We rank 30 of our favourite South African hip-hop songs of 2020.
The year 2020 has been a gut-punch to most. But, as always, music has served as a sweet escape. Despite the circumstances, there was no shortage of great music releases.
South African hip-hop continues to grow in leaps and bounds, with an eclectic string of songs that draw off different inspirations, from amapiano, to boom bap, all the way to trap.
Here is a countdown of 30 of our favourite SA hip-hop songs of 2020.
30. Focalistic (featuring Vigro Deep) “Ke Star”
"Ke Star" is one of the biggest songs of the year. It actually has a very strong case for overall song of the year as it's a good blend of amapiano, kwaito and some semblance of hip-hop. Focalistic cleverly weaves chants of Sepitori, making for an entertaining tune laden with stylistic lingo. It is the appeal rooted in amapiano and Sepitori that has made it such a fan favorite and consequently earned it a spot in our favourite SA hip-hop songs of the year.
29. Zakwe and Duncan “Ama-Level” featuring Just Bheki and Assessa
A collaboration album between Zakwe & Duncan has been wished for by many fans of the two KZN wordsmiths. After numerous stellar collaborations, including "Reverse", "Isukile" and "Khayalami", it was evident that the chemistry between them existed beyond them merely rapping in the same language. The project was long overdue, and as can be expected, the first single, "Ama-level" is a scorcher. With an almost scene -stealing guest verse from Assesa, "Ama-level" is one of the most impressive entries this year.
28. B3nchMarQ “Boss Moves”
The Pretoria-based duo deliver a dark, contemplative track in which they air out some dirty laundry concerning their sour departure from Ambitiouz Entertainment. "Boss Moves" is a detailed exposition of the ins and outs of the record industry. Despite the heavy subject matter, the two rappers each maintain a good standard of rapping over a mellow piano-inflected loop. Instead of sounding disgruntled, P.Jay and Tkay actually sound at peace with the turn of events, and this makes for a solid, revelatory track.
27. Indigo Stella “No Smoke”
Indigo Stella's prowess is undeniable on this 808-tinged beat, underscored by a standout thumping bass. She flexes with an impressive airy flow, with timed pauses, showing exactly how comfortable she is on the mic. She also impresses with the catchy hook, making for an enjoyable yet quite brief lyrical bop.
26. Da L.E.S “Starlight” featuring AKA, Pambo & Parlemo
Another addition in the ever prolific canon of Da L.E.S and AKA collaborations. "Starlight" is a star-studded affair, as it also features contributions from Pambo and Parlemo, respectively. It is a mostly sung song, with Da Les' verse serving as the only rapped contribution. A soulful, trap cut that finds AKA at his usual best when handling hook duties especially on a Da L.E.S track. "What's your starlight? The definition to succeed or just your destination?" is the rather profound question that Da L.E.S asks before he starts his verse, which contains the usual braggadocio raps that he is known and loved for.
25. Stino Le Thwenny “Mshimane”
For their first single after inking a deal with Universal Music SA, the duo from Bloemfontein released "Mshimane". Produced by their longtime producer ASIID, "Mshimane" has all the characteristics of previous Stino Le Thwenny hit singles prior to their deal, indicating that they have stuck to their known and trusted formula that has carried them thus far. It's a high octane song that still allows the two emcees to go back and forth, as they usually do, with both their 8-bar verses blending in seamlessly. And, as usual, they manage to craft a simple yet creative hook whose ease will encourage and facilitate crowd participation during performances.
24. Quickfass Cass “You Know The Vibes”
VUZU's The Hustle season one alumni Quickfass Cass released his debut album Rookie of The Year in July. A solid album with potent features ranging from the late PRO, Stogie T and Emtee, among others. "You Know The Vibes" is a luxuriously sounding cut on a J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-esque beat, which affords Cass to skate, spitting his most suave rhymes, bragging and vibing out. Sounding ever so confident on the mic, this song and the rest of the album is convincing evidence that Quickfass Cass is one of the most promising young spitters in the game today.
23. Blaklez “Nostalgia” (featuring Khuli Chana & Streetz)
During lockdown, Blaklez released two projects in close succession—the highly anticipated joint album with his partner in rhyme, PdotO, Lost Diamondz and the EP Bear Energy. "Nostalgia" is found tucked away in the latter project, and it features a memorable verse by Khuli Chana, as well as contribution by Streetz. By all intents and purposes, this is meant to be a summer banger, whose premise is reliant on the prospect of the upcoming summer vibe, especially after the perilous winter we have all had, in light of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Reminiscent of the yesteryears in sound, its nostalgic effect certainly adds to its appeal.
