Confrontational South African trio strut the thin line between madness and genius.
David Sheppard 2010-11-02
"Is this Die Antwoord terrible, like the worst thing ever, or the most amazing thing in the entire universe?" That is the rhetorical question posed on the press release for this debut Die Antwoord long-player by the group’s snarling MC and figurehead, Ninja (or Watkin Tudor Jones as his mum knows him). Inevitably, perhaps, the answer lies somewhere in between; but that $O$ struts the thin line between madness and genius, or more accurately between provocative wilfulness and striking innovation, is indubitable.
A confrontational rap-rave trio, hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Die Antwoord (‘the answer’ in their native brogue) have already sent out considerable frissons courtesy of their skin colour (there apparently being something inherently befuddling, if not politically perplexing, about the notion of white Afrikaans hip hop) and the unconstrained vigour of their music’s mashed-up aesthetic which had already made them a serious internet wow before Universal/Interscope signed them up earlier this year. Soaked in the ‘Zef’ music (chavvy, synth heavy ringtone rap, essentially) of the gangster-ridden Cape Flats district, Die Antwoord’s sound is no African township jolly but, rather, an uncompromising urban, international melange – imagine a grimier, saucier M.I.A.
Built on DJ Hi-Tek’s inventive beats and riven with Ninja’s bruising raps and mic partner Yo-Landi’s helium-voiced, curiously ‘girly’ choruses ("Jealousy makes you nasty" goes the feisty refrain of In Your Face; "I’m a mother-f***ing rich b****" goes the rather brusquer, hilariously accented Rich B**** – unsurprisingly the album comes with an explicit content ‘parental advisory’ sticker), it’s a cartoonish smorgasbord that somehow coheres. Ninja’s pins and needles Afrikaans, meanwhile, remains as rhythmically impressive as it is impenetrable.
That opaque quality doesn’t stop the most convincing cuts, like Wat Kyk Jy? (a barroom threat, along the lines of ‘what are you looking at?’ apparently) – all skewed house beats, Darth Vader vocoders and machine gun rhymes – from drilling into the cerebellum, while the coquettish, Yo-Landi-helmed choruses of $copie and Beat Boy (the latter’s rap alluding to such outré activities as ejaculating, gulp, into a champagne glass) evince a sensual, almost oriental pop sensibility lurking beneath the slanted hip hop belligerence.