These 10 songs and artists showcase the revival of Xhosa rap.
Xhosa rap is having a moment. Young rappers from the Western Cape and Eastern Cape such as Dee Koala, Bravo Le Roux, Flash Ikumkani and many others are getting nationwide recognition for their distinct Xhosa raps. While other widely spoken South African languages such as isiZulu, Sesotho, Setswana and Afrikaans have been widely represented, in comparison, isiXhosa hasn't had a hold on the game. Until recently.
Here's a brief history:
Between the years 2011 and 2015, iFani was the lone Xhosa rapper within the mainstream of South African hip-hop. Since that period, the presence of Xhosa rappers has gradually increased, with talented director-rapper Yanga Chief being the current leading voice. Chief's 2019 EP Becoming a Pop Star won the Best South African Hip Hop Album category at the 2020 SAMAs (South African Music Awards), a feat previously achieved by iFani's debut album I Believes In Me [1st Quadrant] in 2014.
Before any of these achievements though, Xhosa rap was stiffened by a style popularly known as spaza (or ispaza). The subgenre of rap is often cited to have been pioneered in Cape Town circa 2005. Its torchbearers included Driemanskap, Rattex, Kanyi Mavi, Maxhoseni, Backyard Crew, Naked Mind etc. The rappers were highly versed in social commentary, as well as occasional love songs, mostly on boom bap and soulful beats.
Despite it being loved and championed in the provinces of Western Cape and Eastern Cape, where plenty of Xhosa people reside, spaza never fully cracked into the mainstream, nationally.
Recently, the Xhosa rap scene has been reinvigorated by rappers who are influenced by the current soundscapes of hip-hop. They have adopted trap flows and cadences, but are spitting their humorous and pompous lines in their native language of isiXhosa. While they are all making individual strides, they are also supportive of each other's moves and often collaborate with one another.
The new wave of Xhosa rap is upon us. And as Yanga Chief recently expressed on Twitter, "I stand for Xhosa rap. You can't separate me from it or take just me... I won't be what other Xhosa rappers were. I'm bringing a movement! From Cape [Town] to Komani (Queenstown)."
Below is a list of artists and songs that showcase the recent rise of Xhosa (t)rap, in no particular order.
Yanga Chief “Utatakho”
In our last interview with him, Yanga Chief revealed that he was on the verge of quitting music when he did "Utatakho". After its release, the song catapulted the rapper's career. In 2019, the smash hit saw the artist walking away with the prestigious Song Of The Year award at the SAHHAs (South African Hip Hop Awards), among other achievements, which include a much talked about remix with Riky Rick, Boity and Dee Koala. Having been in the music industry much longer than all the rappers on the list, with the exception of ANATII, many of them consider Yanga Chief their OG. He supports the new wave of Xhosa rappers and has expressed that his song "BBAF" is an ode to them. His EP Becoming a Pop Star, where the song appears, won both at the SAMAs and SAHHAs. And his latest album Pop Star has earned him another nod at the SAMAs.Other notable songs and/or features: "200", "BBAF", "Idyan remix", "Amandla"
ANATII “Thixo Onofefe”
From his first placement as a producer and artist in 2010, ANATII preferred English as a language of choice and expression in his music. It was, however, until he started working with rapper AKA that he would start embracing his birthright language, isiXhosa. In their singles "10 Fingers" and "Don't Forget To Pray", ANATII laced Xhosa lyrics and went on to do more of that in their joint album Be Careful What You Wish For (2018). "Thixo Onofefe" (2018) was the first solo joint where the highly talented musician rapped in isiXhosa throughout. He went on to do more rapping and singing in the language in his critically acclaimed sophomore album IYEZA. In the track, which also served as the album's leading single, he juxtaposes traditional customs and religious beliefs; rapping about how villagers want him to use traditional medicine, while he believes in prayer. ANATII may be secluded from the rest of the scene and the music industry in general but he, like everybody on the list, has played a part in the rise and recognition of the movement.Other notable ANATII songs and features: "Don't Forget To Pray", "Ntloni", "Angelz", "GOD MY BEST FRIEND"
Dee Koala “Whuzet”
"Whuzet" was originally released in 2018, when Cape Town-based rapper Dee Koala was only 20 years old. The song would end up on the rapper's sophomore album 4 The Kultcha (2019), her first project after switching to rapping solely in isiXhosa (and Cape Town township slang). Her freestyles and "Whuzet" managed to catch people's attention and an early cosign from Riky Rick would jump start her career into the mainstream, putting her at some of the countries biggest hip-hop festivals. Koala's independently-released album 4 The Kultcha, whose title is an ode to her township of Khayelitsha, earned her a Best Female award at the 2020 SAHHAs, as well as a nomination in the Best Freshman category. This year, Dee Koala started her own record label and signed a distribution deal with Empire, making her the first South African artist to do so.Other notable Dee Koala songs and features: "4 The Khaltsha", "Friday Freestyle", "User", "Spazz", "Utatakho remix"
Flash Ikumkani “Umhluzi”
On the intro of "Umhluzi", Flash Ikumkani pleads with the game (and its gatekeepers), "Ndivumeleni ndingene, abantu bafumane umhluzi / Ndivumeleni ndingene, abantu bafumane incasa" (allow me to enter, so people can get the gravy (sauce), allow me to enter, so people can get the flavour). On the other parts of the song, Flash introduces himself and goes on to rap about the struggles he's had to go through for the pursuit of his dream and the confidence he has on his talent. His pride for his culture is embedded not only in his music but in his name as well, ikumkani is the Xhosa translation for the word 'king'. Growing up admiring spaza crews Naked Mind and Manskap (not to be confused with Driemanskap) due to the detailing of their realities, the King William's Town native set out to do the same in his own raps. Flash is currently signed to Emtee Records, under the guidance of revered rapper Emtee and is by default part of the African Trap Movement (ATM) family.