22. Audiomarc “Audio Czzle” featuring Nasty C
The production on this record is stellar. Audiomarc, Nasty C, along with Nani Chehore and Zino D do a great job on the beat, which starts off with a guitar riff—like a throwback mid-2000s pop song—only to transform into a thumping 808-heavy cut. Nasty C handles the emceeing duties and completely obliterates the track. On the first part of the song, he employs his sing-song flow marked with witty lines, only to go in full throttle after the beat switches.
21. JimmyWiz “Finally” Ft. Gugu Zwane
Another The Hustle season one alumni, JimmyWiz labours hard for his love of hip-hop. One only needs to listen to "Finally" to hear what motivates and compels the wordsmith. He raps with palpable earnesty and truly believes hip-hop to be his destiny. On this cut, he pours out his heart about his belonging in hip-hop, over a soulful Kulax flip of The Stylistics' "Maybe It's Love This Time". Gugu Zwane shines as she sings on the hook, making for an exceptional rap-sung collaboration. "Finally" was released as part of a project called ATJ Lost Files, which bookends Jimmy's 2019 ATJ album, and consists of songs that were left off the album.
20. J-Smash (featuring Jayhoo, Lucasraps, Mass The Difference, Touchline, Dibi, Indigo Stella) “Hyenas”
J-Smash managed to round up some heavy hitters for the aptly titled "Hyenas". This posse cut houses some of the most exciting upcoming rappers in SA hip-hop. All relatively young, they impress with an eclectic performance, showing impressive form. Each of them holds their own as they trade verses and sharpen each other's swords.
19. PDotO “Dear God”
PDotO raps his heart out. "Dear God" is an exhibition of all he is about—a foot soldier loyal to his cause, one who believes wholeheartedly that he is the absolute best at what he does. He oscillates between his placing in the game and real social ills that plague the country, from suicide ideation to xenophobia. The song contains overt spiritual connotations and finds him dissatisfied about numerous things—chief among those is the fact that he is not given the props he feels he deserves.
Reason “Gcwala” (featuring Kwesta & pH)
Sumo is a popular nightclub in Rosebank often teeming with hip-hop stars. The club's manager Alessio got together with DJ Double D to curate a hip-hop mixtape boasting an impressive roster of emcees, aptly titled Sumo Raps Vol. 1. The stand-out track on the mixtape is "Gcwala" by Reason, with Kwesta and pH Raw X. Reason is on top form with his signature rapid, double-time flow, reminiscent of his monthly freestyle series he did back in 2013/2014. Him and Kwesta deliver some of their most impressive verses, riddled with metaphors, similes and clever witty lines over a sublime pH Raw X beat. Kwesta offers the canny wordplay with homonyms, rapping, "Nina niya reva, niya speed'a/ Mina ngiya rappa, ngiya spit'a/ amacharacter a-limited azo n'tag'a kweTwitter…"
17. Captain_FS “Charles Darwin”
Free State's very own, Captain_FS, who is also the unlikely understudy to one of the greatest SA hip-hop emcees, PRO, released his critically acclaimed debut album The Ape Tape this year. Listening to it, one quickly understands why the seasoned emcee caught PRO's attention. Despite it being only his debut album, he is far from a rookie, as he has plied his trade mostly with his crew The Assembly in prior years. "Charles Darwin" is the perfect illustration of the pedigree of an emcee he is. Alive with incisive lyricism, vivid imagery and a soul to match, he approaches the mic with an understated prowess allowing for his nasal delivery to sit neatly on soulful production, incidentally helmed by his wife Phogane Molise, as well as talented producer Thapelo Mashiane.
16. Lucasraps “Without Me”
Gemini Major provided Lucasraps with the perfect bounce for this cut. A young emcee whose confidence abounds, as he raps with a rhythmic flow about how the game would be lacking without him. As is the case with most rappers, especially upcoming ones, he spends a lot of time fantasising and predicting how lit it's going to be once he blows up and starts getting racks. A generally rapped song that shows glimpses of a potent young emcee in waiting.
15. Big Zulu ”Mali Eningi” Ft. Riky Rick and Intaba Yase Dubai
It's tradition that every year, one song enjoys critical mass popularity as a result of being turned into a meme. This year's entry is the Riky Rick and Intaba Yase Dubai-assisted "Mali Eningi" by Big Zulu. From late November all through to December, Big Zulu's infectious hit has populated social media by being the background track for what started as the #DuduzaneZumaChallenge. Above and beyond that though, it is a great effort from the Kwazulu Natal rapper and will serve as a memorable breakout hit.
14. Ginger Trill “Poppin’ 4 Eva”
Ginger Trill is renowned for the lyrical dexterity that raises him to the upper echelons of esteemed emcees in SA hip-hop. With the precision of a marksman, his flow is one of the most in-pocket in the game. On "Poppin' 4 Eva", his full might is on display as he bobs and weaves on the track, declaring that he is going to stay poppin' forever. He sounds relaxed and raps with great ease, a characteristic most premium emcees have—to come across effortlessly while they do what requires years of dedicated practice, and would most likely prove to be incredibly difficult for the average emcee.
