The first time I heard about rapper Youngsta (government name Riyadh Roberts) was during Public Enemy’s tour of Cape Town, in a club awkwardly named @mospheer. Chuck D and Flavor Flav rocked the crowd that night, with a high-energy performance lasting longer than two hours (according to Flavor Flav’s giant clock necklace). In the middle of their set they invited a few local MCs to get on stage and drop a couple of verses. A lanky and charismatic young man with a big grin, introducing himself as Youngsta, stole the show. His warm engagement with the crowd and funny, witty freestyles made him the clear favorite. This guy was going places. The next time I heard of him he was opening for Lil’ Wayne.

Youngsta claims very much to be doing what he calls “straight up Cape Town hip hop” and I have to admit I hadn’t been this excited about a local MC for a long time. But then I checked out this music video, called “Baggy.”

It’s evident in the video that his style is imitation American. (Let’s not even talk about the second rapper on the track.) I get the sense that he is doing this forced, derivative“swag” to appeal to a mainstream audience. Since he is trying to make a career out of his work, can one really blame him? This is what sells, right? I get the feeling that audiences have developed somewhat though (even mainstream). I don’t think sounding American is quite enough to cut it. I also think he is a lot more talented and relevant than he is showing us here.

Some of his work taps into “coloured” cultural politics, such as doing an interview and photo shoot over a Gatsby (a working class Cape Town version of a sub sandwich), and he has a clever, infectious homage to Cape Town, “Salute Ya” (a popular Cape Flats greeting) sampling Afrobeat and giving a shout-out to Cape Town hip hop legend Mr Devious. In his artist biography he blends his brand of self assuredness, with some sense of Afro-centricity: “It seemed as if no one was willing to step up and put the city on the map among the others in Africa — until now.” His Facebook page suggests he is quite embedded in Cape Town’s hip hop scene.

(It would be interesting to see what a veteran Cape Town rapper like Emile of Black Noise — in this video getting a group of coloured school children to at least recognize that they’re African — would make of Youngsta.)

Youngsta prides himself on being somewhat of a mixtape king, having released 22 mixtapes in two years, and he has just released an album, Guyfox. He seems to have a restless energy in him, which makes him all the more interesting to watch. While his talent and output is prolific, I only hope he decides to focus less on the amount of work he puts out, and more on putting out good work. But less swag please.

Further Reading