Op-Ed

A Letter to Ninja: Stop Being a Poes

On Die Antwoord, South Africa and appropriation.

In the op-ed below, Tseliso Monaheng responds to Ninja from Die Antwoord's recent Instagram post about his home country: "The question was buried in my subconscious mind since I decided the become a rapper at the age of 14: 'How the fuck am I going to make it out of South Africa?'" He continues "The young South African kids are cool as fuck, but ALOT of people over the age 20 (or so) are culturally insecure and unable to present anything artistically that is relevant to the outside world. They try their best, but their shit just circles around interally for a while then eventually dies out. There are however a few incredible exceptions of people that have emerged from South Africa and exploded internationally, like J.R.R. Tolkien, Charlize Theron, Neill Blomkamp, Trevor Noah... and I may be fogetting a person or two, but when South Africans do get their shit together and blow up, they don't fuck around. #Oh ja and let's not forget the inventor Elon Mutherfuckin Musk, and the freedom fighter turned saint, Nelson Mandela"


I also have a Ninja story.

Watkin Tudor Jones was a rapper whom I got introduced to via legend. People would speak of this white guy who could spit superlatives, rhymed about his strictly formal dress code, was part of The Original Evergreen, a band likened to Cypress Hill in their music-making approach. He was also said to be ahead, way ahead, of his time.

The legend of Waddy bled into Max Normal, the live outfit he founded after the demise of the Evergreen. It went further, this legend, and spilled its guts through other tales: Waddy at Le Club [Johannesburg], performing while covered head-to-toe such that his white skin was invisible; Waddy, post-Max Normal, breaking barriers, trends and expectations through the electronic soundscapes provided by Sibot and Markus Wormstorm.

Waddy was the penultimate “cool” emcee to me. He was to other black kids too, I discovered later on. These were the homies who, like myself, grew up digging for alternative rap music; for anything that wasn’t the shit radio was churning out. He featured in playlists alongside artists signed to Rawkus and Def Jux; his songs fit perfectly in mixtapes featuring Tumi and the Volume and Cashless Society––both outfits with immense street cred at that time.

I got the Max Normal Songs From The Mall CD in 2004. I’ve got stories of missed shows during the MaxNormal.TV era; of crushed dreams from not being able to afford one of the few remaining copies of Constructus Corporation’s The Ziggurat.

I also have other stories, and have heard of more. Waddy was fond of founding and abandoning projects for no explanation, leaving a trail of broken hearts and dreams in his decision-making process.

Then he found Ninja.

With Yolandi by his side and the MaxNormal.TV days drawing near, the two formed Die Antwoord.

Ninja, nee Waddy Jones, said of the time, in a cover story with the now-defunct South African edition of Rolling Stone, that the reason for his newfound glory was that he came the realisation that nobody wanted the intellectual shit. He then went on to say “We appeal to the man in the street. We run the exact same campaign as Zuma and Malema do. We make pop music. We don’t make intellectual music.”

He also added a very telling caveat: “Our shit is hostile-takeover shit.”

The statement came fresh out of Ninja’s book of bold declarations, so it wasn’t a surprise.

Much like it wasn’t a surprise when he featured Isaac Mutant, Garlic Brown, Scallywag and Jaak on “Wie Maak Die Jol Vol,” a song left out of the group’s debut offering, $O$. These, afterall, were some of the emcees on the Cape Town rap scene during the gully days when Waddy was the guy who walked around in clubs battling anyone (and oftentimes losing). What transpired following the collab was disconcerting.

Not once did Ninja take any of those emcees he’s featured along on the road; at least there’s no recorded case where that happened.

It’s all good being a self-starter who leeches off of other cultures for selfish interests; capitalism demands it through its every-man-for-himself bullshit approach to life. It’s all good, until we turn to history and identify similar cases where white men have stolen from other cultures and passed off ideas as their own. Where white people use people of other skin tones for self-serving ventures.

So, then, entered the Ninja: Someone who appropriated Cape Flats Coloured identity thoroughly, and went away all smiles and laughter, fat cheque in the back pocket and balls intact in hand. Plus a ticket to the showrooms of big labels and big-name artists and fashion designers, and big-time movie producers.

Now check for Die Antwoord’s subsequent projects: The taal made an exit and the English rhymes sneaked their way back into the catalogue. This alone presents a strong case for the group as a walking, talking caricature of Whiteness, oblivious to the violence it exacts on its environment, with a gang of backers in the mainstream media to trump its bullshit. We’ll ignore that line of merchandise Die Antwoord purveyed in 2014 featuring the word “Nigger.” It’s safe to assume that by then, anyone who’d idolised Waddy in any way during his formative years had worked day and night erasing any memory linked to him. We’ll also overlook “Evil Boy.”

Here’s the thing, though, Ninja: You’re a superstar now. You pose for photo ops with Kanye and Travis Scott, you get shouted out by Ghostface Killah, you’re bros with Manson, and you can afford to have DJ Muggs, the founding member of a crew which was so influential to your early years, to spin at the record release party for your mixtape, which he produced. But for you to suggest in your Instagram post that South Africans “over the age 20 (or so) are culturally insecure and unable to present anything artistically that is relevant to the outside world” and then go on to list an almost exclusively-white, way-over-20 list (with one dead person in it, as one Facebook commenter pointed out), c’mon fam.

Or, as one of the captions on the memes you’ve posted on your group’s Facebook page suggests: “Don’t be a poes.”

. Die Antwoord is „the answer“. Have you found out what's the question? N-The question was buried in my subconscious mind since I decided the become a rapper at the age of 14: 'How the fuck am I going to make it out of South Africa?' South Africa is a strange place, it's wild and beautiful and dangerous and fucked up and violent and wonderful and mysterious and so many different things. My country has a very rich, kind of unexplainable spirit or feeling or however you want to call it. The young South African kids are cool as fuck, but ALOT of people over the age 20 (or so) are culturally insecure and unable to present anything artistically that is relevant to the outside world. They try their best, but their shit just circles around interally for a while then eventually dies out. There are however a few incredible exceptions of people that have emerged from South Africa and exploded internationally, like J.R.R. Tolkien, Charlize Theron, Neill Blomkamp, Trevor Noah... and I may be fogetting a person or two, but when South Africans do get their shit together and blow up, they don't fuck around. #Oh ja and let's not forget the inventor Elon Mutherfuckin Musk, and the freedom fighter turned saint, Nelson Mandela

A photo posted by NINJA (@zef_alien) on

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Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP) (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images

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