Perhaps the most definitive act in South African hip-hop and the group largely credited as forerunners of the movement were Prophets Of The City (POC), formed in Cape Town in the late 1980s. Founding member DJ Ready D recalled those early years in the documentary FedeFokol: 25 Years of South African Hip Hop: “I was your typical Cape Flats kid, running around and doing what Cape Flats boys do. I didn’t really think I would assume the role of an activist within our communities or through music.”
Picking up from where Cape Flats pioneers POC and Black Noize left off, Brasse Vannie Kaap (BVK) were one of the leading hip-hop crews in the country during the late 1990s, releasing albums like BVK (1997), Yskoud (2000), Super Power (2004) and Ysterbek (2006) and frequently representing the country overseas. Their use of Afrikaans and Flats slang set the trend for South African rappers to shed the genre’s American influences and start rapping in local vernacular languages, and in doing so forge a uniquely South African sound. BVK’s brand of socially-conscious hip-hop addressed issues from the downtrodden communities of the Cape Flats. They kept all elements of the hip-hop culture alive, performing with B-boys, a DJ and an MC, with their imagery heavily steeped in graffiti culture. Along with other grassroots movements – Red Antz in the Eastern Cape, for example – their focus was less about commercial success and more focused towards community development.
As South African hip-hop established itself, numerous sub-genres and scenes emerged. Motswako originates from Mmabatho in the North West province, the former capital of the apartheid homeland of Bophuthatswana. Stoan of the group Bongo Muffin was the first one to publicise rapping in Motswako during the mid-90s. Around the same time, groups such as Baphixhile and Crowded Crew emerged – all from roughly the same area and representing new sound called Motswako. It’s not clear who coined the term – ‘motswako’ is Setswana for mixture, implying that the sub-genre is a mixture of many musical styles. While Stoan pre-empted the arrival of Motswako, rapper HHP embodied the lifestyle and gave it its own style. He dressed it up and made it a movement, inviting artists such as Tuks, Mo’lemi and Morafe to fortify it. Currently, a new wave of Motswako rappers is emerging, influenced by the ideologies of the forerunners. Artists such as Cassper Nyovest are cultivating a solid mainstream profile while touring relentlessly throughout the country.