If you understand IsiXhosa, you'll be waking up and going to bed to this album for a long time.
Revered Cape Town-based hip-hop artist and poet Ndlulamthi recently released his sophomore album, Hard Livings, seven years after his debut, Isibhilivane.
Ndlulamthi's music is mostly centered around social consciousness as is the case with most spaza artists'. For instance, in 2014, he released the single "Andivoti," in which he gave his reasons for not hitting the ballots during the municipal elections. The song is still referenced by the streets of Cape Town during any kind of election.
In Hard Livings, the artist shares vignettes of living in the black townships of Cape Town. He touches on mob justice ("Abahlali"), crime ("Skelem Tsotsi"), gun violence ("Gun Dubula"), fatherhood ("Usengu Tatam"), and online dating ("Diary") among other topics. He raps passionately about loving a place you grew up in, but refusing to raise your children in it because of the ills you've seen. He also raps about his passion for rap music, like in the nostalgic "From The Era." On "Late Bels Ngomgqibelo," he paints the picture of what happens in the hood on weekends, from hedonistic drinking to casual sex. Listening to Hard Livings will remind you just how detrimental the apartheid's dumping sites have been to black people.
Ndlulamthi's storytelling skills are second to none. His command of the Xhosa language is goosebump-inducing, as he uses clever yet accessible similes and metaphors. He does this with a conversational delivery that's crystal clear, ensuring you get every single word.
What makes Hard Livings even more special is the specificity of the stories—black stories are usually told by people who have no context, treating black people as homogenous. At the same time, Hard Livings is a story that will resonate both nationally and universally, as ghettoes all around the world have many similarities.
Listening to Hard Livings gave me the same feeling I got when I first listened to Illmatic and Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. As much as Nas and Kendrick Lamar were telling the stories of Queensbridge and Compton with the specificity of someone who has a lived experience, I found myself relating to most of the stories.
Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.
The production on Hard Livings leans towards boom bap, again this is always the case with most spaza artists. Long-time collaborator and friend, FiveSix produced most of the album, with contributions from fellow Cape Town-based producers Inkanyamba and Simmz.
The album's title, Hard Livings, is inspired by the notorious Cape Flats gang of the same name. "It's not because I glorify the lifestyle, but because ganging is more of the friends or the brotherhood you tend to keep," says the artist whose real name is Sizakele Gegana. "Well, my special friend is more of an imaginary character than a real one. His name is Ndlulamthi. I think I gave up my own life for him. I could have easily been one of your forgotten nobodies, but he has kept me afar from the troubles of my youthful years up till parenthood. He makes thoroughly sure I find closure peace and overstanding by just letting me express my inner through rhymes."
If you understand IsiXhosa, you'll be waking up and going to bed to this album for a long time. Hard Livings is not an album that's only great because it explores social and political issues, but Ndlulamthi excels as a sharp lyricist who understands his strengths and uses them to the fullest.
Stream Hard Livings below or download it here.