Discovering Prophets Of Da City

An interview with hip hop scholar, Adam Haupt, about hip hop pioneers P.O.C., the viral rappers Die Antwoord and the state of contemporary South African hip-hop.

Rafiq Phillips, via Flickr.

One late afternoon, milling about at the University of Cape Town’s main campus, I ran into Adam Haupt, the Associate Professor of Media Studies. Adam has authored two books on information politics: Static: Race and Representation in Post-Apartheid Music, Media and Film, and Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip-Hop Subversion. I know Adam mostly through the work he’d done with the influential hip-hop collective Prophets Of Da City (P.O.C).  From Cape Town, they often credited as the first hip hop group in South Africa. I thought to corner him to talk about how their relationship begun, and possibly get invaluable first-hand information about the Cape Town hip-hop scene in general. We spoke of P.O.C. about Die Antwoord and of his feelings about the current state of hip-hop in South Africa. Below is an extract of the conversation in which he speaks about the first time he discovered P.O.C.

Who is Adam Haupt and what’s your background in relation to hip-hop?

Initially, I didn’t think of myself as someone who was interested in hip-hop. With my first degree, I was very interested in blues and jazz and African/African American literature – how you use art to mobilize critical mindsets. I was quite aware of what was going down locally with hip-hop; I was aware that Prophets Of the City were doing interesting work. But also, informally through friends of mine who were aspiring hip-hop artists, I learned that Shaheen of POC specifically was very generous in helping young people, advising them, [and] basically being a mentor figure. [Him] and Ready D were well-liked by young people.

How far back is this?

That was the early 90s. When I was doing an Honors degree in English in 1993, I started to become more interested in hip-hop as a voice – does it confirm the status quo, or does it challenge it? That was the big question.

Was this change influenced by anything or any one particular situation?

It was just me following friends. My interest in African/African American literature was really about race, class, and gender politics. We were emerging out of Apartheid, so anything that was political in some way, that was engaging people critically, interested me. My honors dissertation, believe or not, focused on Ice T’s Body Count album, that’s what I looked at. There’s not just a lot of race [issues]; politics come in, [and] gender… it’s hectic, over-the-top!

Do you still have a copy of the dissertation?
Yes, this is before I had a computer, so I had to hand-write everything and then type it out. So the version I have is a typewriter version with all of the tip-ex and the scary, scary quality!


Had you already learnt how to type in high school?

No! Finger, finger, index finger, thumb…and then tearing the paper out, starting over because there [are] errors on it. But I was excited; this album was provocative! And I could see the links between hip-hop and my interest in jazz, my interest in the blues, my interest in African orature…that’s the kind of stuff I was learning in English. I could see the connection, it was clear: here was a new form of oral culture which broke with literature, which was consistent with the blues and with jazz, I could see it! But there were gender contradictions in there. I mean, what do you do with a song like “KKK bitch“?!

That’s what I was going to ask: as much as you were embracing that side of hip-hop, were you already aware that there’s something fishy happening?

I was like ‘wait a minute’, “She sucked my dick like a motherfuckin’ vacuum?!!” What the hell do you do with that? It’s textbook feminist stuff here, straight out of first-year gender politics! He was as exciting as he was problematic. With the race stuff, there was some interesting stuff that was coming through, but he was [also] confirming a lot of dodgy race and gender stereotypes at the same time. So he was great material for a young scholar to unpack because he was so messy. [While working] on this dissertation, [I was] watching a lot of the ‘youth culture’ programs. The Toyota Top 20 [a program on the state broadcaster morphing at the time into a public broadcaster–ed.] would play this video, and I realized that this is gonna be banned because there’s so much material in it that normally you wouldn’t have access to as a journalist–you couldn’t broadcast that on TV at the time [because] we didn’t have media freedom. So I knew I had to get a hold of this album (their third album, …).

So until that time you weren’t …

I was aware of [them, POC]. The first two albums were okay, I thought that they were cute, you know?! The first rap crew to make a splash, to get recorded, to get onto TV. Shaheen was a nice guy, as a live act they were phenomenal! I remember this New Years’ Eve gig with Black Noise and POC together on the same stage – man, as a live act with the dancers, Ready D on the decks – already then, he had it locked down. I can’t believe it, this is everything you [wanted] in live show, a show! Everything, the experience! It’s not just the music and what they’re rapping about; it’s Ramone, the dancer; it was everybody! They didn’t just [go like]: “yo, yo, yo, we’re gonna drop some knowledge on your ass!” They were playing with the audience; they were talking; there was a lot of fun; it was interactive!

Where were these shows?
Around the city, at a club diagonally opposite the Good Hope Centre – it doesn’t exist anymore. And I’m told they didn’t get paid for that. No surprise there, the story of artists getting ripped off goes way back. But it was an electric gig! I was like “I cannot believe these guys, they’re awesome!” So I had that knowledge of them, but it wasn’t until this music video on TV1…I ran out, I had to get this album. I couldn’t find it, it was very hard. And already, the whole payback for what they did was kicking in. There’s a story about how they recorded at BOP studios, and [when the powers that be] discovered how revolutionary, how incendiary the lyrics are, they tried to put the lid on it. [POC] stole the DATs and ran from BOP. They thought they’d won; they got the album out. And then what happened is they got cut off, they got banned from all (SABC) radio/TV. Gigs that they were gonna get booked for, they got shut down, organizers were cancelling on them. So, they were being shut down on all levels. I knew, when I saw it; I knew that this is what was gonna happen. And I’m told that this is only the second time the video was played. The first time was on breakfast TV, that’s even worse! I knew that was gonna be a Masters dissertation; I needed to find out the material before there was a lockdown on it. And that was, for me, from being aware of Public Enemy [and] being aware of what Prophets were doing – knowing that they were good guys who were helping kids in the community; they were using hip-hop to teach, they weren’t in it from themselves. That was my introduction, I knew that this was gonna be it! By the next year I had chased them down, interviewed them, shot that interview on VHS. And they were angry!

  • Adam maintains a website called Staticphlow.  This article is part of Africasacountry’s series on South African Hip-Hop.

Further Reading

Dookoom Rises Up

A Cape Town hip hop group causes a huge stir with its music video “Larney Jou Poes” (roughly translated: Boss, your cunt.) depicting an uprising by farmworkers.