By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
As I made my way up the stairs that seemed to be going round and round endlessly, and I must say for the unfit that should have proved to be a good way of losing that extra weight. After all we have just come out of a festive season and you know what happens during that time when it comes to how some among us suddenly find food to be extraordinarily more delicious than during the whole year.
But these steps were necessary and for some, even the pain of shedding the extra weight accumulated over the festive season of gluttony was necessary. After all we were summoned here by the Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa to witness the launch of a weighty cultural project, especially among the ranks of young people pursuing their dreams within the highly competitive hip hop sector.
We were at Museum Africa in Newtown on Thursday, February 3, 2022, for one of the greatest reveals in the history of South African hip hop, and by extension, even globally. You see, although there are moves in the US to establish a Hip Hop Museum, South African Hip Hop promoter and its most prominent advocate, the man behind the popular Back to the City Festival and the foremost hip hop Awards in the country, Osmisc Menoe pulled a fast one on the American hip hop establishment. He and his mates were faster as they miraculously managed to get there before the Americans. After all the US the place where hip hop originated in the 60s as a form of youth expression in the streets as the black youth grappled with a host of problems ranging alienation from mainstream culture to unemployment and hopelessness in a place where black people are generally pushed onto the margins of society and are a minority. As iit were they invented hip hop to express themselves and the art form has since spread all over the world.
South Africa in Africa is certainly a leader when it comes to the genre of hip hop, as a performance art form, a recorded music form and as a cultural movement. In fact hip hop has grown phenomenally in South Africa over the years, pioneered by early exponents of the art form , notably Prophets of Da City (POC) that took the art form to heart, expressing their own feelings of social alienation in their own country, adopting it from its American roots and adapting it as an art form of the Cape Flats in Cape Town, to heal a population of youth whose life was wracked by drugs, alcoholism, gangsterism and other ills.
They did it so well that many a youngster from that doomed place could clearly see a clear path of becoming something other than a gangster, drug dealer or good for northing alcoholic.
And of course today in South Africa, hip hop has become a powerful industry, creating successful artists in this genre some of whom have established solid business and amassed wealth. In fact currently when we speak of popular genres of music, it is either hip hop and Amapiano, with kwaito and house music having faded away for sometime now, giving way to these two genres.
In fact today is proponents, such as the late Pro Kid, the late HHP, the likes of Casper Novest, M-Tee, Sjava, Big Zulu, Nadia Nakai, AKA, Kanif, Blakrok and Fifi Cooper, to name but just a few, have become the face of contemporary hip hop, and more are set to emerge in the future as hip hop consolidates its position in youth popular culture in the country.
It is in this context that businessmen and hip hop entrepreneurs and promoters such Menoe are plying a crucial role in not only promoting the culture but giving hip hop a sense of respectability as a business. And now with the launch of the South African Hip Hop Museum, Menoe and his fellow travellers behind this initiative have given local hip hop an intellectual face too.
However, the journey was not that easy and it was a long journey of four and half years of courtship between Menoe and his crew on one hand, and the Minister and his officials on the other to make a business case for government to support the initiative financially. Thursday’s launch by the Minister, supported by Gauteng Provincial Government MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation Mbali Hlophe who praised Mthethwa and the national department for their financial support of this initiative.
“When we were approached by Osmic and his team, it was about five years ago and what impressed us is the clarity of vision, the ownership of the genre by the hip hop community and a clear plan about the way forward, especially when it comes to sustainability of the museum. The initiative also came at the right time when as a department we are moving away from giving grants to artists and going forward as we want to implement economic recovery strategies, not only for the creative sector, but the country as a whole, we will now fund projects that have a sustainable plan, such as this museum. The museum has a clear plan of sustainability and the team here has demonstrated professionalism, something important where public funds are concerned because every cent used my be accounted for,” Mthethwa said.
The minister revealed that the funding of the South African Hip Hop Museum came out of the extra R50 million funds, an additional funding from the Presidential Economic Stimulus Funds, out of which the South African Hip Hop Museum shared with the two other museums. One is in KwaZulu-Natal, and the other is in Cape Town.
“For this museum we put aside R2 million for job creation and job retention, which will be used for employing researchers aged of 18 up to 35 years as these are regarded as youth. The other money, R9 million will be used for the infrastructure here,” Mthethwa explained.
The museum not only contains recorded hip hop material, it also has a studio, an editing suite, an auditorium for conferences related to hip hop, but also has spaces for contacting hip hop master classes. The space is accessible to the public, with schools especially targeted to introduce young people to opportunities in the hip hop industry.
“However for sustainability reasons those who want to use the facilities here, such as recording studio, editing suits and the auditorium will have to book and there is a fee to be paid,” explained Menoe. However the South African Hip Hop Museum is not a government owned entity, but a privately run and owned by Menoe’s company Virtual Media.
The launch was attended by several players in the hip hop culture, some flying from as far as the US, such as Damane Nkosi, while others like famous hip hop dancer Vox, from as far as cape Town. It felt like a meeting of the old cats in the game and the new ones replacing the old in hip hop as they older generations retreats from the front, such as Amu to focus on mentoring the young cats as producers and life coaches.
“Hip Hop gave me that option as I got attracted to community projects run by Prophets of DA City. As a youngster still at high school growing up in a crime and gangster ridden place like Mitchell’s Plain, I stopped and though carefully about what options were available to me> I could continue being a gang member and look cool, or I could become a dancer. I chose to become a dancer. I travelled the world, sharing stages with too international artists one could only imagine about. I was still at High school when I did this and you can imagine what that did to me. Each time after travelling and performing internationally I could come back to Mitchell’s Plain, and try to tell the youth who in their entire life had never been on a bus, never been to a beech and it was unbelievable. Hip Hop is life and Hip Hop has the ability to heal communities, unite people and in fact have been wondering for sometime why does the United Nations not use hip hop to unite people because hip hop has that ability,” said a Hip Hop cat called Vox at the launch.
He added that the fact that he was given a platform to share his journey at the launch of South African Hip Hop Museum is testimony to the fact that the art form has a healing quality, otherwise he would not be there did he not encounter Hip Hop in the Cape Flats.
Amu, a hip hop legend, who in the 90s was one of the stars of the movement, dominating in especially clubs with his fresh sound and travelling internationally to represent the Hip Hop movement, also had an opportunity to add his voice and his appreciation for the government’s support to the Hip Hop Museum, and addressing Mthethwa directly he said: “Grotman, it was a journey we travelled with you till we reached this day in as far as the South African Hip Hop Museum’s establishment is concerned. I am old now and my time in Hip Hop is over. What i concentrate on is to mentor young people, producing them and making sure that they get an opportunity in the game. We are grateful that government has financially supported this museum, and we will keep coming back. That we will do believe me. But that the Hip Hop movement wants from government is not necessarily monetary support. More than anything else we need moral support, and support in different ways other than always financially. For example If a young Hip Hop artists is performing in the US, the South African diplomat there, an Ambassador would invite him for dinner and that way the American fans would be impressed and respect the artist even more and take him even more seriously. Again for example, If South African Airways, and I want to believe it is back in the skies, is flying to the US, the government would help with tickets for A Hip Hop artist and his crew. This is the kind of support we are talking about other than financial,” Amu said.