Yanga Chief Takes The Lead With His Debut Album ‘Pop Star’

In his debut album 'Pop Star', Yanga Chief caters to various moods through diverse subject matter and culturally relevant songs.

Following up on his award-winning EP, Becoming a Popstar, Yanga Chief is not letting the game rest. His latest project Pop Star is a true reflection of what he has transformed into; a chief leading the Mzansi hip-hop scene.

Chiefs are supposed to hear and give commentary on all aspects of the village. Yanga Chief does exactly that by raising awareness on the good and bad of the village of South Africa—from partying to corruption. A trait that the greatest pop stars have been widely praised for. Think of early examples like Michael Jackson's political "They Don't Care About Us" and his upbeat real-life-based story of "Billie Jean".

Pop Star gives the listener a chance to be a part of Yanga's story. The themes he covers allow listeners to see his aspirations as well as his insecurities. His raw honesty allows one to see that the journey was not an easy one and that he had to overcome many adversities to get to where he is today. As he raps in the opening verse of the song "Fifa":

"Story of my life, got a shorty and a mic/ Funny how these haters think I did it overnight/ Made a couple of promises and had some oversights/ Now we talk in tears and candlelight"

The 15-track album is easy on the ear by way of catchy melodies and sing-along hooks like all pop music. Thematically, the album revolves around black excellence, self-awareness and relationships. Singing, rapping and harmonising on most of the tracks, Yanga solidifies his position as a maker of popular music.

On Black excellence

Though not one of most braggadocio rappers, Yanga Chief has not been one to shy away from the fact that he loves the finer things in life. He shares some of the things he would like to attain in tracks such as "BBAF", "Touch the Sky", "Fort Hare", "Austin Powers" and "Suicide Doors".

On "Fort Hare", he keeps the hook simple and straight to the point—he wants a Porsche and knows he can afford it, he just has to be patient in getting it or he might fall chasing it.

Yanga Chief - Fort Hare (Official Audio) ft. Maglera Doe Boy www.youtube.com

The significance of using (the University of) Fort Hare is that it is one of the first universities in South Africa to allow black students. Located in Alice, Eastern Cape, it was a key institution of higher education for Black people and offered a Western-style academic education to students from across sub-Saharan Africa, creating a Black elite especially during the apartheid era.

Fort Hare alumni went on to be part of many subsequent independence movements and governments of newly independent African countries, including public figures such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Robert Sobukwe and Oliver Tambo. By stating that he comes from Fort Hare, Yanga illustrates that he is well learned and is destined for great things.

Maglera Doe Boy's (MDB) verse on "Fort Hare" is easily one of the best rap moments on Pop Star. His cadence sits perfectly over the beat and his lines ooze street-centric swagger. The fact that he wrote the verse in 20 minutes is astonishing.

On politics

Yanga does not hold back on his political views, and tracks like "Manelo" and "Note to Self" should serve as inspirational tracks for South Africans.

In "Note to Self", he pleads with listeners to remain strong and strive for more through their challenges and misfortunes. Backed with a mellow guitar melody by Tshego AMG, Yanga vocalises that no matter the circumstances, you can always overcome them.

The audio clip of the legendary kwaito and TV star Zola 7's speech at the beginning of the track sets the precedence of the overall message of the song, which can be summed up as "the future is for all of us to shape".

On "Manelo", Yanga writes an open letter to the freedom fighters who fought for South Africa's freedom, especially Nelson Mandela. In the song Yanga mentions how politicians such as Gwede Mantashe are living lavishly and wining and dining at places like Capello, while civilians are suffering:

"Uxolo Manelo, Manelo, Manelo/ These niggas out at Capello, Capello, Capello/ Spending your money nabelung', nabelung', nabelung'/ Popping bubbly, bubbly, it's so lovely, lovely"

The track is derived from Chicco Thwala's "We Miss You Manelow", which is an ode to the struggle veterans who went missing during apartheid.

The core message of Manelo is that South Africa needs leaders that will utilise state resources better and for the benefit of the nation. King Dalindyebo's audio clip at the end of the track iterates that South Africans are not against the ruling party, but rather just want a party that has good intentions for the people.

On love

But the themes explored on Pop Star are more diverse than politics. For instance, the song "BBAF", an acronym for "Boity bad as fuck", touches on Yanga Chief's admiration of how women artists are moving and the respect we should be giving to contributors such as Boity who are taking their careers to great heights.

"Ndiyabinika" is a special dedication to his lifelong partner who was falsely viewed as a gold digger while "Touch the Sky" shares his hope to reach his maximum potential.

A trusted source and established artist in making culturally relevant songs, Yanga did not disappoint in making more for his own project. On tracks such as "Ngubani Lo." and "Mkhwenyana", he leans towards an Afro-soul sound and fuses it with his own iterations of traditional South African chants.

Overall, Pop Star is a well-balanced album that caters to various moods for listeners ranging from being politically aware to being affectionate.

Stream Pop Star by Yanga Chief on Apple Music and Spotify.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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