South African Hip-Hop needs more artists like Molemi

A harp hard-panned to either side of the speakers constantly loops while a flute sample pulsates in lock-step with the reverb-drenched hi-hats sounding off on every fourth beat. The drums kick in; snare; bassline. Suddenly the listener is placed squarely in Mo’Molemi’s (real name Molemi Morule) territory, arguably one of the most revolutionary rappers in South Africa. I got introduced to Molemi (or Mr. Mo as he’s sometimes known), through a hidden song on HHP’s YBA2NW album. HHP is one of the most recognisable entertainers in South Africa, having been catapulted to fame by two things: his fourth album, “O Mang?” (who are you?/what are your roots?) with its lead single “Harambe”, as well as winning a dance competition which was beamed to television sets across South Africa via the country’s SABC2 channel.

Molemi, on the other hand, has charted his own course with varying degrees of commercial success since his formative days as a member of the group Morafe. What he has not done though, and I stand corrected, is to compromise on his message; he has not given in to commercial pressure; he has not succumbed to the trappings of fame. Mr. Mo’s politically-charged content is as incisive on “Lemphorwana” off of his second album “Motsamai” as it was on “Blu Collar” from a collection of songs which got leaked in the lead-up to his debut, “Amantsi”. In “Blu collar”, he raps

Bo-ausi ba di-kichini bo kareng bo botlhe le ma-kontraka, ke re pop the blue collar now / bo-rametlakase, di-plaas joppie le bo-mme ba fielang straata, amandla, come on, ha! (“ladies who clean kitchens, including contract workers, I say pop the blue collar now / electricians, farm workers and ladies who sweep the streets, more power to you, come on!”)

In essence, the song is a rallying call for all the blue collar workers – street sweepers, kitchen maids, contract workers – across the South African landscape to come together in unison towards one single cause. What that cause is, however, is not made explicit. Perhaps Molemi is not a one-dimensional rapper, opting for multi-faceted, non-bigoted, and informed views on any issue he tackles. While songs like “Blu collar” and “Vokaf” are aimed at addressing South Africa’s social condition at large, there are still more, such as “Apulaene” and “Mmabanyana” which further endeavour to invite the listener into the world of his people, the Batswana of Botswana – the different tribes, their chiefs, and their customs and rituals.

Hip-hop in South Africa needs more artists like Molemi – a farmer (his name translates to ‘one who plants’) who is also a very talented rapper. A legionnaire, a lone rider in the canon of Motswako – a genre increasingly associated with care-free, party-friendly music. In an interview snippet with Leslie Kasumba which can be found on his first album, Molemi said the following after being asked what he feels that he is bringing to hip-hop:

[I bring] stories that can provoke debates, not nice songs. I’m bringing in things that the government will ask ‘what’s this hip-hop?’ Hence ‘Blu Collar’, because ‘Blu Collar’ will talk about the experience of people who work the hardest but earn the least; those that freedom is not really reaching that much. I’m one of them! Not just talking to them from a distance, but sharing the stories from within. There’s a certain section of society in general that we’re not doing enough to reach out to. Capitalism is having a very negative effect on the general people, the people at the bottom level, because they’re not benefitting anything from what’s supposed to be ours.

Further Reading