Disclaimer: I am not a music journalist or a musician, so I have no fokken clue, what I am doing here. 🙂 And beware! English is not my first language.
When in 2009 Die Antwoord (Ninja, Yo-Landi Vi$$er and DJ Hi-Tek) turned out to be an internet phenomenon, I noticed it marginally, but did not look further into it, I did not watch the videos nor listen to the music. At this time I had my hands full finding an apartment in Berlin to start studying the useless arts at the Free University.
It took me six years to notice what a marvelous and amazing band respectively artists Die Antwoord is/are. That was four weeks ago and their videos blew my mind away. So you can get a picture of my taste in music and how to sort this review in the context of this taste, here is list with my favorite music. As you can see, there are not many musicians that started making music after the year 2000 – I am mostly influenced by the music of my teenage years in the nineties. The newer stuff seems less original to me, and as older I get the harder it is to delight me.
But Die Antwoord manages to take known elements like white trash clichés, Eurodance, Hip-Hop, Rave etc. and combines them to an idiosyncratic and highly creative mix enriched with the so called Zef style, an Afrikaans accent und more South African influences. At first glance I fell for the white-trash attitude and I believed that the South African Trailer Park Boys (and Girls) had discovered their musical talents. But looking closer into history of Watkin Tudor Jones (Ninja) and Anri de Tout (Yo-Landi Vi$$er) it occurred to me that this must be an clever art project or at least something that has started as one. Cause nobody keeps up with something like this, without living it in parts. In an Interview with Mother Jones Ninja states that he stopped making clever jokes in order to do something real. But that does not matter, it is none of my business, I don’t give a fok about what is real or not . The music is real and so are the videos and the live performances. Nothing else matters. It’s entertainment and art.
Ninja and Yo-Landi have done other projects like The Original Evergreen and Max Normal.TV – where Ninja raped his criticism on capitalism in a suit while Yo-Landi was doing a power point presentation , but nothing worked out that good.
If you listen to $O$ it will not take long to notice that there is much more substance to this project than the Video Zef Side indicates. At the beginning the album was available for free on the bands homepage (or was that the EP 5, I am not quite sure?), later Interscope/Universal bought and published it, but the deal was cancelled before the second album Ten$ion came out. The band preferred their artistically freedom and now all albums by Die Antwoord are published on their own label ZEF-Records (please correct me, if I am wrong).
After a discordant intro and the distorted refrain, the first song In Your Face begins with a slamming and pumping beat, followed from the unique raps with an strong Afrikaans accent by Yo-Landi. Despite the slightly annoying refrain and the not less annoying raps by Ninja, this is a powerful and catchy opening for the record. The lyrics are a mainly about the band members themselves, how they have changed over the years, wrapped into a chavvy self-portrayal (as it is right and proper for Gangsta-Rap).
Song number two is the big hit that made Die Antwoord famous all over the world. The first ten seconds of Enter The Ninja already gripped me with a theremin kind of sound followed by a bombastic electric-organ sound with a simple chord sequence (correct me if I am wrong). Than the more than catchy refrain starts with Yo-Landis schoolgirl voice. They have borrowed it from Smile.dks’s Butterfly (without being mysterious about it). Than Ninja begins with his fast machinegun-raps that are quiet perfect in this song. Everything comes together: a good flow, catchy rhymes, a great rhythm in conjunction with the music and the change of pace. The story is about an underdog with a white-trash biography; a man who thinks he is a ninja respectively lives after the role models that the ninja movies from the 80s (like American Ninja etc.) provides, and becomes successful against all odds. Enter the Ninja is one of those songs that a band only writes once in a lifetime (even if they have tons of other great songs). Like Creep by Radiohead, Yesterday by the Beatles, Piano Man by Billy Joel, Loser by Beck, Tribute by Tenacious D etc. Not that I would see Enter the Ninja on a level with the aforementioned, but this comparison should help you to classify the song in the context of the band’s oeuvre. By the way, Enter the Ninja is a trashy ninja movie by Cannon (I loved their films as a child) from 1981 starring Franco Nero, and was kind of the breakthrough for the studio.
