The teaser trailer for the Dookoom EP had a black-and-white-rendered Jimmy Katte, aka Isaac Mutant, sitting on a cluttered bed in the flats, stabbing a tiny plastic human skeleton with increasing ferocity while the opening sounds of bonus track ‘Gun Guitar’ built menacingly in the background. Bereft of context, it was confusing, disorienting and unsettling, and it left the viewer with very little other than one strong impression: Dookoom aren’t here to fuck around.
Isaac Mutant, the main force behind this abrasive thrash-rap, terrorcore collective has been a mainstay in the underground Afrikaans rap underground for over two decades now. He started out in the duo Trampled Multitude, before going solo. He added his talents to his native Mitchell’s Plain groups Plain Madnizz, K.A.K (Koloured Ass Krooks) and Parliament. Throughout that arc, he has remained a constant voice of discord and dissonance, but even with the recent explosion of Afrikaans rap both locally and internationally, he has failed to break into the mainstream consciousness, and you wouldn’t be blamed if you knew very little about him. In this latest project, he has teamed up with BFF DJ Roach, Spooky and Human Waste (industry veteran Dplanet), and a host of other collaborators, and they’re looking, finally, to change that. But that’s only part of the story.
The day after the EP was released, they posted, in all-caps, on their Facebook page ‘ANGER IS THE MOST UNDERRATED EMOTION.’ For the 22-minute duration of this six-track release, it often feels like anger is the only emotion. Even to those familiar with Mutant’s recent trajectory, Dookoom hits like a punch to the gut. The group, the EP and the opening track all have the same name, and this opener serves as an introduction and a nihilistic mission statement. Distorted synths tremor beneath constant refrains of “I’m a walking, talking Ouija board.” A doekoem, in Cape Flats mythology, is a mythical witchdoctor, and that spirit is palpable. The first lines of his verse runs “On the streets people think I run with evil powers.” The track acts as the connect between Dookoom and the streets they herald from. But there is no sense of home as safety and any glorification is starkly absent: the music, sourced as it is from the Cape Flats, is dangerous and violent and steeped in its harsh realities. As Mutant himself raps, “I can turn into a demon at a split-second.”
That relentless energy continues in ‘You Mustn’t Push’ which opens with ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ and gives way to a series of threats, though this song is let down by the presence one of the weaker hooks on the album. ‘Sekretaris (TIK)’, a play on the gangster homonyms for secretary work and the infamous drug, finds him at his lyrical best. “I’m back with a flame,” he says in the second verse which moves to double- triple- and over-time, massacring the breakneck beat with his drug-hyped delivery. Things settle down slightly in ‘Elke Hol’ which finds Yusif Sayigh wailing a painful refrain over anxious bleeps. ‘Kak Stirvy’ is Dookoom at their most laid-back (not saying much) with Mutant delivering humorous sexual aphorisms like “I’m jack of all the trades the ladies call me masturbator” and “I use plastics for a condom.” Then it’s turned right back up again for ‘Gun Guitar’ which explodes with all the menace it’s title suggests.
Much has been made of the connection between Mutant and Die Antwoord’s Waddy Jones (aka Ninja), and it’s not hard to understand why. It was only after moving through various white-as-snow identities like Max Normal and MC Totally Rad that he arrived at his current ‘Zef’ persona. It’s without question that his friendship with Mutant had a formative impact on his latest creative direction. Mutant, however, brushes aside any questions of appropriation and, in a recent interview with Mahala, credits Die Antwoord for “[introducing] this kind of feel to South African hip hop.” But if Die Antwoord introduced the sound, Dookoom here strip it down to its barest elements and then warp it beyond recognition. Whereas Ninja and Yo-Landi have tended more toward a cheesy retro-rave sonic palette, Dookoom eschew any notions of listenability with hard-as-nails industrial synths, growling bass lines, and the spattering coughs of abused lungs filling the space between. As a result, you aren’t likely to hear ‘Sekratris (TIK)’ packing the dancefloors of Tiger Tiger the way ‘I Fink U Freeky’ once did.
This album is far closer in spirit to Sacremento hip hop group Death Grips. Though it’s absent the punk rock instrumentals of that group, their shared don’t-give-a-fuck ethos makes them spiritual cousins. And Dookoom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. 2013 saw another hip-hop mainstay give a middle finger to the system and all expectations. Kanye West’s divisive Yeezus was full of abrasive, jarring sounds and explicit subject matter. It was praised in many corners for refusing to bow to the pressures of the commercial industry. But there’s a marked difference between a renowned world figure and Kardashian-dater foregoing a few thousand album sales to make a point and a fed-up hustler, approaching forty and still in love with a mistress who’s flighty at best. Mutant, in that same interview with Mahala, said “How can you be South African and be happy about anything. I don’t give a fuck about anyone in this country, bra. I do give a fuck about my daughter, though I don’t give a fuck about anybody, not even about me. I wanna dookoom everybody.” Now that’s a statement.
Here it is. What Do You Think?