It’s November 24, 2008 and Kanye West releases his 4th studio album “808s & Heartbreak”. His singing on the record would prove to be a tilting point in the evolution of the hip hop game.
What Mr West ushered in was a completely new way for hip hop artists to express themselves, whether you like it or not. You might be thinking that it’s a stretch to accredit basically the discovery of rappers singing on tracks to Kanye, especially with instances such as Ja Rule - Put It On Me and probably more notably Mos Def in many of his hooks. Kanye was NOT the first to do it but without a doubt he was the most influential and garnered the most respect.
Kanye however took on this new approach, and equipped with autotune, changed what we once thought was acceptable and not acceptable in hip hop. This spurned on many imitators who were now inspired by the 808s & Heartbreak sound and the hip hop scene is now laden with singing rappers as if it was the norm to begin with. Fast forward to 2015 and Drake is the most successful singing rapper currently (Lil’ Wayne could be of all time) and he has unashamedly expressed himself by delicately harmonizing chest-pain filled lyrics into the mic. The insurgency of the new age rapper seems to only be gaining traction with the introduction of acts such as Travi$ Scott, Chance The Rapper and Fetty Wap.
Things are a little different in the South African context however. The other day a song by WTF (Witness The Funk) called “Nomusa” played on TV and I thought to myself if this was the new type of singing-rapper that the South African hip hop scene has to look forward to. Nomusa seems like a decent enough club song that will sufficiently get everybody turnt in the club.
Singing by rappers has been contentiously tolerated in the South African hip hop scene. There is no doubt that the game is constantly evolving however there will always be those who consider themselves the custodians of the integrity of our beloved music genre/ culture and rebuke any innovation that is not entrenched in the old school boom bap style. Pro Verb must epitomize said custodians. He has remained constant from the style of bars to the threads he wears and serves as a reminder to a “purer” time in hip hop.
I would be presumptuous enough to say that JR is leading the pack singing rappers by utilizing both his singing and rapping skills in SA. Less known for his behind the scenes work, JR has leveraged his musically inclined talents in a low key yet efficient way and has been constantly at it for a while now. However, one to keep a stern look out for is Mashayabhuqe Kamamba with the digital maskandi movement. Albeit he profusely proclaims that he’s not a rapper, the kid is giving us something that we have never heard before with exciting and eclectic blends of melodies. He only personifies yet another emergent entity in the music game that has broken the mould of convention with his singing. AB Crazy probably deserves a mention in this sort of conversation but that’s as far as it goes.
The fact of the matter is that there is no stencil of what a rapper should look like today. The doors have been opened to the furthest reaches of the hip hop landscape and there’s no telling where the next trend will come from. So you can either remain an old school bigot and hate everything that hip hop is not right now, or you can jump on the wave