Wat Kyk Jy (I guess that means „what are you lookin‘ at“) starts as a techno-number with shouted lyrics in Afrikaans, followed by spoken words by Ninja using a nonchalant voice. Seems mediocre to me, because Ninjas jabbering is a kind of annoying.
The record continues with its best song: Evil Boy. Evil Boy is a perfect combination of content, music and presentation. On this song Die Antwoord is doing one of their seldom cooperation with other musicians – in this case the young South African Rapper Wanga. Despite the first impression that you can get, by watching the music video, in which the Xhosa-parts of Wangas raps are subtitled, this song is not against homosexuality but the rite of circumcision that causes dozens of deaths amongst young South Africans due to infections by unsafe practices (kitchen knife, no disinfectants etc). It says, the circumcision would turn this boys into „real“ men, who would not become gay and stay evil boy for life. The song is a against this tradition and it makes fun of the penis fixation of an extremely homophobic society. The music produced by Diplo is powerful and rich in variety. It has literally dragged me into this song.
Streaked with a xylophone sound and a catchy beat Rich Bitch is the next strong song on this record. This time Yo-Landi does all the rapping alone, and makes fun of rich upper class ladies that made it from poverty to wealth. Considering her history and some comments in an interview (with Dazed) this song could contain more autobiographical background than it might seem. For example when she is rapping: I was victim of a kak situation; stuck in system with no fokken assistance, and how she had to count the change at counter. So this parody might contain a true core. The music is not really extraordinary but catchy and suitable for the lyrics.
Fish Paste is a typically phony rap song, where Ninjas shows the middle finger to all the haters, claims to be the coolest with the greatest lul and is dissing some people by name. The music is okay, but Ninjas „being annoyed voice“ is a little annoying.
Scopie convinces with a catchy refrain, video game sounds, and minimalistic beats. It contains a lot of Afrikaans, filthy lyrics and Ninja again sounds a little annoyed, but this time it fits. Not a big song but there is something about it.
Beat Boy, whose video was mainly responsible for the internet sucess of the band and their white-trash image (but only contains a small snippet from the song), is not really bad, but it gets a kind of annoying due to its 8 minutes long monotony. The lyrics are pretty lewd, pornographic , with lot of spiritual and BDSM-references that might disturbed some of the listeners. As far as I know, Ninja has already used parts of it on one of his solo records.
Never make a pretty Woman your wife, it says in She Makes Me Killer, a song about jealousy and wacky chicks with demands – at least form a male macho point of view. I like the music with its dramatically enactment, but I have problems with the lyrics, even if they are meant as an ironically criticism on this male point of view on women. Yo-Landi is not involved in this song.
I do not really know what to say to the weird, out of line stepping and destructive party and drinking song Doos Dronk, a cooperation with Jack Parow and Francois Van Coke that sounds like a mixture of a sailor song and Gogol Bordello. The live performance is much more intense, and I am fascinated how deep and aggressive Yo-Landis voice sounds compared to the other songs. Definitely a live song.
$O$ – the epilog of this record is an atmospheric and catchy instrumental song by DJ-Hi-Tek.
With $O$ Die Antwoord has created an impressive debut that does contain some mediocre songs, but overall stands out with some amazing tracks like Enter The Ninja or Evil Boy, a surprisingly great range of variety, and an fascinating artistically vision . The high amount of Afrikaans adds, thanks to Yo-Landis lovely accent, an exotic note (at least for listeners, who are primarily used to exclusively English music).
Listen and be happy.
And to Yo-Landi and Ninja (in the unlikely event that you read this): Why not make an record for kids? Like they They Might Be Giants did it with Here Come the ABC’s or Here Comes Science. No foul language, no swearing – something like Hey Kids, this is South Africa. I would love to hear something like that from you. What gangsta rapper has ever done such a record?
So. Wat pompa?
For those who missed it, the link to Die Antwoords homepage.
Note to myself (for further music reviews): find alternative expressions for „catchy“. 😉
P.S. My Review of Tension will be published on Monday the 7th, Donker Mag will follow soon.
P.P.S. For those of you, who are further interested in South African culture, I recommend my review of Niq Mhlongos Dog Eat Dog