These are the South African hip-hop songs that stood out this year.
South Africa's hip-hop scene is one of the biggest in the whole content. Though trap is the soundscape of choice for most SA hip-hop artists, diversity is still there, both stylistically and lyrically.
From the politically-charged trap of YoungstaCPT on "YVR" to J Molley's melodic "Leader of the Wave," Stogie T's verbal gymnastics on the soulful "Rapture," Red Button's homage to Jabu Pule, the perfect new age kwaito of Moozlie and Kid X on "Vatel" and many others, we bring you the South African hip-hop songs that stood out for us this year. In no particular order.
J Molley “Leader of the Wave”
J Molley crowned himself the leader of the new wave with a convincing song. "Leader of the Wave" sees the singer/rapper give you reasons to believe his assertion, as he drops one lofty bar after another over a spacious instrumental. J Molley is growing towards himself, and one can only get excited about the future.
Anatii “Thixo Onofefe”
On "Thixo Onofefe," Anatii literally prays (he chants "Phuma, phuma Satan") over bass squelches and screeching synthesizers. Aesthetically, the song is guaranteed to wake up some spirits inside you, with chants and screams that are drenched in reverb for effect. He speaks of people from the rural areas encouraging him to use muti, but he believes in prayer. "Thixo Onofefe" is the only hip-hop song in his sophomore album Iyeza, and it deserves all the hype it generated.
Bonafide “Slay Queens”
Bonafide, who's a member of the crew Last Days Fam plays the didactic big brother on "Slay Queens." He gives advice to young women to not sell their souls for a quick buck. It's a song that excels musically, as the instrumental is musically rich with smooth keys cushioning his raps. You might want skip this one if you aren't into preachy raps, but the way the song is crafted will highly likely keep you hooked.
Johnny Filter “Won’t Forget It” (ft. OB & That Specific Chick)
"Won't Forget It" is a smoothie that sonically sounds like taking a walk in a field with flowers on a sunny day. A song about missing a person you once loved has never sounded so happy. If you love your hip-hop mellow and with kicks and snares that go boom and bap, this is your jam now.
YoungstaCPT's single to 3T, his upcoming album, is politically charged. The song's title is an acronym for Young Van Riebeeck, a nickname the MC gave himself a few years ago. The title is a play on words on Jan Van Riebeeck, the Dutch colonizer of 1652 fame. Jan Van Riebeeck took over the Cape Colony, Young Van Riebeeck took over the game. The opening lines go: "A lotta mense is hating, but that's not surprising/ The hip-hop game is like a country, I'm colonizing." He then goes on to give his takes on the country's political state. "YVR" is gloomy, and with its chant hook, incites the spirit of protest.
The Assembly ft. Skyzoo “Priceless”
Skyzoo joined The Assembly for a song about self-belief. The MCs preach to make sure one doesn't overlook the great things and people in their lives in their quest to progress. "Priceless" oozes soul and emotion, and has the ability to put one in a good mood from the calmness of the artists and the sample which loops behind a mid tempo boom bap drum pattern.
Nasty C “U Played Yourself”
From Nasty C's sophomore Strings and Bling, an album that's full of heaters, standout songs vary from person to person. "U Played Yourself" stood out for us. Five tracks into the album, Nasty took a break from trap, and took it back to the golden era. But the song is not rooted in nostalgia; instead Nasty C proves that boom bap doesn't have to sound dusty, as him and The Gobbla pimp the instrumental with sinewy pads that envelop his reflection and advice on relationships.
Da L.E.S “Ballers Freestyle” (ft. A-Reece and TellaMan)
Da L.E.S and his collaborators made one of the happiest songs of 2018 on "Ballers Freestyle." The song boasts a catchy chorus and convincing verses from all three artists.
J-Smash ft. Emtee “Never Fall”
In the lead single to J-Smash's EP Rise of a King, Emtee swears on his longevity with his mean melodies. On "Never Fall," Emtee proves once again that he's the king of this trap shit in South Africa.
Solo & The BETR Gang (ft. Maggz) “Top 5”
"Top 5" is a song in which Solo raps about his love and respect for Maggz, hailing him as top 5 dead or alive. Maggz, in his verse, proves Solo's point. It's a song with heartfelt rhymes and a beat that uses bass and synths to evoke emotion. Our legends hardly ever get their roses while they can still smell them, so this is one of the most important songs of 2018.
Lyrically, on "Lessons," Emtee is floating just like he is on the song's video. He lists his successes and that of his ATM cadres, with slightly melodic raps.
Khuli Chana “Maje”
Over a droning bass line, Khuli Chana flows without any evident effort—nothing new there—on "Maje," an unreleased song that was shelved years ago. It proves that Chana was, years ago, what your fave is still trying to be. And Khuli Chana and Beat Mochini make such a formidable rapper-producer combo.
