HHP. Picture: Moeletsi Mabe

HIP Hop Pantsula is timeless. On Wednesday, October 24, the nation was shocked to discover that, at just 38, the musician who was born Jabulani Tsambo had died. But like Wu-Tang, he is forever. 

Derived from his first name, Jabba was another nickname that HHP answered to. In recent months, he added the X behind Jabba – “to represent 10, my upcoming 10th album” – to signify an evolution in his music and in his personality. 

HHP didn’t start Motswako, but took it to unimaginable heights from the late 1990s and beyond. He put Maftown on the map and gave motswako trio, Morafe, their name. He released nine albums. 

HHP had shared his time and the stage with Cassper Nyovest back when the only Mufasa we acknowledged was Simba’s dad. His style was clear in JR’s early sound and later, new rappers like Solo sought him out for features. 

He presented a TV talk show and was one of the few musicians to host the South African Music Awards. Along with Stogie T, he became one of the hip-hop acts that made it cool and the norm to regularly perform with a band. 

HHP had planned to release his 10th album, Drum, next year. But before that, Jabba X was going to be a chance for Jabulani to reinvent himself. Two weeks ago, he released the first project under Jabba X – an EP called Feels Good To Be Back. 

It was meant to represent a free-er musician who didn’t have the weight of previous success suffocating him. On H.U.G.O, a track that was named after the EP’s sole producer, Jabba X raps: “How do you do it?/ You’ve been doing this thing for 19 or so years with the same influence.” A month ago, I asked him to tell me about that influence and he said: “Everyone always wants to listen to my opinion, for some reason. 

Even though I’ve kind of been very dormant and away from the scene for so long.” “But I have a lot of these young guys that would come over and ask for advice based on things I would never think of. 

You know, some of the catalogue music that isn’t commercial or known. And that made me think: ‘Wow, people are still paying attention to everything that I’m doing and that’s a great thing. Just to have that influence.’ “I remember when we were rehearsing to host the Samas, I was saying to Slikour: my dream is to move to a position where I am an authority in the industry and I don’t have to keep releasing music or proving myself lyrically to stay relevant.” 

He explained: “I think that line in the song is the reference to that. I like to see myself as being very fluid in my approach to music and life. I’m not rigid and remaining in boxes or eras. “On the come up it was different because rap wasn’t a mainstream thing. The hip-hop heads would look at me and say: ‘man, this guy is whack. 

He’s not doing it the way we quite want it to be done but the courage of him doing it his way is great! “Now, I’ve got to the point where even older rappers who felt pushed out of the industry because they feel the genre or landscape has changed, them seeing me still doing this is an influence on them. 

I wasn’t thinking this deeply about it when I wrote the line,” he laughed. 

He had a smoky, infectious laugh and was always the candle that happily lit others. That’s why his flame may seem extinguished but he’ll live on forever in most of us. HHP was found dead at his home in a suspected suicide. He has previously spoken out on his battle with depression and trying to take his life. Jabba is survived by his wife, Lerato, son, parents and sisters.

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