It’s often said that world records are psychological barriers just as much as they are physical. Talent of course plays a part in any endeavour, but only marks the beginning of a particular goal.
The first person to run a mile in under four minutes (a feat previously thought impossible) was an outsider to the sport – a doctor who introduced techniques from his field that would revolutionise and set the standards for running. Outsiders are needed for progress. They shift paradigms unexpectedly until their ways are assimilated, effectively raising the standard.
The same is true in music. No one, when first hearing Death Grips debut single ‘Guillotine’, with its stark, overtly distorted percussion and almost hard-core punk-leaning vocals would predict that, years later, their sonic palette would pop up on Kanye West’s albums, pushing the genre to the point that no one thinks twice about O.G Maco’s weirdness.
South African rap, in comparison, has seen too few of these singularly boundary-pushing acts. When the genre’s golden era finally arrived, it was on the back of 90s nostalgia and revivalism, rather than avant-garde forward-pushing from the present. The few artists who were offering something new had their own style picked to the bone with feature verses.
Now, Stiff Pap, a new duo, hopes to step up to the plate and deliver the type of record we’ve been waiting for.
Stiff Pap’s production is all handled by experimental dance and gqom producer Jakinda. The afro-future electronic artist made waves earlier this year with the release of his Afrika 3000 EP as well as last year’s I Can’t Sleep EP. The latter features a gqom remix of Christian Tiger School’s ‘Cinderella Rocafella’, to give you an idea of how far reaching his influences can be.
Jakinda’s music is always danceable, but exudes a feeling of stasis rather than propulsion, favouring repetition over layering or high detail. With his latest collaboration, Jakinda pairs his ear for propulsive rhythm with the skills of Stiff Pap’s hyperactive emcee, AyemaProbllem.
Percussion makes up the most of Jakinda’s production – giving AyemaProbllem centre stage as well as hectares of space, which he gobbles up appreciatively. His rhymes sway between cool and fired up on the beats, without ever being overwhelmed by the pace.
The previously released single ‘Dlala’ functions as the EP’s gravitational centre, expanding the music to show the variations in the South African dance genres under Jakinda’s belt.
Where the album doesn’t expand is in content. This may not be surprising for an act using dance music exclusively, but it still leaves the desire that more could be said on the record. In between one or two offensive and eyebrow-raising lines (“chopping down women like imbazo”, “Living like I’m JubJub… killing kids on the record”) AyemaProbllem is fairly consistent with his non-sequitur brag raps. An obvious reference point for most listeners will probably be Okmalumkoolkat, but the parallels here are mostly surface level.
Jakinda’s brand of gqom is in a world of its own, making no concessions. It doesn’t try to sound more like rap, unlike the trap breaks in between the gqom choruses of Malume’s latest track ‘GQI’. The energy here is more adolescent and direct – relying less on quotables and free association.
Based On A Qho Story stands on its own – both as a new high watermark for local rap in general and as a personal best for Stiff Pap.
Check out the duo’s EP below, and read up on Jakinda’s eclectic musical influences here.