Stripping back the facade of modern hip-hop to reveal its African roots

Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces breaks down his 'Pungwe' mixtape for us.

Screenshot of Tendai Maraire during a July 2011 Shabazz Palaces performance on KEXP Public Radio.

“This is an African Hip-Hop movement.” Seattle-based Zimbabwean performer, Tendai Maraire aka Fly guy Dai (one half of Shabazz Palaces duo), sounds adamant. And he has the digital mixtape to prove it. On ‘Pungwe‘, Maraire “not so much brings African music to hip-hop, but rather strips back the facade of modern hip-hop to show the African roots that were always there” (according to the press release). Wanting to know more, and already warmed up to the demo by Chief Boima’s mixtape of the mixtape, we asked him to break down the tape track by track. Play it while you read Maraire’s notes.

A Toast to Frame and Ro.

I wanted to start the Digital Demo with the mbira instrument to lay the foundation musically that this is an African Hip-Hop movement. So I left it in there raw. In ghettos all over we all have friends that you grow up with that you wish would excel in their talents more. But before they’re even legally old enough to pay taxes or enlist, they’re forced to make life-changing decisions that never give them a fair chance to contribute their gifts to the world. Before twenty-one, they’re making six figures selling the product they were born addicted to. At twenty-five they catch a case and they have no chance to earn a decent living. At twenty-five, they learn how lucrative, crooked and deadly it is. By that time, it’s too late. Plus, you figure out who is behind that business. You feel the same as them. I’m just trying to get what I can based upon the hand I was dealt.


I remember when Zimbabwe gained independence. My mother had a big party at the house in Seattle — with all her friends, Zimbabwean and American. My uncle, who fought in the guerrilla war against the white Rhodesian state, flew in weeks later. She started celebrating every year and even would get together with friends to sponsor groups from Zimbabwe to come and perform. Years later she focused more on performing, and non-Zimbabweans took over. They called it a Marimba festival and later transitioned it to Zimfest, which still exists. One year, my brothers and I went when my father was still alive living in Zimbabwe. After we came back, we saw that it had not represented our culture, history or the people indigenous to Zimbabwe. So we started flipping tables etcetera. The festival was stopped and dialogue started on how things needed to change. I promised that day to everyone that I would change it. See, Zimbabwean music has a rich story-telling history. Some songs have messages that are inappropriate for those of European descent to sing. But yet they still feel comfortable doing so even though Shona people feel this way. So ‘Boom’ is me throwing my first punch at those that still disrespect the music. While I touch on some subjects that personally affect me when they do it. Boom!

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I am no stranger to illegal activity that affects our people in America. When I first came back to America, a kid named Serge and I where known as the African Booty Scratchers. I didn’t understand why people who looked like me were laughing at me. Even the ones that knew me before I left. I always felt that America saw us the same; not as African-American, Zimbabwean or even Black. Just Ignorant Negroes. As I got older my friends and I learned we’re all in the same social and economic positions. But I still had American friends who thought I felt better than them because I was Zimbabwean. And friends that were from Zimbabwe who thought I was better than them or lost my culture because I had a curl and wore Jordans. Then of course there was the police that I knew were crooked but never had a reason that they knew of to fuck with me. With this song, this is me just saying: why are you looking at me when I have shit to deal with too?

I Execute My Confidence.

When DJ Boima finished his blends on the mixtape, it had ‘Pitche Mi’ by Youssou N’Dour on it. I wanted to rap over it. I called Ish — and this is what came out.

We Need To Talk.

This track is about scenarios and conversations or arguments I went through with different women in the past while doing music. I’ve had several conversations about women with other artists and just wanted to express these thoughts. It’s really tough for an aspiring artist to work without a financial outcome from that work. Like Jean-Michel Basquiat kicking it with Andy Warhol. It usually never works out. But it did for me.


I think this speaks for itself.

How This All Started/Boy Wonder.

I just wanted talk a little bit about my story from a child to becoming a young adult. Writing helps me to deal with issues I don’t want to speak to people about. Then I grow up and mature from those matters I touched. Sometimes…

Like That…

Of course male black culture is always exploited as negative. As if there are no hard working brothas that are living a good life with their wife. They love to go to the club, hear black music and spend money celebrating who they are. I’m just expressing to black women that they should be proud of whom we are no matter the situation. Times are rough everywhere. So just let your man know you love him. Let him be him. He’s black and beautiful. Just like you.


For years the NFL quarterback has been looked at as the premier athlete in American sports. He gets the big deal, women and power to do what he wants when he wants. It took years for blacks to be a normal part of the draft discussion. I’ll never forget when Charlie Ward won the Heisman and led in almost every statistical category there was that year. He led Florida State to a national championship. This is just in honor of the black quarterbacks doing their thing today and how far they have come. Especially Mike Vick.

It’s Time For You To Go.

In 1994 our family visited Zimbabwe for the first time with our mother. At the time Biggie was just hitting the scene. We were driving down the street bumping ‘Juicy’. I remember we pulled up to a pick-up truck that had some uniformed workers in it. A white man was driving. Now imagine a mini van with young black kids — hats to the right, Gucci glasses — screaming in deep Biggie voices: it was all a dream! The workers looked at us like “shhhh.. Not good.” The white guy mugged but straightened up when we mugged back. Young Maraire Boys being crazy at home. I hung out the window and said “hay man if you don’t like it you can leave.” 

Days later we went to Victoria Falls by train. We were at the statue of Cecil Rhodes there. I remember talking to a white African guy who asked where we were from (he knew our American accents). I said Seattle. I asked him where he was from. He said, “We used to live in Zimbabwe and moved out to South Africa, we just stopped here before we go to our new home.” Now he was heading to Atlanta with his family. He was basically saying goodbye to Africa as a whole, moving to a whole new world of white culture.

It’s Alright.

Sometimes I write because I had a good day. Then I’m talking to a friend and they aren’t doing well. So I write their scenarios down and blend them all together. This time I just wanted to say everything is going to be all right.

  • This post is the first in our Liner Notes series, where musicians talk about making music.

Further Reading

Reading List: Mutt_Lon

The books that the author, a Cameroonian novelist, has been reading share an ethics of political engagement, a quest for identity and cultural inventory, and an ear for the voices and harmonies of African languages.