Dee Koala “Ndintswempu” (ft. SimulationRxps & Amilca Mezarati)
"Ndintswempu" is Dee Koala and her collaborators in their element. They ooze natural confidence, spit that slang, and the song's one-liner hook is catchy. The bars are easy on the ear, but are delivered with the customary vigor of Cape Town's new wave.
Kwesta “Vur Vai”
"Vur Vai" is yet another summer smash from the man who brought us "Ngud'" and "Spirit." The song, just like the aforementioned songs, leans towards kwaito with some hip-hop sauce. Kwesta is untouchable.
Yugen Blakrok “Carbon Form”
Yugen Blakrok steps over ethereal cushions of bass, thick ominous pads and dusty snares with her customary fortitude in the first single to her sophomore album releasing early 2019. She skillfully weaves astronomy imagery as she raps about her esoteric odysseys. She sounds comfortable, her voice is lower in pitch and every word lands perfectly on-beat.
Dee XCLSV “Jiggy Shit”
A standout song from Dee XCLSV's EP Two Hours From G-Park, "Jiggy Shit," doesn't take itself too seriously, but still displays the rapper's ability to interpret an instrumental and turn into a coherent song. On "Jiggy Shit," Dee and his collaborators are carefree and are unapologetic about wanting all the finer things under the sun. Not that we don't relate.
A-Reece “To The Top Please”
In the closing song of his latest EP, And I'm Only 21, "To The Top Please," A-Reece reflects on his journey, from his mother allowing him to pursue rap as a career, and being one of the most consistent SA rappers, among other things. The beat is moody, with twinkling pads sliding over cloudy pads. The song is an acceptance speech by Reece after winning a Grammy, so "To The Top Please" is presumably set in the future. "They came here first, I'm going out last," he raps, "Went from being told that I won't last/ 'Cause I'm an outcast/ to being hit up under pressure just to make a collab/ They hate me, but they hated Jesus, everybody know that."
Ginger Trill “Money”
Your favorite rapper's favorite rapper is always mean with the pen. On "Money," his vicious verses collide with an equally menacing instrumental, and the joint is… well, money.
K.O. ft. Cassper Nyovest “Waya Waya”
"Waya Waya" is K.O. and Cassper Nyovest in their element—choosing a beat that blends kwaito and trap, allowing them to flow like the new age pantsulas they are. And can we talk about that Nyovest verse, though?
Stogie T “Rapture” (ft, Jay Claude)
It's the Anita Baker sample. It's the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League-esque sophistication by way of sexy pads that the luxury bars from Stogie T find a perfect home in. Let's not talk about wordplay, charisma and honesty.
DJ Mkiri Way (ft. Emtee and Saudi) “Bhathu”
The chemistry of Emtee and Saudi shines through on "Bhathu." They go back and forth over an ice-cold trap instrumental with a quaking 808s and a bassline that's too big for its own good. But, you know, you can never have too much bass. Probably one of the most overlooked songs of 2018. A video for this in 2019, perhaps?
Priddy Ugly (ft. YoungstaCPT) Ho$h Ho$h
"Ho$h Ho$h" is another street classic from Priddy Ugly and YoungstaCPT. It sees two of the best around sparring over another ice-cold beat from Wichi 1080, who, on this track, also contributes a fire verse.
DJ Kaygo “Father Figure” (ft. Reason and Kid X)
DJ Kaygo incited havoc when he put two East Randers in one song over a trap banger by The Gobbla. The bassline groans and Reason and Kid X lace it with two vicious 16s.
AKA “Touch My Blood”
Even though he opted to be a popstar, Supa Mega can still assemble cohesive fire bars. On the opener of his latest album, AKA raps with flair, pausing between lines where necessary, alternating between singing and rapping smoothly. Across all three verses, he celebrates his successes, reminisces of his humble beginnings, throws in some politics, all with fortitude and impudence.
L-Tido “10 Mac”
L-Tido flipped the concept of Biggie's classic "10 Crack Commandments" into a reference source for moving smoothly when dealing with fairer sex. He gives set rules for how players should maneuver the dating/hooking up game. Tido sounds comfortable, and like he knows what we are talking about. Which is highly likely the case. I mean…
Bigstar Johnson (ft. Rouge) “Two Cups”
Bigstar and Rouge impress on the nostalgic "Two Cups." The song blends hip-hop and old school R&B. You can tell the two rappers/singers are having fun, and it will sure infect you. Perfect one for the summer.
Red Button ft. Maraza “Jabu Pule”
"Jabu Pule" is an anthemic trap and kasi rap hybrid by the Soweto rapper and producer. Clever punchlines from both Red Button and his guest MarazA sit atop a grimy bass-heavy instrumental alongside a catchy hook.
