Young revolutionary joins the movement to elevate SA hip-hop
A couple of years ago, if you asked for my views on local hip-hop, I would have been vague and uncertain. Until recently, my opinion on South African hip-hop was unsure. However, with the kind of evolution that the hip-hop scene has undergone in recent years, I now know exactly where we stand: right on top.
Gunch The Youth, a.k.a Khanya-Kwezwe Nkambule, is the evidence. His debut EP, Memoirs of a Great Her, which is in collaboration with jazz veteran, Bheki Khoza, puts our hip-hop on a new level. Not only do the lyrics make sense, they are cleverly arranged and carry a powerful narrative that aims to uplift and inspire. He addresses relevant issues such as youth empowerment and celebrating women. On top of that, Gunch The Youth puts down the association of gangsterism to hip-hop, which is a stereotype propagated by some local hip-hop artists. Brilliant. Just brilliant!
The nine-track EP (including intro and outro) is thought-provoking and delivered in a catchy rap style and cheerful beats that evidently derives inspiration from African traditional music. At first, it is almost impossible to simply place his material in a category. ‘Experimental’ and ‘alternative hip-hop’ come to mind. As if he anticipated that, Gunch The Youth uses the intro of the EP to clarify, sort of. Appropriately titled ‘Hi’, the intro is a recorded interview where he describes his sound as “Afro-jazz fusion rap or something like that.”
An instant favourite, ‘Zimbelebele’, centres on the struggles of black youth. During the first verse, he raps about how young people of colour are still excluded even though SA claims to represent unity since it acquired democracy. Soothing woodwind sounds throughout the track bring a somewhat soft element against the brutally honest lyrics, resulting to a comforting escape when they meet with the gospel style backing vocals in the chorus.
Gunch The Youth turns his attention to the females on ‘Adam’s Rib’, where along smooth jazz bass riffs, he preaches women empowerment. The song suitably features female vocals and touches on sexual abuse, gender inequality and society’s dictation of what female beauty should be.
A sudden but pleasantly surprising change in Gunch The Youth’s sound can be heard in ‘Polka Dots’. The afro-jazz sound is replaced by a buzz of bass riffs and live percussion, which for a second, borders on something punkish. ‘Polka Dots’ is perhaps Gunch The Youth’s way of showing us that he can be versatile too. However, he maintains his activism in the lyrical content of the song as he spits rhymes about racial division and the intolerance of one another by the SA citizens.
The activist in Gunch The Youth comes forward in full force in ‘Things Fall Apart’. In this song, he features British artist Chester Watson and together they stand up for hip-hop music. The song aims at rectifying misperceptions of hip-hop as a result of tendencies by other artists. Another favourite is ‘Minute/Weather’ featuring Sketchy Johnson. With pacifying sounds of the piano, this song takes us back to the original afro-jazz sound that Gunch The Youth introduced at the beginning of the album.
If there was any doubt in my mind that hip-hop music in South Africa has evolved over the years, Memoirs of a Great Her has completely eradicated every single one of them. Gunch The Youth’s fresh sound makes me look forward, with incredible excitement, to what else is in store for us.