A list of the best albums, mixtapes and EPs to come out of SA's hip-hop scene this year.
South African hip-hop is forever lit. And what makes the scene interesting is the variance in aesthetic. As much as trap is the subgenre of choice, South African hip-hop is way deeper than that. Boom-bap is still alive and sound–although you might have to search harder for it. While some artists are generic, others go the extra mile to innovate, merging hip-hop with other genres. The subject matter varies from light-hearted topics like parties, all the way to race and politics.
Below, is a list of the albums, mixtapes and EPs that caught our ears' attention. The list is in no particular order.
Da L.E.S High Level
Da L.E.S's secret to success is consistency. The man hasn't missed a season since 2006. On his fourth solo album, North God sticks to his guns–making light-hearted music that can turn a party up. It won't change your outlook on life, but it will definitely entertain you, with well-crafted songs that have trap sensibilities–standout songs include "Train Rides," "Popular Demand," "Stay," "Something Else," "Water Whipping," and "Taking No More," which is pretty much half of the album. He has great features, too, as usual, in the form of Khuli Chana, Tay Grin, Gemini Major, Yanga Chief, Tshego, G Baby Da Silva, and Maggz. The latter drops the album's best verse on "Something Else."
Robin Thirdfloor Bhotela
Robin Thirdfloor decided to embrace his Durban roots on his EP Bhotela. He rapped mostly in IsiZulu, and picked beats that referenced kwaito and house. His rhymes are less dense, and in true Durban kwaito style, revolve mostly around carefree living–partying and tongue-in-cheek takes on relationships. Swiss producer Dejot reimagined kwaito and adulterated it with EDM to create a 21st century version of kwaito, not something that hasn't been done before, but still sounds fresh nonetheless. Bhotela is the alternative soundtrack to December, if gqom and pure house aren't your thing.
Revisit our interview with Robin Thirdfloor here.
B3nchMarQ ASPEN EP
Newcomer IceMan Beatz is a beast. Rattling 808s, potent bass squelches, and a selection of pads form the soundscape of ASPEN EP. The B3nchMarQ duo built eight solid songs that consist of melodic raps, impressive hooks and bridges, accompanying verses that go well with each other. The vocals sit so well over the beats, it's like the beats were made around the vocals. The sound quality of ASPEN EP is impressive–everything is panned to place to accommodate each element on every song. If you are going to sleep on a project in 2017, it definitely shouldn't be this one.
Revisit our review of ASPEN EP here.
Cassper Nyovest Thuto
Thuto is Nyovest's best album to date. The man of the moment really opened up on the first half of his third album on songs like "Confused," "I Wasn't Ready For You," "Destiny," and "Superman," that show his vulnerable side. He muses about his success, failed relationships, and his father, among other things. And of course, celebrates his success by flaunting it to you. I guess being a millionaire at such a young age when you didn't even have a driver's license a few years ago, never gets old. "Bentley Coupe," "Nyuku," "We Living Good," "Top Shayela," see Nyovest reminding you of his success, and even though that's the story he's been telling for the past three years, the songs are well executed, with great features (Black Thought, Tshego, Nadia Nakai). You can't help but fall in love with Thuto. I'm still recovering from that Black Thought verse and the track "Nyuku."
Revisit our coverage of Cassper Nyovest's monumental concert Fill Up FNB Stadium here.
After the success of Avery, his debut album, all eyes were on Emtee to prove he really was the trap king he claimed to be. And Manando did exactly just that. Emtee gave trap his own voice. His afro pop influence helps him sound authentic in a subgenre that's otherwise flooded with duplicates. On Manando, Emtee's storytelling is impressive, especially on the title-track. Manando is the story of a young man trying to make sense of his success, while not forgetting where he's from. While not a "conscious" album, Manando does broach some issues black people face in the hood (such as the high murder rate in SA townships), and what makes it more beautiful is that the man is just telling his story. And the beats bang. Like really hard (shouts to Lunaitk, though). Some great examples are "Platinum," "My Crown," "My OG," "R.I.P Swati," "Corner Store," "Take Flight." Emtee, why you trappin' so hard?
Shane Eagle Yellow
Shane Eagle's stellar debut album can be categorized as "conscious," as the rapper taps into his life experiences and touches on some social issues. What sets Yellow apart from most conscious rap albums is its entertaining nature. Shane has interesting ways of expressing his opinions and telling his story. He has personality and Yellow gives us a complete human being–it has both bravado and vulnerability. His beat selection helps create a warm mood that goes well with his lyrical content, making Yellow one of the most coherent bodies of work 2017 has seen.
Revisit our interview with Shane Eagle about Yellow, here.
Rouge The New Era Sessions
Rouge's raps are ferocious. On her debut album, the Pretoria-based rapper is relentless–with flows that don't falter, over a wide selection of beats. The New Era Sessions, which is a concept album, is broken down into four sections. On the first section, she raps over golden era-inspired production, and sounds at home. On the second section, she rides trap production with her usual ferocity. For instance, on "No Pressure," she shapeshifts–she impressively adjusts her voice from a baritone to alto, showcasing her dynamism. The third section is dedicated to emo songs about the ups and downs of relationships. She ends the album on a high note–with songs that aim to empower women. It's her ability to portray her emotions through changing vocal projections that suit the production and mood of every song that makes The New Era Sessions a masterpiece.
Revisit our review of The New Era Sessions here.
Priddy Ugly E.G.Y.P.T
Priddy Ugly's album almost suffers from trying to be everything at once, but its moments of brilliance–and there's plenty of those–save it. On the first few songs, Priddy Ugly sings throughout over keys and bass guitars, as most of the songs are personal and heartfelt. Then he gets back to what fans fell in love with him for–rapping! The album's mood switches to club-ready kwaito-influenced songs like "Smogolo" and "Tshela." Then the off-tune bass lines and 808s come. Banging trap fire starters like "Bietjie" (featuring Emtee), "Karapao," "02Hero" (featuring Shane Eagle), "Karrots," among others, come through for the old fan. Priddy Ugly's unorthodox flow sits perfectly over his producer Wichi 1080's production. Priddy Ugly didn't put himself under pressure to make another You Don't Know Me Yet (his near-flawless 2016 EP). E.G.Y.P.T is an album that switches moods, and with seamless transitions that ensure it sounds like one album through the mood swings. Can we talk about the song "Karrot," though?
Read our in-studio interview with Priddy Ugly and Wichi 1080, here.
Ginger Trill Gvng Tapes
Gvng Tapes is perfect. Ginger Trill is a rap god (peep "Nobody (Interlude)" for reference). He hits double entendres like it's not a thing, and flows without any effort. Gvng Tapes strikes a great balance between self-glorification and introspection. His beat selection segues between trap-inspired production to boom bap-esque instrumentals. Every feature on the 5-track EP is there to serve a purpose. For instance, SimmySimmyNYA's hook on "Forrest Guap," gives the song the radio-friendliness it needs as the lead single. Ayanda Jiya's vocal hook complements the soul sample on "Stay Woke." Tommy Ills is roped in for the sexually charged "Psychotic (That's Right)." More from Trilly in 2018, please.
Reason Love Girls
On his fourth album, Reason shares his experience with the types of women he has been involved with in his life. He also gives his side of the story–and he doesn't always portray himself as a good guy, and doesn't portray women as crazy, like most men do. Love Girls is about the beauty and difficulty of romantic relationships, and the rapper manages to tell all these stories without becoming an R&B singer or a degrading rapper. Maybe not a masterpiece, but Reason's sincerity in telling his story raw and uncut will always be one of his best traits as an artist, alongside his extraordinary writing skills of course. A reasonable number of the features also do a grand job–Ginger Trill manages to steal the show with just a 12 bar verse on "The Girl Upstair [The Blessed Girl]," Conqueror adds dancehall flavor to "Let Me Know [The Perfect Girl]," and Moozlie's verse plays a great roll at intimidating the fuckboys in the club. That woman always has presence on songs.
SimmySimmyNya Look At Nya
On Look At Nya, SimmySimmyNya reveals himself as a conflicted young man, who, just like most 21-year-olds wants to have lots of fun and still wake up in one piece the next morning. At times, he has to put on a mask, and pretend to be happy. He makes irresponsible choices at times, and all that makes for great stories to tell. His high-pitch vocal projection sets him apart from every rapper who makes trap in South Africa. On Look At Nya, the rapper tells his stories and shares his aspirations with compelling raps. He switches flows and uses different tones of his voice. Look At Nya is not for everyone, though–you'll either listen to it once or, if you like it, get addicted to it. It's that type of project.
