In honor of his debut Stogie T album release, we look back at South African rapper Tumi Molekane’s best songs to date.
South African rapper Tumi Molekane is a machine. Last year he released three projects—a mixtape titled Made of Taste, an album in Return of the King and The Journey EP with French electro trio Chinese Man. The latter was accompanied by a 24-minute short film of sorts. Under his belt, he has countless albums, EPs, mixtapes, singles and show-stealing features. He’s one of the few OGs whose music is still relevant today.
He has also assisted in creating superstars out of artists such as Reason, Riky Rick and Zaki Ibrahim through his indie label, Motif Records. He has collaborated with the likes of Zubz, AKA, Saul Williams, ProVerb and a whole lot more.
One of the most gifted wordsmiths of our time, there’s nothing the man can’t do, from poetry to battle-rapping as both a solo act or with his former band, Tumi and the Volume.
Today, Tumi releases his first album under his new Stogie T moniker, featuring the cream of the crop of South African hip-hop.
Listing Tumi’s best ten tracks is a near impossible task, but here’s our shot.
“Bophelo Bami” ft. KG (2007)
Over Kev Brown’s signature bassline, Tumi was autobiographical on “Bophelo Bami,” a single off of his first solo album, Music from my Good Eye. KG, from the group Morafe, did a great job on the hook, giving the song a South African feel. More than Tumi’s lyrical content and flow which are always butter, what makes “Bophelo Bami” is the overall feel resulting from all the elements combined. “Bophelo Bami” is one of many gems from one of Tumi’s best projects to date.
Tumi & Sifiso Sudan “Once Upon a Time in Africa” Remix (2008)
An undebatable South African hip-hop classic, “Once Upon a Time in Africa” was an entertaining collaboration between two respected wordsmiths produced by one of the most respected producers in South Africa, Nyambz. Instead of dropping a verse each, the two rappers decided to drop bars back to back, creating what is one of the most coherent collaborations of our time. And the lyrical content in here is spot on, imagining a pre-colonial African continent. “Before they made noise or rock and roll and sold gold/ I was a free soul,” raps Sudan.
Tumi & Chinese Man “Once Upon A Time” ft. Zubz (2014)
On his 2014 single with Chinese Man, which was part of an EP of the same name, Tumi revisited the issue of colonization with intricate poetry, reminding you why he used to call himself “The Poet/Emcee.” The beat is analog, with a mean bassline and a woozy horn on the hook. It was only right that Tumi and Chinese Man would work on a full project. The Journey is a perfect body of work. Don’t sleep.
“Broke People” ft. Samthing Soweto (2013)
Tumi and Samthing Soweto crafted a catchy anthem for the struggle, which would go on to be included on his 2015 album Return of the King. Tumi’s sounding like the don he is over production by Canada’s Snaz Hill. “Broke People” is one of the few Tumi songs that you can listen to and understand in one listen, a trait his new music is slowly beginning to adopt. The song’s rich with quotables such as “Broke people, they don’t vote for ideas, they vote for people,” “Know any broke people? On TV shows-people/ 30 minutes won’t fit their lifelong sequel.” We are still owed a video for this classic.
Tumi and the Volume “Number Three” (2010)
The wordplay on the first verse of this song alone is enough to put Tumi in a league of his own. “Wrap society’s fabric/ Around here, brothers are inanimate objects/ Mannequin subjected to the fashion of prospect.” Here, Tumi does a play on words, telling his story through fashion imagery. “What’s gon’ stop you keep on sampling?/ Recycling material from this life outfit/ The cowskin and this new box don’t got spins.” And his band The Volume was in the best shape, playing the most accessible and refined music of their careers in what is their best album, Pick a Dream. Pity they broke up after that, but Pick a Dream was a great epilogue.
Tumi and the Volume “People of the Light” ft. Pebbles (2004)
At their prime, Tumi and the Volume made uplifting music for everyday people. “People of the Light” was one such track, and one of the most memorable tracks the band has ever released, alongside “Yvonne,” the opening poem of their album Live at the Bassline. Pebbles’ natural vocals gave the song soul, and an accessibility it otherwise wouldn’t have had. Tumi’s rhymes were dense and demanded attention. “People of the Light” was an optimistic outlook on life, that through all the ills people go through, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel: “This is the same oppression my peeps can ill afford/ Privatize basic health water and minerals/ Analyze ancient changes slaughters on the news/ But my people still generate a glow in the room/ I hear the wind whisper, ‘Love I’ll be coming home soon’/ But people of the light still generate a glow in the room.”
“Bambezela” ft. Brickz and Tracy-Lee (2009)
Before it became cool for hip-hop artists to work with kwaito stars, Tumi roped in Brickz for the first single off Whole Worlds. The vocalist Tracy-Lee gave the song a soulful feel, and Tumi told two stories of hope on each verse, in a way that wasn’t corny like how these type of songs can often be. It looked easy, but pulling off a collaboration with three diverse artists and not having sound scattered takes the craftsmanship that only Tumi has.
“Victory” ft. Zubz (2010)
The hidden track to T’s second solo album, Whole Worlds, saw him and his long partner in rhyme wear their hearts on their sleeves. Zubz took the personal route, expressing his distraughtness in things like the 2008 xenophobic attacks and his song “Get Out” causing controversy, while Tumi name-dropped all of SA hip-hop's key players at the time. He gave his thoughts on the game then, in an honest and eloquent way, over a key-heavy beat.
“G65” ft. Fredy Massamba (2014)
The last song on 2015’s Return of the King was mean. The bassline pounded, just like most of the beats on the album. Tumi tells his life story referencing his friends’ fancy cars. The likes of Sizwe Dhlomo, DJ Bionic and Khuli Chana get mentions. On "G65," Tumi was again showing off his uncontested skill as a wordsmith.
Tumi and the Volume “What it’s All About” (2006)
“What it’s All About,” off of Tumi and the Volume’s self-titled studio album, was a comical song about how people put so much faith in their favourite artists. It comes with being a “conscious rapper,” which Tumi had positioned himself as, people thinking just because you rap about “real issues” then you have all the answers. “After the show/ There’s always a couple that wanna know/ how you mopping your floor/ And where you wanna go in six years after/ What’s your vision for Africa/ Man, I’m just rapper, gimme a break, stop that,” he raps. On this album, Tumi displayed his diverse flows, he used a different one for almost every song. The album might have flown over a lot of South African hip-hop fans' heads, but it opened up doors and helped launch Tumi’s international career.
Other standout Tumi songs include “Powa (Remix)," “’76,” “Ronin,” “Mariah,” “Stop the Violence,” “Moving Picture Frames,” “The Now Rich,” “Music From My Good Eye,” “Whole Worlds,” and a whole lot more.
Sabelo Mkhabela is a writer from Swaziland, currently based in Cape Town. He also drops award-winning tweets as @SabzaMK.