The 30 Best Songs by South African Hip-Hop DJs

SA hip-hop DJs have gifted us some of the country's most outstanding collaborations. We highlight 30 of those that have had a huge impact on our ears.

DJs play a huge role in (South African) hip-hop. They introduce fans to new exciting rappers; for instance, Nasty C and YoungstaCPT, who are stars now, were first heard on a mainstream level on DJ Switch's "Way It Go."

DJs keep their ears on the street and are thus the right people for label heads to speak to about the next rapper to sign; a few days ago, Universal Music Group signed up-and-coming rapper 25K, and it was revealed that DJ Vigilante was the one who made the label aware of the MC's existence.

DJs have curated collaborations we could have only dreamed of—DJ Hudson put Khuli Chana and Mawe2 on the same song for "Alcohol and Problems," Vigi placed Nasty C, AKA and K.O. on the same beat on "Bang Out."

DJs have curated some of the country's greatest posse tracks and collaborations. They have thus maintained the spirit of competition among rappers—think of the sparring between AKA and K.O. on "God's Will" and the intergenerational collaboration on DJ Switch's "Now or Never." DJs are low-key preserving lyricism as they always put rappers out of their comfort zone, where nothing else but their bars matter.

In the last few years, South African hip-hop DJs have gifted fans with some of the country's most outstanding collaborations, and below, we highlight 30 of those that have had a huge impact on our ears. From golden oldies like DJ Nana's "Let The Beat Go" to present-day classics such as DJ Switch's "Now or Never," DJ Citi Lyts' "Vura" and DJ Capital's "Skebe Dep Dep," we bring

Note that the list is in no particular order, and only songs released from 2009 and later were considered.

Listen to these selections in our South African Hip-Hop DJs playlist on Apple Music and Spotify.

DJ Switch “Way It Go” (ft. Tumi (Stogie T), Nasty C and YoungstaCPT)

An iconic collaboration of the old and new school, that boasts monumental verses. It was Nasty C and YoungstaCPT's official introduction to the game, so they had a lot to prove. And they were rapping alongside one of the greatest in the country.

Best verse: YoungstaCPT

DJ Vigi (ft. K.O. and AKA) “God’s Will”

"God's Will" is an undebatable classic. Vigi got two of the hottest rappers of 2013 and had them sparring over a pristine instrumental produced by K.O. himself, and the result was two of the rappers' most memorable verses.

Best verse: K.O.

DJ Switch "Now or Never" (ft. Shane Eagle, ProVerb, Kwesta and Reason)

A moment of a song. "Now or Never" got the country's attention, and it was just based on beats and rhymes, no catchy hook or gimmicks. "Now or Never" was a wakeup call to the game, a reminder that bars will always matter.

Best verse: Proverb

DJ Fanatic "Keep Debiting" (ft. Tumi (Stogie T) and Reason)

"Keep Debiting" was part of Reason's winning streak. He was still new to the mainstream, and was murdering everything living. His verse on here is relatable—he skilfully detailed a relationship most young people have with money, and it was over a beat tailored for the club.

Best verse: Reason

DJ Vigilante (ft. AKA, Nasty C and K.O.) "Bang Out"

Nasty C was fast proving himself as a potent lyricist, and what better way to test him than to place him alongside AKA and K.O., who were just untouchable in 2016. "Bang Out" is another monumental combination of rappers that one had grown to expect from Vigi, who has a sharp ear for lyricists who will sound great together on a song.

Best verse: K.O.

​DJ Citi Lyts "Vura" (ft. Sjava and Saudi)

"Vura" is one of the best South African songs of all time, across all genres. The beat, an outstanding piece of art, was produced by three of the country's best producers—Ruff, Lunati and Bizboy. And Sjava laced it with a memorable verse and hook, amd Saudi spat one of the best verses of his career.

Best verse: Sjava

DJ Hudson “Alcohol and Problems” (ft. Mawe2 and Khuli Chana)

Who could have dreamed of hearing Mawe2 and Khuli Chana in the same song? "Alcohol and Problems" is both mellow and catchy, addresses a serious life issue, but doesn't alienate its listener. "Alcohol and Problems" is proof that DJs don't always put together club bangers, but can craft introspective songs for self-reflection. And Khuli Chana didn't have to go this hard.

Best verse: Khuli Chana

​Major League DJz (ft. Cassper Nyovest, Riky Rick and Siya Shezi) "The Bizness"

The thing about mixing hip-hop and kwaito is that it seems easy, but not everyone can do it well. As well as Major League did with "The Bizness." The song captured the spirit of kwaito, while still remaining hip-hop. An iconic combination of rappers who have as much in common as they are different.