Revisit our list of 25 South African rappers you need to stop sleeping on, here.
Flame's debut EP is impressive. Through his unconventionally sing-songy raps, the young rapper tells of stories of the come-up. Most of the production is cloud trap, which explains the title, and makes the cover a perfect fit. Clouds has all the attributes of an album–uniform soundscape, great guest features (A-Reece, Zoocci Coke Dope, Da L.E.S, among others) and single prospects. Clouds is oozing with new age soul, without losing its sauce, and every song is different from the other.
PS: Best enjoyed with lean in your Styrofoam cup.
Hopemasta is a production maestro. Apart from having hits like "Bump The Cheese Up" and "No Sleep" by Reason bearing his credits, he's part of the production trio The Boyz Upstairz, which produced Reason's Love Girls album in its entirety. Hope revealed one more trick up his sleeve with the release of his debut EP Mastapieces–rapping. Rapping over your own beats means you understand how to approach them, and that's what Hope does here. Most of the production leans towards boom bap, but with subtle touches of new age sounds (peep "Vapors"). Mastapieces reveals an artist who's comfortable in his own skin, and understands his abilities and uses them to their utmost potential.
A-Reece From Me To You and Only You
Reece's independently released sophomore album sees him proving that in a few years' time he will be a contestant for GOAT status (no bullshit). The rapper has been more consistent before he even blew up last year. FMTYAOY is another entry in his potent discography, with well-crafted songs and potent raps. Him and his producer Mash Beatz have great chemistry and their synergy shines on song like "On My Own," "About The Dough (Jody's Interlude)," "Calabasas," just to mention a few. It's an album that works both for private listening and can turn a party up–the beats are midway between trap and boom bap, and Reece proves comfortable over both styles. FMTYAOY is celebratory, and the rapper invites his goons to share the moment with him–the likes of Zoocci Coke Dope, Flame, Enkei, Ecco, Rowlene, Ayanda Jiya, all add their personalities to a project that already has character.
Beast Rock Bottom
From the first song, Rock Bottom draws you in with sultry production and heartfelt storytelling. Beast and his first guest Skye Wanda each tell stories of endurance, courage and patience on what is one of the most solid songs of the project "Rock Bottom." Beast's Zulu rapping is pure butter, and he also ropes in solid guests. Stogie T steals the show on "Stay Woke," so does MarazA on "Where The Bread At." Rock Bottom is streets rap with touches of sophistication by way of the production, which boasts off-tune trap-esque bass lines, but with less synths and more soulful keys and kicks that pound as hard as the man raps. It's a project that manages to have serious and happy songs without sounding like a haphazard collection of random songs–you'll find production styles that range from dubstep ("Maybe") to kwaito ("Aweh"). Best is indeed a beast.
Saudi D.R.U.G.S Inc
Saudi wears his heart on his sleeve on his debut album. Just like his label mate Emtee, Saudi's trap has soul–he croons in both English and IsiZulu over trap production, and the result is an album that can't be boxed into a specific genre; it's a prime example what ATM (African trap music) really is about. Saudi tells stories of his relationship with his mother, growing up in a hopeless place, and being the underdog (even in relationship). Songs like "Dark Dindy" (featuring Sjava and Emtee), "Drip," "Make You Proud," "Watching Us," showcase the artist's mean song writing skills. Like most Ambitiouz Entertainment releases, D.R.U.G.S Inc has top notch production that is mostly trap.
SR2 is the most personal body of work K.O. has ever released. While he is still not shy to tell you he's better than you, the veteran rapper takes us from his birth ("Above the Water" featuring Shekhinah), to finding himself in dangerous situations as a youth ("Ghetto Episode"), to being the head honcho ("Swagganova"). While the production on his previous album was highly influenced by kwaito, on SR2, K.O. expands his scope to trap and even features soul singer Shekhinah, and house DJ Black Coffee. K.O. has one of the most solid flows this side of the Equator, and his lyricism never disappoints. Maybe it doesn't have as much hype as its predecessor, but SR2 is another skhanda masterpiece.
