Africa Dispatches: Hip hop 101 for marketers
by Mandy de Waal (@mandyldewaal) Nah. Not really. This is more of a profile interview with hip-hop head, local writer and photographer, Tseliso Monaheng. But if you’re marketing to GenZ, you’ve gotta know your rap from your hip-hop and Monaheng’s the guy to tell you.
But first. The big lead in statistic.
The world’s most-popular music genre
Digital music service, Spotify, did something pretty cool last year. It created a live musical chart of the world by
analysing some 20 billion tracks. This global music map visualises listening trends in disparate cities, and enables users to check out playlists for over a thousand metros.
After Spotify finished analysing this massive body of music, they discovered an interesting, albeit not terribly surprising, statistic. Hip-hop was the world’s most popular music genre. It showed up on more playlists than any other genre, regardless of geography or language.
With its roots in New York City’s African [and Latino] diaspora, following its appearance in the early seventies, it didn’t take long for hip-hop to become ubiquitous to youth culture across the world.
If you’re not exactly sure what hip-hop is, US public intellectual, scholar and cultural critic, Tricia Rose, defines the genre as: “a cultural form that attempts to negotiate the experiences of marginalization, brutality, truncated opportunity, and oppression within cultural imperatives of African-American and Caribbean history, identity and community.”
But who gives a shit?
Here at the southern tip of Africa, photographer and writer, Tseliso Monaheng, doesn’t give a shit about Spotify’s big reveal or academic definitions. “Spotify doesn’t care about the massive territories they overlook, and that those territories would skew their stats and ultimately disprove their claim,” says Monaheng. “I think anyone who pays attention to what Spotify says still has a long way to go as far as understanding how hip-hop is consumed.”
And Roses’ definition of the genre? “I think rap can never, ever be one thing and that anyone who tries to enforce their monolithic, archaic thinking regarding rap music missed the point from the get-go,” he chimes.
Monaheng has been writing a series about local hip-hop. You can read some of the articles at Mail & Guardian. The local writer offers another definition: “Hip-hop connects with people in the same way that other musics do: it’s an exchange of ideas, and those ideas simulate how we relate to our environment. What makes hip-hop music that much more visceral is that you can say so much in a song, plus you can pillage from whichever other genre to make a hip-hop beat.”
Know your trap
Monaheng first started listening to hip-hop in the mid-90s. “Sometime around the great Tupac and Biggie beef,” he says, and then reveals what first attracted him. “It was the curse words which attracted me. There was something dangerous about rap music. People were getting shot and there were threats and diss songs and really macho, ignorant shit. I found that to be super sexy.”
These days, Monaheng says that he’s listening to lot of trap. [Don’t know? Your friend Google will give you the inside scoop.] Spit it out. Start naming names. “A lot of Future and Travis Scott and 2Chainz, with a hint of Migos and Thugga. I listen to that because it vibrates at the same frequency Jozi vibrates in. The city is manic and cold and unforgiving, so trap music is, for me, the soundtrack to those forces,” he says.
“I balance that out with Skepta (he’s a Grime artist, fine), Little Simz, Sarkodie, FOKN Bois…whatever I can get my hands on that’s good and socially-conscious and has great flows, essentially,” Monaheng says.
Old vs new guard
How would the writer describe the local scene? “It’s having a midlife crisis. The old guard wants to keep the new guard out, but the kids are having none of their shit. It’s exciting to watch all that commotion from the sidelines,” Monaheng says. “It’s important to make a distinction between rap and hip-hop in this case, since one is a subset of the other. So mainstream South African rap is what I’m referring to re: old vs new guard.”
Apartheid has come and gone. What, I ask Monaheng, is the difference between rap and hip-hop pre-94 and now. “The difference is that the hip-hop heads who couldn’t make an impact or change anything in their respective scenes are now bitter, old men who are always pulling younger, well-meaning folk down.”
“One would think that the messages have changed too, but it was unsettling speaking to POC’s Shaheen the other year and hearing him say they’ve hardly had to update their lyrics on the occasion of their reunion gig at the Cape Town Jazzfest,” he states, and adds: “More rappers earn a living off of their craft now. That’s been a recent cool development.”
But what about the accusations of hip-hop and misogyny? “Taking what’s essentially a societal problem and making it the exclusive preserve of rap music — or Sesotho Accordion music or Mbaqanga or Reggae — is lazy,” Monaheng spits out. “I choose to view the culture as part of a larger framework. Parts of that framework are good, others are really sucky.” He adds: “If anything, rap music and hip-hop culture are readily-available, powerful barometers should we ever we want to stop pretending and look at how deep in the pits we’ve sunk collectively, as human beings.
Marketers being hella shady
Is money being invested in hip hop locally? “There wasn’t that much 10 years ago. But the big-name brands have hopped onto it in recent times. Which is great because it means that even the deep, darker corners of the underground get a semblance of shine. The kids are definitely into their rap music. My sister’s putting me onto the new-new at the moment. One only need to go to a Back To The City or a Maftown Heights to see that. What’s greater is that people seem to be into different types of rap. That’s amazing!”
Do the money men, the advertising agency owners, the brand directors, do they get hip hop. “I don’t deal with those people. I see them around and they’re always talking big. I’ve heard stories that most of em are hella shady,” Monaheng says bluntly. He adds: “I know that they don’t engage grassroots hip-hop movements, which is where their money’s really needed. So I wouldn’t be able to say whether they get hip hop. Maybe they do, since some of them are hip-hop heads. Dunno, let them put their money into the hip-hop industry, as opposed to this circle of friends which runs Jozi’s rap scene, and ultimately the country’s.”
Not currently listening to hip-hop, and wanna know what to listen to? “Everyone counts. Spend time on Soundcloud. Listen to the radio. Watch what’s on television. Decide for yourself what it is you like, and stick to that. Because I can tell you to listen to Kwesta and Yugen Blakrok and Raheem Kemet, but that’d be what I like. You may not dig it the same way and want to punch me after checking their stuff out. Hence, the suggestion to just check for what’s available,” Monaheng says.
If they listen, really listen, what will marketers hear in this music of youth markets? “A new taal. A new form of expression that is moving quickly away from the American gaze. I’m thinking of artists such as Ma-E, Kanyi, Okmalumkoolkat, Robo the Technician (RIP), and their ilk. They tell ‘hood tales; they tell stories celebrating life; they’re creating a code of addressing the present in that process. That also frees me in my approach to writing. It lets me know that it’s okay to include those slang words; to ruffle the rules of grammar here and there; to tickle the language and have good, clean, word-twisting fun with it.”
Our thanks to Tseliso Monaheng for the use of his photographs.
Mandy de Waal is a writer based in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, as well as contributing editor to MarkLives.com through her monthly “Africa Dispatches” column. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyldewaal or email her at MandyLdeWaal [@] gmail.com.