Best verse: Siya Shezi

DJ Speedsta "I Don't Know" (ft. J Molley, Frank Casino and Zoocci Coke Dope)

On "I Don't Know," DJ Speedsta roped in the leaders of the new wave for an auto-tune heavy fire starter that gave us a memorable production and hook from Zoocci Coke Dope. DJ Speedsta keeps his ears on the streets, and this song is an indication, as he casts some of the most notable artists from SA's new wave, alongside the Godfather of new school rap in SA, Da L.E.S. All three artists have since grown to be notable names in SA hip-hop.

Best verse: J Molley

DJ Milkshake “Living on the Edge” (ft. AKA and George and George Avakian)

"Living on the Edge," an anthem for the hedonists, was built on a tangy instrumental that was laced with a catchy hook by George Avakian and fitting verses from AKA, who was showing growth as a rapper. George's verse was also lovely, though you might be reluctant to agree. We get it.

Best verse: AKA

DJ Dimplez “Bae Coupe” (ft. Ice Prince, Emmy Gee and Riky Rick)

When Naija and Mzansi get together, it's always a spaz fest. The beat for "Bae Coupe" is an intimidating banger, and gets laced by potent verses from Ice Price, Emmy Gee and Riky Rick, with the latter's verse being the song's brightest moment. Riky flips the song's concept around, and reflects on how we are slaves to capitalism, over-drinking, spending less time with our loved ones, while chasing the dough.

Best verse: Riky Rick

DJ Speedsta (ft. Yung Swiss, Tellaman, Shane Eagle and Frank Casino) "Mayo"

No DJ rides for the new wave than Speedsta. On "Mayo," he gathered the future of the game, who've all grown to be stars in their own right. Strong verses from Shane Eagle and Tellaman and a career-defining hook from Yung Swiss, and a warm R&B-leaning beat from Gemini Major, are what make "Mayo" an era-defining song.

Best verse: Shane Eagle

DJ Citi Lyts (ft. Emtee, Fifi Cooper & B3nchMarQ) "Washa"

DJ Citi Lyts gathered the then-growing Ambitiouz Entertainment roster, and gifted the game with a laid-back chill anthem. Emtee owned the song with a rock-solid hook that eclipsed Fifi and B3nchMarQ's verse.

Best verse: P-Jay (B3nchMarQ)

Beat Bangaz (ft. YoungstaCPT) “Bo Kaap”

Beat Bangaz is a trio consisiting of legendary DJs E20, DJ Azuhl and DJ Ready D. "Bo Kaap" is a moment in that the OGs collaborated with the leader of Cape Town's new wave of rappers. YoungstaCPT maintains a uniform rhyme pattern and speaks his truth, from being ostracized by the game to politicians' incompetence. No waste moment on here, just a great combination of a beat and raps.

​DJ Dimplez "We Ain't Leaving" (ft. L-Tido and Anatii)

"We Ain't Leaving" is a club banger with a fitting message—Tido and his party people ain't leaving till the sun comes out. Nothing to write home about lyrically, but Tido owned Anatii's pulverizing instrumental and was complemented by a catchy hook that will stick to your head for hours.

Miss Pru DJ (ft. LaSauce, Gigi Lamayne, Nadia Nakai & Londie London) "Isaga Lam"

Over an eardrum shattering instrumental from Tweezy, Miss Pru throws a celebration with her girls declaring their dedication to chasing the paper. "Isaga Lam" boasts solid rap verses from Gigi Lamayne and Nadia Nakai, a sing-songy appearance by Londie London, and an effortless from LaSauce, channeling Rihanna.

Best verse: Gigi Lamayne

DJ Maphorisa “Kemosadi” (ft. Emtee, Maggz, Zingah and KLY)

By now, you should know, you can never go wrong with Emtee on the hook. On Maphorisa's "Kemosadi," he delivers yet another solid hook verse, and so do KLY, Zingah and Maggz.

Best verse: Maggz

DJ Mkiri Way (ft. Emtee & Saudi) "Bhathu"

"Bhathu" is a demonstration of Emtee and Saudi's chemistry, as well as their skill—their unique approaches to the instrumental ensure you feel both of their presences. Both rappers spit potent lines, with Saudi spitting such venom as, "I'm running around with the G.O.A.T, ngathi umgidi wami ekseni."

Best verse: Saudi

DJ Vigilante (ft. Ma-E, Maggz and Pro) “Sgelekeqe”

On "Sgelekeqe," Vigi features kasi rap royalty on Ma-E, Maggz and Pro, and the song comes out as gully as you'd expect. "Sgelekeqe" is an anomaly; it's both for the streets and the club, with the three lyricists lacing the bass-heavy beat with raw scripts for the heads.