Zoocci Coke Dope Morning Star
On his debut EP, Zoocci Coke Dope, proves he is more than just one of South African hip-hop's top producers. He proves he can stand on his own. Morning Star is an extremely personal body of work–Zoocci reveals he hasn't seen his mother in a while, that's how devoted he is to his dream ("I was in the stu like a caveman," he sings on "I Knew"). Morning Star is dark–sonically and in terms of subject matter as Zoocci is conflicted to a point where he feels like two beings exist inside of him. On the intro, the two characters clash, and one of them gets killed. Zoocci's production is clean and minimalistic, leaving enough space for his stacked auto-tuned vocals. And adding up to the project's grandeur are brilliant verses from Stogie T, A-Reece, Kid X, Ginger Trill and BLFR.
Revisit our interview with Zoocci Coke Dope, here.
Ricky Rick Stay Shining
Stay Shining is a grand gathering that is mostly intense lyrically, but doesn't take itself that seriously sonically. Riky mourns and celebrates celebrity ("Vapors"), flosses his fashion sense ("Buy It Out"), parties ("Stay Shining") and falls in love ("Murdah"). He invites guests to fill in any gaps that might have been on the EP if he had chosen to go at it on his own. Stay Shining meanders from kwaito, trap, and even pop, but has a subtle uniformity that is the work of the craftsman Ricky is. Thanks for making us dance with tears in our eyes and making us feel your pain while you remind us you dress better than us, King Kotini.
Revisit our review of Stay Shining here.
YoungstaCPT x Maloon TheBoomYungLoon Taliboom
YungLoon Taliboom is probably YoungstaCPT's most socially conscious and politically charged project–and he raps a lot about politics. He raps poignantly about the marginalization of coloured people in South Africa, the repercussions of apartheid that people of colour still suffer in South Africa. And he interrogates the hatred among people of the same skin color, too. All with his usual conviction and eloquent lyricism. Maloon TheBoom provides moody boom bap production, a fitting canvas for the man to paint his thoughts about the world he lives in. YungLoon Taliboom is emotional, personal and represents the coloured people of Cape Town like no other album you'll hear in 2017.
Revisit our interview with YoungstaCPT about taking it back to basics, here.
Sipho The Gift Kintsugi
Sipho The Gift's debut album is emotionally intense. The rapper allows himself to be vulnerable, while rapping like he's trying to intimidate you. "Between you and I, I've contemplated suicide/ I'm just an angel having trouble with his human side," he raps on the opening song over a gloomy instrumental that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Most of the production consists of dark synths and bass lines, which adds to the emotion being expressed on Kintsugi. Sipho The Gift can rap, and on this project, he uses that skill to heal himself by dealing with his demons for your listening pleasure.
Buks, a veteran hip-hop producer, released his first full-length project, and it sounds nothing like what rappers have been releasing in South Africa this year. Buks sings as well as he raps. His production is among the best in the country. On Pegasus, he shows off, borrowing samples from house ("Gangster Party"), bass lines from kwaito ("Don't Need Stress"), and melodies from pop, bubblegum to create a sophisticated and musical album that goes beyond the confines of hip-hop.
Kay Faith In Good Faith
Kay Faith gathered an array of artists you'd never expect to hear in one album. Dope Saint Jude, Patty Monroe, Uno July, Phresh Clique, YoungstaCPT, Big Star, Caleb Williams, all co-exist in an 8-track project shaped and molded into coherence by the virtuoso ear of one of the very few female producers in South African hip-hop. Phresh Clique bring that new age kwaito sauce on "Asifunu Lala," Ginger Trill and Oh Gooch trap hard on "Waya Waya," Uno July brings that rappity rap shit on the intro, while Zaya, Dope Saint Jude and Buli connect on the neo-soul-inspired "Feelings and Stuff." Patty Monroe and Corbon Amodio's soft pop attempt on "Falling (Blissful)" is probably the only skippable song on the album, while the last two songs "High Note" and the outro are the project's highlights. YoungstaCPT and Big Star Johnson deliver impressive verses on the former, accompanied by an addictive hook from Caleb Williams. Solid effort.
