Ben Sharpa. Picture: Facebook

Veteran South African rapper Ben Sharpa died on Thursday, aged 41, after being hospitalised for complications with diabetes. 

After news of his death broke, fans and local celebrities took social media to pay homage to the man they believe was a "hip hop pioneer".

However, there were some people who asked: who is Ben Sharpa?

Sharpa, real name Kgotso Semela (aka Oh Kaptin, My Kap’n - or simply 'Kap' to his friends and fans), was born in the rugged ghetto slums of Soweto.  

Sharpa experienced the full force of the brutal Apartheid regime and the revolutionary turmoil that surrounded the struggle against it. While Ben was still a young child, his father Dr. Jacob Semela, took the opportunity to escape the hardship of life in South Africa by relocating his family to Chicago, Illinois.

After returning to South Africa in 1993 for the first free elections, Sharpa quickly set about establishing himself as a major force in the Underground, forming cult crews Audio Visual and GroundWorks. Ben's music addressed themes of freedom of expression, social consciousness, politics, spirituality, conspiracy theories and the hustle to survive.

In 2003, Sharpa won a nation-wide freestyle battle competition sponsored by South African cellular network, MTN. This not only gave him notoriety and national exposure but also won him an opportunity to go to London and meet Eminem during his 'Anger Management' tour.

Sharpa earned his keep as a respected lyricist, whose music touched on social and political issues in South Africa. He has an acclaimed album under his belt, titled B. Sharpa, which was released in 2008 by the Cape Town-based indie label Pioneer Unit. The album boasted the massive street hit "Hegemony," in which the artist was rapping about police brutality.

In 2007, Sharpa caught the ear of the electronic maven and 'Queen of Dubstep', BBC Radio 1 DJ Mary-Anne Hobbs, who described him as "one of the most inspired and agile lyricists in the world today".

In 2012, he released an album called 4th Density Light Show (4DLS) with the production duo "Pure Solid".

Ben Sharpa also toured Europe extensively in his prime. He performed at festivals such as Glastonbury (UK), Dour (BEL), Paleo (CH), Extrema (NL), Riddim Collision (FR) and Rio Loco (FR).