Other notable Flash Ikumkani songs and features: "Ndiyabulela", "Laqhasha", "Mhluzi remix", "I Need a Bag"
Bravo Le Roux “Ta Bravo's Interlude”
Also hailing from Khayelitsha, Bravo Le Roux insists that people call him Ta Bravo, as a way of showing respect. Bravo's lyrics often speak of his life and things that happen in his hood. The no-hook-having "Ta Bravo's Interlude", off his breakout EP Ndingu Ta Bravo Kuwe, sees the rapper flex his crafty lyrics and laidback flow. In a short space of time, Ta Bravo has proven to be a notable name within Cape Town's Xhosa trap movement, or Islolo, as people in his hood and surroundings refer to their music. At the tail end of 2020, Ta Bravo signed to Cape Town's independent label Shaya Records. Early this year he collaborated with Yanga Chief on "Amandla" and started to work with international clothing brand FUBU.
Other notable songs and features: "Amandla", "EKapa", "Mhluzi remix", "NdingumXhosa", "BAFUN'UKWAZI"
Soul T “IDYAN”
Soul T's raps ooze braggadocio grootman/dyan energy. And his breakout song "IDYAN" exemplifies that. So much that he has since included the word "idyan" to his alias. "iDyan ayi-catchi" loosely translates to "a (Xhosa) man doesn't catch feelings". And on the track, Soul T speaks against and criticises those who have. The viral song got not one but two remix treatments, one with Yanga Chief and a re-up with peers Flash Ikumkani and Bhut' Legend. Earlier in the year, Soul T also collaborated with fellow Cape Townian Bravo Le Roux on the cheeky cut "Bhuda Laway".
Other notable songs and/or features: "Bhuda La Way", "Mhluzi remix", "Islolo"
Joburg-based rapper Benzo cites ANATII and iFani as some of the artists which have inspired her. In the last quarter of 2020, she dropped her debut EP Kumkanikazi and the title track garnered her recognition. Jumping out the gate and calling herself a queen (ikumkanikazi) shows how much confidence she has not only in herself but in her craft as well. "Ndingumkanikazi, my name will be known like the street Vilakazi, sebenza kakhulu andilovila-kazi", she kicks off the first verse with conviction. The 20-year-old rapper's independently-released EP is entirely produced by Durban's 031CHOPPA and her song "Imali" was recently used in a scene on the first episode of South African Netflix original dance series Jiva!.Other notable Benzo songs and features: "Imali", "And'Fun Bend'thetha", "Danko Zalo 2.0"
Holy Alpha “Qondile”
Holy Alpha first made a name for herself last year when a snippet of her song "Ghost" started making rounds on social media. Like many on the list, Alpha used to rap in English and, at only 21 years old, she has found her unique voice and identity. She cites Kanyi Mavi as one of the artists who've influenced her sound. Earlier this year she dropped "Subuza" featuring Driemanskap's Redondo and the follow-up "Qondile" made our picks for the best South African hip-hop songs of 2021 so far. The rapper recently teased a short clip of her in studio with fellow Khayelitsha native Dee Koala and has also worked with her other peers Flash iKumkani, Bravo Le Roux, Soul T and Bhut' Legend.
Other notable Holy Alpha songs and features: "Amashumi", "Subuza", "Ghost"
SimulationRxps “Ezay' Zolo”
SimulationRxps has a particular bravado and effortlessly cool aura about him. The rapper first made an impression when he appeared three times on Dee Koala's album 4 The Kaltsha. From then, he continued to steadily build, switched to rapping in vernac and, last year, he dropped his stellar breakout song "Ezay' Zolo". The track was inspired by his life and those around him in the township of kwaLanga. A few months ago, the Cape Town rapper released the follow up singles "Phez' Kwezinto" and "7455" on the same day. He is currently working on a project he hopes to release in the next couple of months.
Other notable SimulationRxps features: "Phez' Kwezinto", "Ndintswempu", "KALOK!", "Emjondolo"
Bhut’ Legend “Ayoqhiya Yi Durag”
Bhut' Legend's distinct arsenal is his riveting flows, a rich Xhosa vocab and dialect that's unique to his section of the Eastern Cape. Repping Mthatha, Legend's "Ayoqhiya Yi Durag" emphasises that a durag is not a headwrap/doek (iqhiya is mostly worn by women), as some people have mockingly referred to it as such. "When I started bath' andinanqondo / now when they see me bafun' iphoto," he raps, about his come-up. Like most of the list, Bhut' Legend has earned and gotten himself a cosign from Yanga Chief, who he considers one of the artists who've inspired him alongside Driemanskap and Maxhoseni.
Other notable Bhut' Legend songs and features: "Mzwanga", "Utatakho freestyle", "Idyan Re-Up", "Nkawuza", "4PM eMthatha"