Jitsvinger's socially conscious lyrics sit well over boom bap, soul and jazz production on his first project in 10 years. The song "Smile (Remix)" is dedicated to his fellow brothers who are in prison, encouraging them by telling them that life goes on, and there is still hope. The song sounds like a spontaneous jam session, as it leads with an acoustic guitar and uses finger snaps for snares. Jitsvinger is a smooth sailor, and delivers his rhymes in the Cape Flats lingo known as Afrikaaps. He experiments with trap on "Skiroemba," and switches his flow up alongside the rapper YoungstaCPT. Jitsologie is short and straight to the point, and should work to soothe your soul after long nights of turning up this December. Or try in January.
Revisit our interview with Jitsvinger, here.
Just like his debut album, Township Counsellor, ex-Teargas and Cashtime Life member, MaE's sophomore is brilliant. MaE is a silent killer. He sticks to his story of being an OG from the hood, who, by telling his story, encourages those coming after him to work hard to better their situation. His beat selection makes his albums–kwaito is a big influence and he is never shy to incorporate it in his music. He uses auto-tune sparingly and effectively. His features give 212 diversity–the likes of Flex Rabanyan, Da L.E.S, Kid X, Gemini Major and Maggz all add their personalities, ensuring the album eludes monotony. This is the perfect album for the summer.
Stiff Pap Based on a Qho Story
Joburg-born and Cape Town-based producer Jakinda's beats knock hard–droning synths, sharp snares and strong kicks. And Durban-born rapper, AyemaProblem knows how to own those beats. On the duo's debut EP, their synergy makes for a great listen. Based on a Qho Story's influences include Durban kwaito, gqom, electro and of course hip-hop. If you like OkMalumKoolKat, who is the duo's huge influence, there's no way this EP will not work for you. Most of the lyrics are light-hearted and speak of partying, so we don't need to say this is a perfect fit for summer parties.
MarazA doesn't play. He released three EPs this year (two of them dropped on the same day). All three of them are scorchers. But there's something special about iSPILION. It's the musicality that goes with the otherwise trap production. There are keys and, sometimes, electric guitars, underneath those big bass lines and 808s. MarazA is a great rapper, and he's not afraid to flaunt it. But it's on songs like "Thando Lwakho" and "Sicks," in which he allows himself to be emotional. On the oxymoronic "Sicks," the rapper talks about making his mother cry and proud at the same time. He opens up about his relationship with Emtee, who he used to be in a crew with before the fame. The song is intense, and MarazA leaves no stone unturned. It's the varying subject matter and moods that make iSPILION stand out of the other two projects he dropped, and they are also dope, too. Don't sleep.
Aewon Wolf Mural
On his debut album, Durban rapper Aewon Wolf dabbled. He explored different production styles, varying from trap to pop and EDM. And he managed to own every one of those styles. He managed to do this by getting assistance from artists who suited that style. The result is an album that contains songs that can almost all stand alone as singles. Mural excels in is having listenable songs. And judging from its name, it was meant to have all these different colors, and not be just one thing. That's not always a great thing, but for some reason, it works in this case.
Vitu This Time Next Week
This Time Next Week is a jazz album. Vitu's beat selection leans more towards boom bap– jazz samples sitting over head-bobbing rhythms. But he spices it up by some 808s and electronic bass lines on some songs. The rapper's high-pitched voices is placed skillfully over the warm production–the mixing merges beats and vocals like the vocals were themselves a musical instrument. What This Time Next Week excels in, more than anything, is sounding like a complete monolithic project that doesn't sound like one long song.
FonZo Moments From The Night Show
Moments From The Night Show takes some getting used to, especially if you have been following FonZo's music for the past few years. His latest project is the most melodic the rapper has ever rapped. As a student of the game, he revolves with the times, and on MFTNS, he uses auto-tune, something he hasn't done in his previous projects. MFTNS is cohesive–most of the production is gloomy and that fits the "late night" theme. The auto-tune sounds crude, and can be a pain to the ear at times, but seemingly that's the whole point. FonZo is still one of the most potent lyricists in South Africa, so there was always nothing to worry about in that department. A great project that takes multiple listens to grasp.
Revisit our interview with FonZo about MFTNS, here.