The 20 Best South African Hip-Hop Songs Of 2015

Okayafrica contributor Sabelo Mkhabela breaks down the 20 best new South African hip-hop songs of 2015.

Host of the Cape Town-based radio show Headwarmaz and frequent Okayafrica contributor, Sabelo Mkhabela, breaks down his 20 favorite South African hip-hop songs of 2015.

EmTee “Roll Up”

It’s not for its lyrical content that I like EmTee’s “Roll Up.” What exactly is the logic behind lines like “She used to ride me like a rodeo / Till she heard me on the radio?” Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? But there’s something addictive about the auto-tuned verses that are as catchy as the hook. I didn’t foresee this song winning “Song of the Year” at the South African Hip Hop Awards, but I understand why the people voted for it, and why AKA and Wizkid jumped on the remix.

Khuli Chana “No Lie”

On Khuli Chana’s “No Lie,” afrobeats, hip hop and old school kwaito occupy the same space and the result is not chaotic at all—it’s actually rather easy on the ear. Khuli Chana still makes the catchiest hooks and Nigerian singer Patoranking adds his auto-tuned dancehall flavor to Chana’s street-centric “Hola, hola, hola, hola.” The track topped the charts on DJ Edu’s DNA Top 5 on BBC 1Xtra without having to use a tried-and-tested hit-making formula. “No Lie” is the true definition of motswako, which its practitioners define as a blend of different languages and sounds.

Watch Khuli Chana spend a day out with Okayafrica TV in NYC.

Zubz ft. Skyzoo & Pharoah Monch “Doctor Goodlungs”

The drums on “Doctor Goodlungs,” Zubz’s first single off his upcoming Nina Simone hip-hop tribute project Last Letta to Nina, take me to a dusty carnival I’ve never been to before. On first listen, I was interested to hear how the three rappers would flow over such an awkward rhythm. It reminded me of Zubz’s “The Interview” off his Headphone Music in a Parallel World album. On “Doctor Goodlungs,” all rappers challenged themselves and used fast-paced flows. It’s exciting to hear Zubz over a Nyambz beat again, and spiced up with two other great like-minded rappers Skyzoo and Pharoahe Monch.

Read Okayafrica's interview with Zubz on ‘Last Letta To Nina’

Anatii ft. AKA “The Saga”

Anatii has become the go-to hook and beat machine, and on “The Saga”, he makes it easy to see why. There’s nothing necessarily innovative about the track, but the way the bassline drones and the 808s kick is proof that even in his early 20s, Anatii is no novice. AKA's verse—which he claims on “Composure” was the reason people had “The Saga” on repeat—finishes off what Anatii started. “The Saga” was a solid track that indicated chemistry between Anatii and AKA. The SAHHA nod for “Best Collaboration” also raised the song’s profile. More from Anatii in 2016, please.

Raheem Kemet “The Fire”

Raheem Kemet has been around for a while but for some reason he remains one of Durban’s best kept secrets. His light-hearted single “The Fire” is reminiscent of Outkast—the frolicsome rhythm and sing-song delivery that doesn’t sound cheesy. The video, which displayed street culture in Durban, made me appreciate the song even more. Raheem Kemet is not afraid to experiment and explore different soundscapes and flows. His brilliant The Wind EP with producer Myndphlo was more mellow and introspective than “The Fire”. Not to say “The Fire” is all flowery too, listen closely, it has an underlying message to it.

Read Okayafrica's interview with Raheem Kemet on "The Fire" and 'The Wind' EP

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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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