Tshepe vs Trap brought joy to those who came for artists, and confusion to those who came for hip hop, writes Thato Rossouw
Throughout my years of listening to hip hop and learning to understand the facets that make up its rather complex cultural whole, there has never been a time when I looked at it and said with any amount of certainty that I know what I’m either looking at or listening to.
From its lyrical complexities and its highly contested origins to the sects that seem to be at a perpetual war with one another and the vesture choices of its rather ardent and animated connoisseurs, there has never been a time in my life when anything “hip hop” has made sense to me—and this has made me love it with almost as much fervor as I do literature.
So, the thought of attending the Tshepe vs Trap intrigued me because the concert, as if in perpetuation of a tradition almost unique to the genre itself, positioned the two sub-genres of Tshepe and Trap in an almost idiosyncratic bout for “the number one spot” in SA hip hop.
In this ever unfolding war, though, many have put forth arguments justifying the contrapositions that these and many other sub-genres have been subjected to over the years.
It is said: “Trap’ is nothing but mumbles on a nice beat, while Tshepe concerns itself with lyricism; and ‘commercial hip hop’ is too concerned with selling albums while ‘underground hip hop’ cares more about the culture.”
While listening to these arguments has been as informative as it has been entertaining, it would be stupid of me to ignore the fact that those arguments have also done more to harm hip hop and cause violent divisions within it, than they have (like how the pioneers of Modernism believed it should always happen in the arts) grown it through a process of self-criticism.
So, even with my knowledge that the night I was about to enter into would progress and end in an orgasmic cocktail of smiles and laughter, I also went into it knowing that what I was about to witness was the lyrical broil of a musical genre that has been at odds with itself for the longest of times.
The night of the eagerly anticipated show began on a rather somber note, mainly because of the weather. But, having already consolidated myself with the idea of being a spectator to hip hop’s lyrical and musical broil, the weather blues and outfit dilemma I was facing at the time weren’t enough to dampen my mood and stop me from attending the show.
Thus, with anticipation building, I took whatever clothes I needed to keep me warm during the show, wore them with whatever amounts of pride and confidence I could master up at the moment, and made my way to Macufe Dome.
My friends and I arrived at the venue quite early, and, after a tedious process in which our tickets were scanned and a procession of men slowly ran their hands over the contours of our bodies, unconvincingly pretending to search us for any illegal weapons we might be carrying, the night officially began.
The first thing I notice as I walked into the venue for my chosen nocturnal activities was how herculean the tent was. The sheer size of the structure left me both shocked and impressed.
But, to my disappointment and that of those I was traveling with, that was where the awes we would receive that night reached their premature zenith and everything spiraled down to a crashing disappointment. While caught up in the tedious work of tickets verification, Cassper Nyovest was nearing the end of his set, and in no time walked off stage.
The incident laid the foundation for the house of disappointments that would be erected, brick by brick, on top of us throughout the night.
With the disappointment foundation firmly laid down, and the two MCs in charge of the show unnecessarily screaming into microphones whose volume was already set to a level where even a whisper could be heard by those standing outside, the hip hop show in which, to paraphrase the self-proclaimed hip hop connoisseur Luyolo Busakwe, people would yearn for hip hop music finally began for us.
Successfully labeling music as hip hop is something that undoubtedly should be left to those with a better understanding of the genre, but this should also not be something that disallows me the chance to call out noise brandished as hip hop music when I hear it.
With that being said, I believe that a safe starting point for anyone attempting to achieve this feat is for them to first acknowledge the fact that hip hop music is not a monolith. Those who know it will tell you that hip hop music is a complex genre with many different facets, and it is therefore important for anyone attempting to portray themselves as “connoisseurs” to acknowledge these complexities and the importance of the different parts that make it what it is.
The fact is, trap music is as much a part of hip hop music as commercial, or Motswako, or underground rap is, and none of them should ever be made to be above the others. Therefore, the struggle of trying to define hip hop music is a struggle similar to those in other genres of music: it is a musical one.
Rap music has been stripped bare of its lyrical component, and is now finding its expression in the inaudible mumbles of the few who claim to be the best. This show also followed the same route. With every act that went on stage, the audience was continually treated to defining clusters of noise and instructions—a reality which they (the audience) received and followed with enthusiasm.
The energy of the crowd, fueled by the libations consumed that night, kept increasing with every act that got on the stage, proving once again the success of the musical algorithm that many use in the production of their music.
Frank Casino, Shane Eagle, OKMALUMKOOLKAT, Castino & Thwenny Thwenny, MC Fire and the many others that performed that night, including DJs such as Shaxe, Capital and Tiger Thebe, brought their own versions of hip hop, and left their hearts on the stage.
They undoubtedly brought joy to all those who came to see them, and confusion to those who came to listen to hip hop.
Nevertheless, the night ended on a high note, with people gaily stumbling towards their rides home and those who had the stamina making their way to various after-parties organised across Bloemfontein.
It was a night many will remember and, without a doubt, we were treated to some sort of music. Whether it was hip hop music or not is a question that many of us continue to ask ourselves even today.
Thato Rossouw is the Senior Writer at ART STATE. He is @Thato_Rossouw on Twitter