I was born in Joburg but raised in Durban, and to be honest, the idea of returning home is a daunting one. As creatives in South Africa, we all know the money and the action is in eGoli – it’s the place of gold after all, but many men have died chasing the precious metal. I managed to chat to a few of the members of Boyz N Bucks – a group of up-and-coming 20- and 30-something musicians, designers and fashionistas – about what it takes to make it in the mecca of South African creativity, and the current identity of its youth 20 years into democracy. Who better to give us the lay of the land than a diverse collective from all parts of the country, taking on the world in their own unique ways?
“Most of my homies come from all parts of the country and we all meet in the melting pot this is Joburg, trying to get our little piece of ‘gold,’” says Stilo Magolide aka Choc, one of the rapper-designer’s from the crew. Sanele, who DJ’s and designs graphics as well as fashion, chimes in: “I’m originally from Durban and in terms of what Stilo was saying, historically, Johannesburg has been about the pursuit of gold and wealth. Coming here, it is the same thing, except the gold is obviously not tangible, but represents ideologies and culture. It’s shaping the youth for the next 20 years.”
Joburg has cemented its place as Africa’s hub for creativity and finding creative success. “It is more or less the center of South Africa for everything that’s happening in the arts, music and culture,” says Sanele, “so it’s very important if you want to be at the forefront, or at the top of your game. This is the center stage of both the country and continent. In terms of getting our message, products and ideas out, I think this is the best place for anybody to do it.”
The district of Jozi has been at the forefront of South African hip-hop for years, but only now is it starting to truly find its own voice. Joburg rappers used to be criticized for sounding too American, however it’s common for musicians these days to draw from what’s around them. Stilo explains, “I also think for the first time in a long time that Joburg, and even South Africa as a whole is starting to find its voice. We’re figuring out how to tell our stories in a unique way that represents us, so people relate to it a bit more. For the longest time, people took direct inspiration from the States and would say to themselves, ‘OK, cool, this is what this genre should sound like and this is how we’re going to put it out.’”
This is changing now with more artists using local vernacular and Kwaito – a genre that emerged during the ‘90s, blending house with African samples – influence in their songs. “Now we’re taking it back and challenging ourselves. The people in this community speak in a distinct way, so if I incorporate slang and certain mannerisms into my music, people will get it a bit more, they’ll understand me and will actually want to interact with what I’m doing,” says Stilo.
I asked the guys if there was any conflict between the new wave of Mzansi-focused hip-hop heads and the more American-influenced rappers. Okmalumkoolkat, one of Boyz N Bucks’ most popular members, laid it down pretty simply as “there’s no conflict at all, it’s just like, we’re really progressive with our style and I’d say I get a lot of inspiration from downtown Joburg and my upbringing in Umlazi, Durban. It’s not about competing with cats, we’ve got our own thing going on.”
However, it is also impossible to avoid American influence with its global media saturation so it has become more about adapting those sounds to a South African context. “I think if you look at everything in terms of urban culture, from music to fashion, there’s a lot of influence from abroad, but I think we’re in a unique position because we’re looking to add local inspiration. So it’s more a reflection of us rather than saying ‘rap needs to sound like this,’” explains Sanele, another rap element within the crew. “We all know the history of rap. We all know where it came from but for us, it’s how we interpret it in a way that’s realistic and accurate for South Africa.”
Sanele is not the only one who feels that way. According to Stilo, “You watch TV, all these American shows are on and you see all these idols, like rappers or whatever, and want that lifestyle but you don’t have the money to get it so you have to create your own interpretation of what that level of ‘cool’ is.” It’s not just the Boyz N Bucks reappropriating what they see and making it their own. Stilo continues, “It’s a very interesting thing because when kids see us and what we wear, they’re like ‘yo, that’s cool!’ They actually want what you have and want to make it better.’”
That’s what it’s all about in Joburg, making things on your own, often out of necessity. If you can’t afford an outfit you like, make it yourself. The same goes for music. We adapt to thrive. Okmalumkoolkat notes that “all our fans are like that. They’re not followers, so it feels like we’re cultivating minds instead of making customers out of a whole generation, which I think is really incredible.”
For the full story, pick-up a copy of the HYPETRAK Magazine: Volume One for $12 USD over at the HYPEBEAST Store.