It shouldn’t come as a surprise that rappers and other hip hop entertainers have more to contribute to conversations about social issues that affect the average man than overdone “dead presidents” references about money. After all, hip hop as we know it, served as mouthpiece for change and conscious rebellion in the 80s and 90s. It was a beautiful marriage because that era was a time when disco, blues, R&B and jazz were being commercially consumed at their highest. Except when it came to being a carrier of tough messages, those genres lacked the energy, punch and aggression that the spirit of rebellion carries. Then hip hop came along with it’s excitable tempo and coarse baselines and perfectly encompassed the energy needed, in song, to say ‘Fuck the police’ and raise one’s hand in power.
In the South African context, hip hop’s predecessors Kwaito and Afro Pop achieved in the similar sentiments during the oppressive regime in form names like Brenda Fassie, and of course P.O.C and Brasse Van Die Kaape, who were rapping as early as the late ’80’s. In recent times, the inclination to speak out and playlist material that addresses social issues, both locally and abroad, didn’t seem like a priority for many entertainers and platforms. Until now. America is in the most public fight against police brutality and injustice on the grounds of race, with every hip hop and ‘urban’ personality from Diddy, to Kendrick, Pharrell and others having their say and helping to rally the people against unfair conduct. And now, South African youth is taking up its own necessary cause.
The affordability of varsity fees, or lack thereof, in South Africa is not a new issue. Particularly in black and disadvantaged communities, the exorbitant annual amounts required for a tertiary education are beyond the pay line of the average South African. Over the past couple of weeks, the issue has received the national spotlight. Starting at Wits University, and now a national protest campaign being consolidated by the hashtag #FeesMustFall, is advocating the need for education to be made affordable so that it is no longer a privilege reserved for the wealthy, but a right for every willing South African student.
When one considers that the hip hop listener also falls exactly into the age category that is considered ‘youth’ in South Africa (between 14 and 35), it only makes sense that the artists who help define what is cools, also help offer responsible and positive reinforcement into the minds of their supporters, right? Because we can’t just be a generation of booty-shaking, champagne-popping, jewelry-copping folk, as much of the media will have most believe. There needs to be more to hip hop than this. In fact, it’s a responsibility. And many have already stepped up.
Yesterday AKA, Yanga, Kid X, Masta-A-Flat (producer) and a group of others in the clique took to Braam, JHB and joined the march in solidarity with Wits students. DJ Dimplez, Ms Cosmo, Blaklez are also among the many voices in hip hop that have pledged their support. DJ Capital, a former Wits student rallied with mates to help collect refreshments for marching student’s, while Cassper Nyovest added that though he is a dropout who was fortunate enough to find success outside if the academic route, he watch his parents struggle to put his siblings through school and that many of his peers’s plans have been cut short because of the inability to afford tertiary fees.
It is particularly admirable that in all of this, no-one has tried to use this opportunity to make this issue about themselves or deflect the attention in some gimmicky way to a song or upcoming event. Whether it directly affects you or not, this [peaceful] uprising is bigger than any individual. Just as the generation before fought for our freedoms and lost their lives, this fight is important for the nation and it’s future. I always wondered what out generations legacy will be now that institutionalised Apartheid, which seemed to be our people’s biggest hurdle, had been broken down. I’m starting have hope that we might just now be discovering it.
Read comments from various hip hop personalities below: