The best South African hip-hop songs of the year so far featuring Nasty C, Blxckie, Stino Le Thwenny, K.O, A-Reece and more.
Since experiencing somewhat of a renaissance circa 2014, South African hip-hop has once more found itself at a crossroads. With the advent of trap, drill and even amapiano, the genre has had to reimagine itself to capture the imagination of its primary audience.
While fusion still plays a huge role in SA hip-hop, like its iterations including skhanda rap, mzonkonko and new age kwaito prove, there remains a golden thread that runs through the genre. Rather than a sonic quality, that thread seems to be an attitude, lifestyle or aspirational outlook and that perhaps explains why there's such a broad church of sounds from the community.
South African hip-hop is as much indebted to its street corners and nightspots as it is to the idealistic environment it finds itself in. In a sense, as society experiences fluctuations so do the sounds we hear from South African rappers. When progress is made that creates a space for more conversations from more people, but stagnation also impacts the ability to have a monolithic product to offer.
In this context, expect to hear several iterations of hip-hop from several generations of rappers from different walks of life and imagine hip-hop as the soundtrack of the current moment.
Below, we round up our picks of the best South African hip-hop songs of 2021 so far, listed in no particular order.
Probably known for his quick witted flows over rustling trap production a la "Ye x4", Durban native Blxckie shows his versatility with a rap-sung delivery over instrumentation inspired by amapiano on "Sika". Trading braggadocious rhymes for a smoothly delivered performance, Blxckie colours outside the lines and signals his ability to cater to both the streets and radio waves.
Read our interview with Blxckie here.
Middelvinger “Alles Is Gecancel” (featuring Francois van Coke and Hunter Kennedy)
Afrikaans drummer and rapper Middelvinger marks his return to the SA music scene with a rollicking, punk-leaning performance on "Alles Is Gecancel". Demonstrating his sharp-witted rap style and versatility as a musician, the former Dead Lucky and Goodnight Wembley band member provides commentary on the perils of unmitigated "cancel culture".
Dr Peppa “Mntase” (featuring Blxckie, Aux Cable, Chang Cello, Lord Script)
Dr Peppa has found a formula for dropping sleeper hits as his previous breakout, the infectious "What It Is", proved previously. Moving away from fusing hip-hop and amapiano on "Mntase", he gathered an exciting line-up to flow over a bouncy beat. Led by Blxckie's catchy hook and the now unmistakable "ye ye ye ye" refrain, this is a banger hard to sleep on.
Known as "Red" in her interactions with South Africa's visual and fashion spheres, Tshego Moseane employs the moniker Kebidoo for the musical iteration of her artistry. Bringing an alternative twist to SA hip-hop on "Agoiweng", she wraps a kwaito flavour and motswako lyricism into k-pop-inflected production. The sonic variety of the track and message to chase your dreams makes this a refreshing listen.
Nasty C “Jack”
Nasty C has been effortlessly finding pockets in beats since a teen, and as he continues his journey with a crossover attempt to the US, his knack for doing so continues to amaze. Riding over this Flvme-produced cut with consummate ease on "Jack", he flips flows and deftly switches voices to deliver a smooth iteration of the rags-to-riches story.
TheLatsLetter “Real Ones”
TheLastLetter is a South African/Zimbwean trapsoul artist who's slowly gaining a following through her use of SoundCloud and social media. On "Real Ones", the promising musician layers her velvet voice over Zino D production in an ode to her day ones.
A-Reece “The 5 Year Plan” (featuring Wordz)
A-Reece announced his return with Today's Tragedy, Tomorrow's Memory to great reception. The standout track on that tape displays his quintessential attributes – straight bars and compelling delivery. With his take on a soundtrack to a heist, Reece weaves his rhymes between a compelling but understated hook crafted alongside Wordz.
Read our review of Today's Tragedy, Tomorrow's Memory here.
The elusive Sihle Ganta is a rapper and singer whose smooth vibes are hard to ignore. With only a few tracks released on her SoundCloud, the artist known as Si strikes the perfect balance between emotive lyricism and smooth flows. "Quarantine" wraps those exact traits into one with its warped synths and melodic keys anchoring the production.
