Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Keepers of the Real: FITE!

With finger still searching for pulse, I anticipated "Kwaito vs. Hip Hop", a TV special that Channel O advertised as a close examination of the 'war' for South African 'youth music' dominance, comprised of interviews with various musicians. The program that I saw was just a bunch of videos stuck end-to-end, alternating between kwaito and hip-hop. Assuming this was just a one-off, as it seems to be, then I gotta call out Channel O for being incredibly lazy.

Without the talking heads, I tried to figure out if the critique was implicit in the choice of videos, but either the part of my brain that deals with subtlety has melted in the summer heat, or they really just weren't trying very hard at all. One coupling that really begged commentary: A mournful Zola track ("Don''t Cry"), complete with weepy orchestral synth-string washes 'versus' an equally maudlin hip-hop track that interpolated "What a Wonderful World" (sorry, don't remember the song's name... or performer. I could be trying harder too, I know). Besides the similarity in content and tone, both tracks were at hip hop tempo, with hip hop drums! "Cry" bore little resemblance to kwaito qua (kwa?) kwaito - it was closer to "Cadillacs on 22s" than, I dunno, anything by Arthur. Don't these guys know that there's a war on?

I still learned a thing or two from the show. Namely, uh, local rap kinda sucks. It's still missing a certain vitality - the best tracks, however painstakingly arranged, sound like recreations of accepted US rap styles (often leaning towards 1999-y rawkus-style sample-based consciousness, as opposed to latter day timbo/neptunes 'typewriter funk')(so I expect we'll be getting crunk in, what, 2011? ). It's the same kinda shopworn exhaustion that plagued so much brit-rap before grime came along and blew it out the water (or at least made the accompanying noises, but that's another story). Not to say that there aren't those trying to bang - Skwatta Kamp are still skirting actual hotness, their "Clap Song" falling just short of anthemism (they seem to have used their studio time well, the track is tighter than it was when they performed it while opening for Basement Jaxx). Still, calling your song "The Clap Song" feels a little like camp counselor-esque enforced F! U! N! (I have no beef with "Nolia Clap" though, so maybe I should ease up).

Another track was on some queasy El P post-apocalyptic stumblebum ugliness shit, pretty professionally done but no less derivative than all the soulful stuff, just with less obvious reference points. I'm being exceptionally unfair, I know, but shuddery blockiness is just so not what I need from rap now, it not being winter anymore and all. What about the MCs, huh? I think the language barrier actually makes things somewhat difficult here - as Josh once said (of lyrics in rap), "it's hard to explain how they too can be part of the enjoyment of the immanence of the music without being called out for not properly following the rules of the boring non-immanent domain of 'lyrics' ". Sometimes though, English or no, you can just hear when things are going right. MC Selwyn (yes, apparently there's an mc called "Selwyn"! I mean I know Lyor Cohen's pretty cool but...) seemed pretty hot, but the track he was riding had a chopped classical sample that was just a little too cleanly lifted (and without the muscularity of, oh, Big Pun's "Capital Punishment", maybe if I was more of an MF Doom kinda rap fan I'd have been satisfied). The kwaito stuff (minus the socially-conscious bits, which actually seems to be on the rise, maybe as a response to hiphop's claim to ghetto realist reportage) is based more around shouts, chants, and vocal riffs, so maybe needs to be measured in it's own terms (it's closest cousin, in these terms, is surely crunk, if not just straight up vocal house).

There's more to say... later.

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