The beginner’s guide to African hip hop

by Emily Eveland

Tired of big booties, sizzurp and blunts? I’ve got your back, bro. Over the past few years, I’ve accumulated a collection of hip-hop from across the seas. The hip-hop styles vary from country to country — there’s a little Bongo Flava here, a little Kwaito there — and it’s all amazing in its own way. Here’s a glimpse of what the ever-expanding world of African hip-hop has to offer.


South Africa


Ben Sharpa: Ben Sharpa has an in-your-face voice and incredibly long dreadlocks that he’s fond of swinging around in his music videos. His lyrics are largely in response to post-Apartheid conditions and his beats match that intensity. Be warned, there’s some occasional homophobia in his songs. Check out “Hegemony”  for some stellar dread-swinging


Tumi: I am in love with Tumi. He’s a man of many styles, ranging from Sharpa-esque aggression to low-key stoner beats. When he’s not rapping with a live band, he’s making his own beats. Tumi’s lyrics confront post-Apartheid conditions in a more gentle fashion, but that doesn’t mean he refrains from writing controversial songs. Oh, and he covered the Spice Girls.


Die Antwoord: I mention Die Antwoord last because everyone and their mother has seen the phallus-heavy “Evil Boy” music video by now. I still can’t decide if Yolandi is uniquely attractive or terrifying, and I think I’m okay with that.




MC Solaar: Solaar was born in Senegal, but his family emigrated to France shortly after. Still, his Senegalese roots remain influential in his lyrics. Solaar has been on the scene for over 20 years and his songs have been featured on “The Hills” and “Sex and the City.” Listen to “Nouveau Western” and melt.


Daara J Family: Daara J Family is a Senegalese trio that formed in 1997. Their songs are a mixture of hip hop, Afro-Cuban music and reggae with politically oriented lyrical content. A lof of African hip hop artists are also activists, which gives the music a richness that popular American artists are often lacking. Daara J members rap and sing in English, French, Spanish and Wolof. They’re amazing.




X Plastaz: So, this group is a teensy tiny bit controversial because they’re proponents of maintaing Masaai heritage, but only one member of the group is actually Maasai. Their inclusion of traditional Maasai chanting and clothing drew the attention of an editor from the “Rough Guides ethnic music” series, which brought the group some international fame. Controversy aside, I think X Plastaz makes amazing music and brings attention to the Maasai way of life.


Professor Jay: Bongo Flava, meaning “brain flavor” is a hip hop style from Dar Es Salaam that arose in the 1990s and mixes Western hip hop styles with traditional Tanzanian music. Profesa Jay, formerly of Kwanza Unit, is one of the most famous Bongo Flava artists. His music videos are of pretty low quality, but I think that only increases the awesomeness. Learn the words “Hapo vipi? Hapo sawa,” and you’ll have mastered the Tanzanian equivalent of “What’s up? Not much.”