13. Touchline featuring K.O “Abafana Aba Hot”
Since making his debut circa 2018, Touchline has enjoyed a steady growth in the industry. He has a decent enough reach to not lose relevance, while also paying enough attention to sharpen his pen and learn how to make more palatable songs. "Abafana Aba Hot" is one such example of how he has perfected the art of making a commercially appealing song without losing his grit as an impressive lyricist. On this outing, he also gets a well-received K.O assist.
12. ByLwansta “NIGHTCRAWLERZ” (featuring Kimosabe)
ByLwansta has carved a path for himself as a storytelling quirky rapper. His style could easily pass off as a gimmick, only if he wasn't so damn compelling. He writes with a timely hand, proving that his penchant for telling stories isn't simply a literary device but rather a well-honed skill that's almost as invaluable to his craft, as the stories he tells. On "NIGHTCRAWLERZ", he tells the story of a fateful evening when he decided to take a Bolt instead of an UBER for a trip to Joburg's central terminus Park Station, only to be robbed right after being dropped off at his destination. It's an interesting sad story turned into a masterful song, and to add to its poignancy, he performs it with his brother Kimosabe who delivers a smoothed out chorus to accompany the quiet groove.
11. Luka Pryce featuring The Big Hash “Mission Pryce (Re-Up)”
On "Mission Pryce", Luka Pryce and The Big Hash deliver some of the best rapping this year. Their undeniable chemistry also points to the fact that they need to do more work together. Both on a high, they deliver rapid fire raps, while remaining in pocket and exhibiting great breath control. "Mission Pryce" is a display of two high performing rappers shamelessly showing off their incredible form and technique. "Mission Pryce" is a great show of impeccable flows and compelling writing, if these two young men are anything to go by, the future of SA hip-hop is in the right hands.
10. Miss Pru DJ featuring BlaQ Diamond and Malome Vector “Price to Pay”
Ambitiouz Entertainment certainly has an eye for talent. One of their latest signings, Malome Vector fits in perfectly with their current roster, as he connects with some of them on this Miss Pru DJ cut. Featuring the talented BlaQ Diamond duo, "Price To Pay" has been tearing up music charts since its release. The effortless blending of Sesotho and isiZulu in the verses works really well, indicating that all entities involved ought to do more collaborative work.
09. Yanga Chief featuring Maglera Doe Boy “Fort Hare”
Taking one thing to create something utterly different is what better sums up Yanga Chief's "Fort Hare". He took media personality Moshe Ndiki's incredibly funny clip, where he's joking about being in the United Kingdom and therefore having to speak a certain way, and with commendable vision, that little gag was transformed into a stand out song on his album Pop Star.The rapping Yanga does is all so exceptional, as he fixes all his lines into a rhythmic pattern, for each of the four bars making up the sixteen bars. It is, however, Maglera Doe Boy's scene-stealing verse that elevates the song to legendary status. MDB spits an utterly flawless verse riddled with metaphors, references and punchlines underscored by his distinct deep voice.
08. J Molley “I’m Good”
2020 has been such a long year, it's almost hard to believe that the J Molley and The Big Hash beef reached fever pitch this year. The two young artists traded shots, each to the other and while "I'm Good" isn't the direct jab at The Big Hash, it contains elements of talking down to detractors. On this cut, he sounds much more comfortable and less distracted as he addresses all the "he saids, she saids" floating on the airy beat. He has a well-paced flow that allows him to fully air out his thoughts without tripping on some of his words. And when the beat switches, he adopts a more firmer flow, but still maintains the tirade.
07. Cassper Nyovest “Thoughts” (featuring WESTSIDE BOOGIE)
Cassper Nyovest's most recent album AMN (Any Minute Now) has some of the best rapping he has done in his life. "Thoughts" is a song which stands out as the most proficiently rapped song on the album. The beat has a subtle grandeur to it that suits the gravitas with which Cassper performs. He is at his most vulnerable and honest, rapping: "See I convinced the whole damn world to believe in me bruh, when I don't even believe in myself, I'm not as honest as you think I am, I'm just as filtered as your Instagram, I mean I'm really mean just with a bit of trickery." WESTSIDE BOOGIE delivers a solid, albeit dispensable verse, giving rise to the notion that the song would have worked much better as a solo Cassper effort, given the amount of personal, introspective truth bombs it contains (case in point: "No matter how I word it, could never tell the truth to my fans, they think I'm perfect").
