‘South African hip hop is definitely doing its thang,” says the rapper known as JR. However, he’s not very comfortable with the label itself.
“I think it’s time to stop calling it South African hip hop and start calling it hip hop. Once you classify yourself you become boxed and you can’t break into a bigger market.”
Real name Tabure Thabo Bogopa jun, JR is one of the most commercially successful rappers.
Even those who are not familiar with his music will recognise his most successful single to date, Show Dem – more recognisable as the “make the circle bigger” song.
The Good Weekend caught up with him and hip hop trio Teargas at the media launch of the second Hansa Legends in the Making tour, which starts next month, at the Cape International Convention Centre (CTICC) Marimba restaurant.
The tour will again bring together the best hip hop, kwaito, house and Afro-pop talent for cross-country performances that will make stops at major cities in all the provinces.
Teargas’s single, Chance, from the critically acclaimed K’shubile K’bovu album, was the most requested song on several radio stations for weeks after its release and was nominated for Song of the Year at the 2007 Sama Awards.
The group is made up of Ntokozo “KO” Mdluli and two brothers, Ezee “Ma-E” Hanabe and Bantu “Ntukza” Hanabe.
“I think South African hip hop has grown to become its own entity,” says KO.
“We’re not dependent on international hip hop. Yes, there are those influences, but we’ve sort of defined our own sound. South African hip hop has got to a point where we’ve established our own signature sound. We’re bringing in storytelling now and I think it’s matured nicely.”
Teargas used their talent for storytelling to urge young people to know their HIV status in their song Hold On and say it’s part of their roles as musicians to be “realistic” and tell stories that are relevant.
JR, who is actively involved with HIV/Aids awareness and is an ambassador for Scrutinize, says it’s up to artists to decide how to use their fame.
“When you’re in a position of power, what do you do with it? Do you use it for good or for bad?
“It’s up to you whether you want to teach through music or take people on journeys. You could influence decisions. With that power you can turn a situation into what you want it to be. We can change South Africa as artists and musicians,” he says.
Before the age of 22, JR had scooped a lucrative management deal, a record deal and Renault endorsement, which all led to the 2008 release of The Main Event, his full-length debut.
The album was an instant hit and JR was nominated for Best Hip Hop Album at the 2008 Metro Awards, Best Rap at the 2009 Samas and his record was recognised as the best in hip hop at the 2008 MTN Hype Awards.
Show Dem was selected as the Voice Behind Bafana Bafana leading up to the World Cup in addition to its popularity as a party anthem.
Even so, JR says he hasn’t reached the peak of his capabilities.
“I haven’t even started. It’s not about where I’m at but where I finish,” he says.
And that finish, JR says, is making it international.
The secret to this is being original and authentic, says Teargas’s Ma-E. “We see with our uploaded videos that 50 percent of the views are from overseas. It’s all about the feeling the consumer gets about us being original. Because we speak to Mzansi and where Mzansi’s at.”
It’s undeniable that a majority of hip hop stars are previously disadvantaged youths who’ve used their backgrounds to inspire relevant rhymes and to fuel their ambitions.
JR says growing up in the township “pushed” him to get out.
“There’s nothing good about staying in the ’hood,” he says.
“My surroundings influenced me to pursue greener pastures.”
KO advises up-and-coming hip hop artists to steer clear of the negative parts of the industry by being hands-on with their brand.
“Know how you want to be viewed, your material, everything. Know yourself 360 degrees so that if something doesn’t work out there’s no one to blame but yourself and you can become wiser and make informed decisions. Also, associate with the right people,” he says.
l The Legends in the Making tour will make stops in Joburg, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Tshwane, Polokwane, Nelspruit and Mafikeng between April 9 and June 25.
The line-up of performers includes headline acts Liquiddeep, Fairy Tale, Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP) as well as Teargas.
As the tour travels around the country these three bands will be joined on stage by JR, afro-pop singer Ntando, rapper Tuks, three-piece pennywhistle band Kwela Tebza and DJ Deelou.
Tickets are not for sale and can be won through radio competitions or on packs of Hansa Pilsener.