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.

News Brief
Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns (via Getty Images)

New Fela Kuti Reissues & Box Set Are Coming This Year

Partisan Records has shared initial news of upcoming Fela 50th anniversary reissues and a new box set on the way.

Fela Kuti fans have a lot to look forward to this year as Partisan Records (home to Fela's catalog) has announced plans to release special reissues of two 1971 albums: London Scene and Live! With Ginger Baker, the classic album in which Fela and his band Africa '70 where joined by the Cream drummer.

The label has also said they plan to release the fifth installment in their ongoing Fela vinyl reissue box set series, which are handpicked by notable names in the music world. Previous volumes have been curated by Erykah Badu, Questlove, and Brian Eno.

Partisan has also shared that they will also be launching a scholarship program at Fela's alma mater, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, in London this year. The label will be sharing more information on all of that exciting Fela Kuti 2021 news soon, so keep and eye out.

In the meantime, Fela Kuti is currently leading the fan vote for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. You can head here to cast a daily ballot for the afrobeat legend. Voting is capped at one ballot per day.

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