06. Stogie T (featuring Benny T & Alonda Rich) “Animals”
Stogie T is SA hip-hop's elder statesman who is showing no signs of letting up. With every verse written, for every song, there's a deliberate effort to be the absolute best, by any standards. On "Animals", his uncanny penwork is at full display as he delivers a verse replete with metaphors and wordplay that center on animals, while at the same time communicating the gist of what the song conveys—which is for one to have the resolve to strive and survive in a world full of animalistic rage. Buffalo emcee Benny The Butcher is a pleasant feature as he offers a solid verse while Alonda Rich completes the trio's efforts with a sublime hook over the sparsely laid out snares and drums. It's interesting to note that, perhaps because he tapped the US emcee Benny, who is from Buffalo, Stogie intentionally made the song rely heavily on the "animal" metaphor, as a subtle nod to the Buffalo emcee whom he admires greatly.
05. Riky Rick (featuring Mas Music) “HOME”
"HOME" feels like being at a club near closing time, while the party is still surprisingly at it's most enjoyable (10pm curfew, is that you?), then a friend of yours leans in to whisper to you, going on an alcohol induced rant about their deepest fears and worries. Yet all the while, they're dancing and seemingly having the time of their life. An oxymoron of a song, its hypnotic feel makes one want to get up and sway leisurely, while on the other hand, Riky shares some of the most introspective and existential lyrics he's ever penned on a song. He questions his life's purpose, asking whether he still belongs, and ultimately reconciling himself with the devastating reality that all he is doing is not only for himself, but also everyone that's dear to him and thus depends on him. The Terence Trent D'Arby sample of "As Yet Untitled" is the icing on the cake, which gives the song an even more soulful feel.
04. A-Reece “Re$idual $Elf Image” featuring Ayanda Jiya
A-Reece thrives off loopy piano chords which serve as the perfect canvas for him to just go off, full throttle and talk his shit. Of late, releases from Baby Boy have been far and few in between, so it comes as no surprises that when this single dropped, dead in the middle of lockdown, his legion of fans almost crashed the internet. He is his usual reflective self as he delivers soliloquies that range from being appreciative of life, feeling a little neglectful to his mom, and the overall power he is quite aware that he still wields in the game. Ayanda Jiya offers a fitting soulful touch to the song before it breaks into a brief second part, a slower soulful sample loop. The term "residual self image", for purposes of this song, is lifted off The Matrix film, and means the subjective appearance of a human while they are connected to the Matrix. In layman terms, it means the way a person sees and thinks of themselves in the physical form.
03. Nasty C “Eazy”
There are a few emcees can seamlessly handle hook duties as equally well as they handle their verses. Nasty C is one such emcee. "Eazy" is such an infectious song, and this is owed largely to its world-class hook on this stadium status cut whose popularity is only solidified by the fact that its video has amassed well over two million YouTube streams. Fresh off inking a deal with Def Jam Recordings, Nasty C released "Eazy" as the first single off his highly anticipated third album Zulu Man With Some Power. He shows commendable self-awareness as he addresses the observations he has been making with regards to how he is looked at since his arrival and subsequent successes in the industry. With a crafty pen in tow, "Eazy" is an impressive addition to an already illustrious career replete with mammoth hits.
02. AKA “Energy” featuring Gemini Major
Perhaps it's the Nick Holder "Summer Daze" sample, maybe it's Gemini Major's hook or AKA himself ruminating out loud on his greatness. "Energy" is one of the best hip-hop songs to be released this year. A tried and tested formula for Supa Mega, which involves taking a well-known house sample, revamping it and flipping it into an equally revered hip-hop song (see "Kontrol", "Amen", "Jealousy" etc.). With "Energy", the formula strikes gold once again, as Makwa 6eats designs the perfect soundscape for AKA's resigned flow in this deep cut that finds him content with his placing in the hip-hop game. It is also the double whammy of nostalgia coupled with the larger-than-life lyrics AKA has grown to be loved for, that elevate the song to higher echelons. Nestled in his wrestling inspired Bhovamania project, "Energy" is a perfect fit for an ego-driven overachiever who keeps outdoing himself with each endeavour.
01. K.O “Lucky Star”
Since his unprecedented genre-defining debut, Skhanda Republic (2014), K.O has never truly captured the magic of the singles off that album again. Over the years that followed, he has often come close, showing glimmers of the hitmaker he was in 2014 and prior. "Lucky Star" is the closest he has gotten to delivering a similar near-flawless single that houses his lyrical ingenuity while maintaining that commercial appeal and makings of a juggernaut hit. Underscored by triumphant horns, the beat feels like the perfect soundtrack to K.O's victory lap. He cruises from one subject matter to another, and, through his writing in the song, the listener hears his natural knack for praising himself, giving commentary on the status quo, and declaring the positive trajectory of his career. All in one fell swoop. "Lucky Star" is a return to elite form for a phoenix-like emcee who clearly still has it.
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