Signalling the continuation of somewhat of a rebirth over an amapiano-inflected record produced by LunatikBeatz, K.O reminds us why he's firmly considered SA hip-hop royalty. The duo crafted a definitive sound (skhanda rap) on K.O's Skhanda Republic and this re-unification delivers the same kwaito and hip-hop fusion that embodies an authentic South African spin on the genre. This time around, with sprinkles of amapiano.
Stino Le Thwenny “Mshimane 2.0” (featuring K.O and Khuli Chana)
Bloemfontein duo Stino le Thwenny enlist Major League DJs, Khuli Chana and K.O for a remix of their vibey, bass-driven and Caask Asid-produced "Mshimane". Flexing their status as one of the freshest acts out, they display their chemistry while Khuli and K.O play the role of elder statesmen with their verses drawing from their classic, flow-laden deliveries.
Zangothando Kubheka “Precious Interlude”
Out of Johannesburg East, Zango Khubeka fuses trap, emo rap and R&B on his You Have One Missed Call album. "Precious Interlude" goes the atmospheric route, with poignant lyrics cocooned within an airy, electronic-tinged beat.
Boity “018's Finest” (featuring Maglera Doe Boy and Ginger Trill)
Boity continues to answer her critics with the area code-repping "018's Finest". Showing love to her hometown alongside fellow Potchefstroom native Ginger Trill and MDB, she puts her stamp on the game with a cold verse. It's Maglera Doe Boy who steals the show, though, with a perfectly crafted rhyme scheme and gruffly delivered slang that highlights his Klerksdorp origins.
Read our interview with Boity here.
Bizozo & Kakapa “Gijima” (featuring Dudu Lomeh)
This Rustenburg trio blend R&B, hip-hop and kwaito for an upbeat, get-up-and-go cut. Between a hook employing call and response, Bizozo, Kakapa and Dudu Lomeh lace motswako lyrics over a beat that induces head nods with its rhythmic percussion.
Kwesta “Snakes In The Crib”
Taken off his latest album g.o.d Guluva which sees this Katlehong-born rapper take a more melodic turn, "Snakes In The Crib" sees Kwesta at his rapping best. Over electric guitars and a gloomy soundbed, he addresses some issues around his music career. It's an impassioned effort and perhaps as close as fans will get to a full-on dissection of what lays under the grass.Read our interview with Kwesta here.
Emtee “Long Way”
Emtee has always used trap to deliver compelling stories, mostly of a street nature. As he further settles into his roles as husband and father figure, the tales he crafts between trap production have taken on a mature turn. "Long Way" is the hustler's love letter to his loved lines and folds the theme of Emtee's loyalty into a trap&b soundscape.
Holy Alpha “Qondile”
Cape Town's Holy Alpha, affectionately known as "Mama Ghost", confidently asserts her originality over a melodic beat on the catchy "Qondile". Laying lines filled with Xhosa slang, she weaves between a subdued baseline and high pitched keys to give her rap style the thumbs up.
Lucasrap$ “Derr Boy”
One of the breakouts of the lockdown era of South African hip-hop, Lucasraps has an attention-grabbing style. On "Derr Boy", the Durbanite spits over a choppy, KindlyNxsh-produced drill beat that rattles along with his rapid flow-switching.
Straight-edged rapper Jocstar spits comfortably over a mid-tempo beat on "21". Simultaneously influenced by trap aesthetics and avoiding the excesses of the genre, the Pretoria rapper comfortably maintains his persona while dropping sonic references over intricately layered instrumentation.
Mark Akol & Sipho The Gift “eKapa”
Rapper Sipho The Gift and producer Mark Akol linked up to pay homage to the city of Cape Town on the sprightly "eKapa". With just enough bounce to the beat and verses sprinkled with lines skirting the hallway between punchline and metaphor; it's a great dose of hip-hop.
Dubb Mandela “Save Me”
Having worked with JimmyWiz, Shane Eagle and BigStar Johnson; Dubb is somewhat of an unseen hand as both a producer and artist in his own right. With the release of his debut solo offering that should change somewhat. Titled Finding Self, his three-piece EP is reflective and introspective. It's the acoustic "Save Me" that best represents that with a marriage of the personal and socio-political. This is music from the heart, articulated with depth.