our time and that was all because of Jabba. He gave us so much authenticity—no BS. More than the numerous killer verses he gave us, I will never forget the way his music made me feel so damn good. It lifted the mood and was something that I could share with my much older parents, parents with whom I never thought I would have anything in common to be quite honest. And I know this goes for a lot of us.

Before I knew American artists like 50 Cent or Missy Elliot, there was the kwaito group Trompies, clad in the boldly-coloured overalls and canvas sneakers. There was Mandoza, Kabelo, TKZ, Ma Brrr, Lebo Mathosa and then there was HHP. Jabba was the don of Motswako, the same Setswana inflected Hip-Hop genre that includes artists like Cassper Nyovest, Khuli Chana, Skwatta Kamp and so many more. He led the way for so many artists, remaining a faithful representative of his hometown Mafikeng. The local music scene has been dealt a huge blow. An entire country has been dealt a huge blow.

Ah man, take me back to the times when summer was synonymous with Jabba! "What's summer without Jabba?" is what he used to say and I'm so sad that now we actually have to find out. People die, this I know. But I don't feel like Jabba was quite done, you know? I feel that there were still a number of offerings to come from him especially after the release of his recent EP Feels Good to be Back. But you know what they say, "it is what it is." And whilst the cause of his death is yet to be confirmed—there is speculation as to a possible suicide and battle with depression—the reality remains: we have lost yet another icon. This year has been a mess for South Africans and this is just one of the many reasons why.

To our summers yet to come, to our childhoods past and to giving us more than we could have ever asked for (and then some), thank you. Rest in power Jabba.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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