South African Dialogue
Keywords:“mixed-race” identity, sampling, turntablism, vernacular language, voice
The potential for hip hop artists to express dissent, to question socio-political inequalities and contest authoritarian structure is most notably conveyed through lyrical means. Think of the lasting impact of Chuck D’s verses in ‘Fight the Power’ or, more recently, Eminem’s contentious freestyle performed at the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards. This article explores a different form of lyricism, but one that is no less effective in its activist directive to highlight the need for social change. Through contextual and music textural analysis, I interrogate the transcription of a solo performance by South African turntablist Deon “Ready D” Daniels. In this 2006 piece entitled ‘Krap Kommentaar’ (‘Scratch Commentary’), Daniels carefully selects and manipulates vocal excerpts to challenge the hegemony of standardized over vernacular Afrikaans. The former is primarily associated with white Afrikaners (white South Africans of ostensibly Dutch descent), while the latter is identified with Cape Town’s working-class “mixed-race” or “coloured” population (also the social demographic with whom hip hop in the city is linked). Coloureds are a social grouping actively marginalized by apartheid legislation, and for whom a sense of continued exclusion in the contemporary moment is deeply felt. Thus, by re-contextualizing his source material through sampling and scratching, Daniels (re)inscribes Afrikaans language to suit his own purposes, demonstrating a mastery of the speech form. With this musical intervention, Daniels also confronts received notions of entrenched power, effectively critiquing linguistic barriers to socio-political inclusion.
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