I don’t wanna pull the race card, I really don’t but I must. I must because I can’t think of any other reason why. I’ve followed the thought to this conclusion and therefore I must present it. Here is my non-scientific, totally subjective understanding why people are offended/bothered enough that South African rappers sound American.
It’s not unique to South African rap, it’s pretty much everywhere from Perth to Dubai. Once rap has infiltrated the cultural seams a divide takes place that begins to distinguish local rappers as either American pretenders or native innovators of hip hop. It’s always reduced to these unreasonable caches. Regardless of content or philosophical views, music is essentially sound and how a rapper sounds places him in either of those predetermined clutches.
Rappers who sound American catch a lot of slack from a certain group of listeners. They are deemed to be wannabes, self haters, misled sheep and various other variations on the theme of non-proud South African rapper. I’ve had to read some very condescending blogs about the need for South African rappers to be more ‘proud’ of their heritage from bloggers who write gonzo prose without any sense of irony as to smearing people with the tar of cultural appropriation whilst jotting about drug binges in semi-political outrage and calling it music journalism. I guess if it’s mahala there’s no real reason to complain.
But as I have pointed out in their comments section, this marmish, teacherly behavior is only ever reserved for rap. And as I stated earlier, it’s really not that South African rappers sound American that puts people on edge, it’s that they sound BLACK American. And not just any black American, but like the gun totting, drug selling, woman pimping BLACK Americans the world media has taught everyone to be wary of. Rappers don’t sound like Obama, no, they sound like Rev. Sharpton.
Pop music is American. It has been since the invention of the radio and the creation of the modern music industry. Through the last 100 years American pop has been the driving grind from both World Wars to the recent conviction of PFC Bradley Manning. Jazz music, blues, country, folk, rock n roll, R&B, all of it has rich history in countries and places across the world. From Sophiatown to the Favelas, each pocket of the world is teeming with decades of assimilated American pop. And most of it met resistance based on the intellectually corrupt notion of retaining cultural integrity as if whatever culture they meant to hold onto was a vacuum sealed archeological artifact that would crumble into dust if exposed to sunlight, oxygen and syncopated rhythms.
But eventually the music was accepted, revered even as it took on sophisticated prevalence as Jazz and rock n roll have come to enjoy in theaters and hushed hotel lounges. But rap music still has to contend with the same juvenile accusations and meaningless divisions. Arno Carstens doesn’t ever get these silly distractions on Twitter. Listen to this joint and pick out if you can hears Arno’s Afrikaans heritage through harsh ‘g’s and sighing ‘r’s.
You can’t because it’s sang with distinctly American phrasing and intonations, but seemingly no one accuses Arno of being a cultural miscreant.
Listen to a Mick Jagger interview and then reconcile his distinctly British accent with the deep growls of ‘You make a grown man cryyyyy!” in the song, ‘Start me up’ and place the two accents at the same point of origin.
Abba was a Swedish supergroup who sang in English. Growing up, when Dancing Queen played, was it even possible to identity these lilting voices as Scandanavian? Is it possible now, knowing their backstory.
I will add Freddy Mercury here too to illustrate that a boy born and raised in India was embraced as a rock god, making and singing music with no hint or accent of the persistently mimicked Indian manner of speaking.
Yet rappers are constantly harassed about a practice that is tolerated and encouraged as a career advantage in other genres. Seether, Lucky Dube, Miriam Makeba and countless other South African musicians make and made songs with their natural speech habits lessened and replaced with a practiced aggregate that was universal and certainly Americanised.
The insistence that all South African rappers sound more South African is only worth considering if the demand can be made of all musicians from everywhere making all genres. Not just the ones who happen to sound like angry black men and women. It’s a hypocrisy that presents itself to be in service of retaining a cultural purity when in fact it’s only result is shallow racialism that precludes that a Black American voice is not worth being echoed outside an American ghetto. That to relate to the anger and nihilism or intelligence or beauty of that voice is somehow not a reinforcement of your feelings but a negation of your own distinct background. In effect, it reduces the human experience to narrow locales, with their distinct speech defects.
This isn’t about why some rappers choose vernacular over English or twanging over tjuning it’s about a type of music listener who wants to turn the simple pleasure of making and listening to music into anthropological recognisable classifications. Africans must sound African, Zulus must sound Zulu and Indians like Indian. Saying it like that reveals the underlying regionalism being presented. But that’s not true is it, because no one cares when other musicians borrow and project other musicians from other places, its only is a problem when that other place is Black Ghetto U.S.A.
And that’s why I didn’t want to pull the race card. Because then we have to accept that other black people have a problem with some blacks sounding like other blacks. They’ll accept Lira twanging through an album but huff and puff that Reason is simply a mimic. Even hip hop producers like D Planet who should know better have chimed in about South African rappers who sound American as if in their vast knowledge of music, this automatically negates whether the music has merit or not.
It’s a silly issue to be concerned about. It’s dishonest and opportunistic. And it’s mostly driven by an unintentional and unexamined discomfort that the media demonised young American black voice is the chosen voice for the popular masses through rap music with its inherent bluster, grandiosity, paranoia, danger and persecution.
Aight ‘en. Nuff sed. Peace my N-words.
Written By: (@RealGibberish)