Best verse: Pro

​DJ Sliqe "Biskop" (ft. Kwesta and Makwa)

Kwesta and Makwa are one of the greatest rapper-producer duo out now ("Spirit" and "Vur Vai"). Makwa can also drop killa hooks, and on "Biskop," he does exactly that, while Kwesta delivers a verse that proves he's one of the greatest South African rappers of all time. He chooses to complicate the beat to allow for him to use his skills to maneuver its bends and obstacles. He really brought his A-game on here.

Best verse: Kwesta

​DJ Nana ft. HHP, Tumi and Zubz "Let The Beat Go"

About 10 years ago, DJ Nana roped in three of the game's hottest rappers for a display of unmatched skill over an instrumental that leans towards boom bap. "Let The Beat Go" sounded sophisticated enough for Jabba to put it on his monumental 2009 album Dumela. The song's video features cameos from the likes of Flex Boogie, MarazA, Lee Kasumba, Lil Frat and a few more.

Best verse: Tumi

DJ Capital "Skebe Dep Dep (Remix)" (ft. Kwesta, Reason, KiD X, YoungstaCPT, Stogie T)

"Skebe Dep Dep" is catchy enough for radio and the casual listener, but lyrical enough for the fan of bars—the song features some of the country's most gifted lyricists—Kwesta, Reason, KiD X, YoungstaCPT and Stogie T, and, as expected, every rapper brings some serious heat.

Best verse: Stogie T

​DJ Kaygo (ft. Reason, Gemini Major and KiD X) "Father Figure"

A solid raga-inspired hook by Gemini Major and two great verses from Reason and KiD X over a pulverizing bassline. "Father Figure" doesn't have a lot going on, which makes it accessible and a perfect listen for both your headphones and the club's speakers.

Best verse: Reason

​Ms Cosmo "Ay Baby" (ft. Rouge, Moozlie & Sho Madjozi)

Ms Cosmo and her collaborators Rouge, Sho Madjozi and Moozlie turn Hurricane Chris' 2007 crunk hit into a modern trap banger, and it's just as catchy as the original. Every verse on "Ay Baby" is impactful, as all three MCs stick to their unique styles, and together form an immovable force of nature.

Best verse: Rouge

​DJ Slim ft. Yanga, Emtee, Tshego & Cassper Nyovest "Phanda Mo"

Yanga, Emtee, Tshego and Cassper Nyovest ride a menacing bass-laden trap beat on "Phanda Mo," each delivering verses that sound like all rappers were trying to out-rhyme each other, and you know than always translates to a great listening experience. "Phanda Mo" is a hustler's mayhem, and is probably the first and last time you'll ever hear Emtee and Cassper on the same song.

Best verse: Cassper Nyovest

​J Smash (ft. Emtee) "Never Fall"

"Never Fall" is perfect. It's Emtee in his truest form, and he shares the beat with no one, but himself, as he serves a solid hook and great rap verses, vowing to be on top of the game forever. "Never Fall" is proof that DJs are capable of more than just club bangers and street anthems.

​DJ Dimplez (ft. Red Button and Red Button) "Usabani"

"Usabani" is an indication that kasi rap will always thrive. Both Red Button and MarazA both serve great Zulu and Tsotsitaal verses, with MarazA combining the sensibilities of modern hip-hop with his kasi rap roots in his show-stealing verses about backstabbers and haters.

Best verse: MarazA

DJ Sliqe (ft. Shekhinah) "On It"

Shekhinah, as a producer herself, has a great ear for beats, and not to mention her interpretation is always on point. On "On It," she lays effortless vocals over a pounding ominous instrumental by Tweezy, to gift DJ Sliqe with one of the greatest songs of his career.

DJ Speedsta "No Stress" (ft. Una Rams, Zoocci Coke Dope, J Molley and Da L.E.S)

Once again, DJ Speedsta gathers the new wave, this time around, alongside the godfather of new school rap in South Africa, Da L.E.S. The song consists of a diverse list of artists who blur the line between rapping and singing, and it's a serious vibe.

Best verse: Una Rams

​DJ Sliqe (ft. AKA, Yanga, JR) "Bay 2"

"Bay 2" sounds like an AKA joint (think "All Eyes on Me," "The Baddest" and L-Tido's "No Favors"); it combines kwaito and hip-hop, and features two of Supa Mega's secret weapons—Yanga and JR, and as a result, the song sounds as focused as Mega's own songs.

Best verse: AKA

Listen to these selections in our South African Hip-Hop DJs playlist on Apple Music and Spotify.

Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

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