The Big Hash ft. Tshego “Palm Trees”
"Palm Trees" is proof that teen sensation The Big Hash is maturing. From kicking raps about dropping out of school to get rich off rap, and his relationship with his mother, the MC kicks luxury raps over an equally luxurious instrumental. He laces it with a facile tongue, a high pace flow while staying on beat. Tshego's R&B hook completes "Palm Trees" as one of the most solid pop crossover songs that came out this year.
Frank Casino “Come Alive”
"Come Alive" is a jaunty trap banger that doesn't feel out of place in the catchy summer songs out now. The MC raps and sings about a woman who's "gonna get the D from the DM slide" and is his ride or die, but for now they ride.
Moozlie ft. Kid X "Vatel"
"Vatel," the lead single to Moozlie's recently released debut album Victory, packs some serious heat. The MC laces a vintage kwaito beat with her customary flair and larger-than-life personality. Lunatik, who produced the song, channeled legendary kwaito producer Mdu. Just like most of Mdu's productions, the beat is key-laden and the production is clean, with not much going on, but it still sounds full.
B3nchMarQ “Late Night”
The lead single to B3nchMarQ's debut album We Had Hope is one of the strongest on the album. The duo ride a cloudy trap beat with a combination of singing and rapping as we've grown to expect from them. "Late Night" is catchy and displays the chemistry the two have on wax.
ProVerb's unmatched wordplay and storytelling shines in his latest single. The song sees the veteran MC imagine what heaven looks like. He pays respect to fallen stars ranging from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Hugh Masekela, Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Gugu Zulu and more. And in pure ProVerb style, he finds an engaging way to weave these people's stories together in such a way you can picture his version of heaven. He makes it look so easy, your fave probably thinks they can do it, too.
Reason “Nkosi Yam”
Easily the best song from Reason's latest album Azania. On "Nkosi Yam," Reason is introspective, questioning rappers and fellow believers—rappers are always trying outflex their listeners, churches are making tones of money, the average person is still poor, people only pray when they are in a tight spot. It's how he's able to say all these things, but still managing to entertain with intricate rhyme patterns that sit well over a bouncy bass-heavy instrumental, that makes "Nkosi Yam"
Maglera Doe Boy “Bodega”
Motswako hasn't given us a superstar since Cassper Nyovest blew up. Maglera Doe Boy, who's signed to Khuli Chana's imprint My Throne Records, is the latest motswako superstar prospect. On "Bodega," he owns the song with a natural confidence and a solid delivery.
MashBeatz “Less Is More” (ft. A-Reece)
On "Less Is More," Reece manages to get some shit off his chest in just two minutes—less is indeed more. He speaks about him being hard to reach, how much the games weirds him out, and making tones of money. Reece sounds like he means every word with the conviction in his delivery, and he sounds comfortable over MashBeatz' minimal instrumental.
Cassper Nyovest “Gets Getsa 2.0”
Sampling Doc Shebeleza's old school classic "Gets Getsa," "Gets Getsa 2.0" sees Nyovest sounding at home over a beat that is reminiscent of D-Rex's production. "Gets Getsa 2.0" is Nyovest on his new age pantsula mode; structuring his bars like a rapper, but delivering them with that kwaito sauce.
Kid Tini “Movie”
Kid Tini is one of the best rappers out right now. On "Movie," he handles his feud with A-Reece the best way he knows how; with raps. Just like any great diss track, "Movie" comes with countless quotables spat with a sneer and overt contempt for his opponent.
Kwaito comes naturally to MaE. "LeVibe" is another new age kwaito heater from the man who co-pioneered the skhanda rap sound. Just like most new age kwaito songs, "LeVibe" borrows lines from a plethora of kwaito classics. This one's sure to turn the party up.
Blaklez “Blak Xmas II”
Blaklez gifts his fans with an audio Christmas gift (just like he did last year). In the song, the MC rides an R&B sample with the virtuosity of an MC of his caliber. He thanks his fans and raps about overcoming challenges in his life. Would a collaborative album or EP between Blaklez and Beatmochini be too much to ask for?
Sho Madjozi “Wa Penga Na?” (feat. Kwesta & Makwa)
One of the strongest songs from Sho Madjozi's debut album Limpopo Champions League, "Wa Penga Na?" features the undefeated combination of Kwesta and Makwa. Sho Madjozi comes through with a lively verse delivered in XiTsonga before Kwesta steals the show (a thing he does often) with his. Makwa's vocals occupy the last 30 seconds of the song, and you'll wish they had stayed longer. "Wa Peng Na?" is teeming with flavor and will sure be single in 2019.
Follow our Best Songs of 2018 playlist on Spotify.
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