I’m bored. I turn on the radio and everybody is listening to the same old “top 40 from 40 years ago” garbage. I find no respite. Even those people I respect as great musicians listen to this crap. Over and over again. Every goddamn day.
This is the future, so why are we still doing the same stuff we’ve been doing since the 1900s? Where are the new concepts and ideas? How do you shake off this creeping malaise? What is the answer?!?
The answer is Die Antwoord.
My initial impression of Die Antwoord came from a random click on a YouTube thumbnail. I felt that the song and artistic style was uniquely interesting, but the self-aggrandizing, womanizing, anti-education of gangsta rap isn’t really a genre I enjoy. But more YouTube thumbnail suggestions in the sidebar dragged me into a 9-hour rabbit hole. Somewhere in those nine hours of thumbnail clickings, my mind did a sudden and total flip-flop over what I thought Rap/Rave/HipHop and new music in general is all about. This was the beginning of a long and fascinating obsession with Die Antwoord, their history, the musicians they collaborate with, and South Africa in general.
Die Antwoord (pronounced dee AHNT-woordt – “The Answer” in Afrikaans) consists of Yolandi Visser (Anri Du Toit), Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones), and DJ Hi-Tek (Justin De Nobrega). Their musical and artistic style derives from what they define as Zef culture; an urban trend of being poor-but-fancy by appropriating cultural memes of niche cartoons/anime, street slang (notably Afrikaans slang and colloquialisms) Graffiti art, and an affinity for African Prison Numbers Gangs code. The very environment and influences that are so familiar to many children growing up and playing there.
Due to horrible political influences beyond the scope of this article (Google it), South Africa has been forced into situations that have created a confluence that is difficult to imagine or even explain to those who have not lived through it. Many say that the South Africa of today doesn’t really have a definable “culture” but rather a mish-mash of many clashing beliefs, ideals, traditions and languages evolving alongside western and European values and ideas. Die Antwoord is the screaming bastard son and daughter of this collision. You cannot deny the familiar yet wholly foreign atmosphere they bring to every song and video. If you watch one of their videos, and all you can say is that it is weird or surreal, you’re not paying enough attention to the details, to the South Africa that they’re simultaneously parodying, embracing, and shoving in your face till you vomit.
To truly appreciate Die Antwoord one has to go back through their history. Watkin (Waddy) Tudor Jones is a long time veteran of the South Africa rap scene, fronting acts such as The Original Evergreen, MaxNormal.tv, the Constructus Corporation, and several solo releases. His early discography often displays the gentle, caring side of Ninja‘s soul. Scattered phrases of advice and guidance peppered with his philosophies on health and vegetarianism often betray the thug-like lyrics that couch them.
As Max Normal, sporting an ill-fitting Pee-Wee Herman style business suit, another common theme in his early work bemoans the inability of many new artists to get a break in the music industry, while venomously poking fun at the lack of talent of their contemporaries and even knocking his own perceived abilities.
In 2012 Die Antwoord produced a short independent film titled Umshini Wam (Bring Me My Machine Gun), written and directed by Harmony Korine establishing their acting abilities which later leads to many collaborations with filmmaker Roger Ballin and most notably Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9, Elysium and the newest film Chappie, which features Ninja and Yolandi in the lead roles.
There are very few bands/musicians in the history of rock with the bite, satire and intelligent jabs at society that Die Antwoord embraces and makes their own. The only realistic comparison would be Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, but now that Frank’s gone, Die Antwoord are quickly becoming my new Frank Zappa.
For a more in-depth introduction to this enigmatic and ultimately interesting group, check out the 2-part biography below; AKA, The Lives of Waddy Tudor Jones.
If you’re the type of explorer that likes to dig deeper into South Africa rap, climb into a hole with Jack Parow…
Also the South Africa band Gazelle does some pretty serious shit…
And they both rock hard enough to raise a tokoloshi when they collaborate…