Die Antwoord – $O$
by Sid Phadnis (Cinema, English) and Kevin Waite (Music Industry), published November 5th 2010
News flash: The Internet has revolutionized the way new artists are discovered. Want proof? Look no further. Die Antwoord is a Capetown, South African hip-hop trio comprised of vocalists Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er and producer DJ Hi-Tek (not to be confused with Reflection Eternal’s Hi-Tek. Both of group’s MCs have been part of South Africa’s hip-hop scene for several years, previously collaborating in The Constructus Corporation, the group that eventually evolved into Die Antwoord.
After their album $O$ was made available for free downloaded and circulated across ‘the Interweb,’ they released the hugely popular ‘Enter the Ninja’ music video. Months later, the video went viral. A tidal wave of hits to their website crashed their server overnight, and by morning the trio was effectively launched into the realm of international stardom.
This rap-rave group identifies itself with the South African musical movement called Zef. Yolandi Vi$$er has described it as ‘associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is you’re poor but you’re fancy. You’re poor but you’re sexy; you’ve got style.’ Compensating with poverty? Who ever heard of that? Backed by DJ Hi-Tek’s beats, Ninja and Yolandi rap in English and Afrikaans. This is their secret weapon. Their multi-cultural background gives them twice as many lyrical possibilities and a foreign accent that sounds naturally badass.
The official American copy of $O$ is essentially a trimmed down re-release with a handful of new tracks including ‘Fish Paste,’ ‘In Your Face,’ ‘She Makes Me a Killer’ and the Diplo-produced ‘Evil Boy,’ which also happen to be among the highlights of the record.
As its title suggests, opening track ‘In Your Face’ immediately lays a synth-laden drumbeat that boxes your ears, while Yolandi Vi$$er enters with a quick verse of hard lines to the gut and Ninja’s stinging hook sends you sailing straight back into the clutches of Hi-Tek’s pulsing chorus. It’s a perfect introduction to Die Antwoord not only for new listeners, but it also shows how they have evolved since their viral success this spring. Halfway through, Ninja shows us ‘how to flip the fucking script’ and resumes rapping in Afrikaans for the next verse, flipping a bilingual middle finger to the ‘bunch of dogf***ers [who] think we are a joke.’
‘Enter the Ninja’ introduces us to the alter ego of mild-mannered Watkin Tudor Jones (yes, that is his real name) and showcases his lyrical ability. Featuring furiously fast delivery, Ninja lives up to the image of a lyrical swordsman. If you’ve witnessed the music video that started it all and got too weirded out to explore further, there’s hope for you yet. Coincidentally, Kevin, co-writer of this article, had the same opinion until he went to their Newbury Comics performance, where he was baptized under Ninja and Yolandi’s flow and charisma.
The album’s biggest surprise is ‘She Makes Me a Killer,’ the track that permanently shattered the notion that Die Antwoord was simply rave-rap. A chilling beat sets the scene, before Ninja takes the mic and delivers a soaring rock-pop hook, revealing a surprising vocal range, and then transitions into a Slim Shady-styled story rap.
While it’s not perfect and far from classic, Die Antwoord is nonetheless a brilliant satirical reaction to a hip-hop culture dominated by materialism, sex, and violence. On $O$, they express their own rags-to-riches story, simultaneously embracing and undermining hip-hop clichÃ©s. Ninja and Yolandi are versatile vocalists that spit lyrics somewhere between acidic and goofy, and Hi-Tek consistently provides dance-worthy rave beats. Above all there’s a musical chemistry between them that’s present in nearly every track. Even their weaker tracks are kept afloat by Hi-Tek’s fantastic production. Self-indentified as an amalgam of different cultures, Die Antwoord boasts a diverse arsenal: a strong male-female vocal dynamic, international mystery factor, visual quirkiness, and tongues in their cheeks.
The Zef-side crew has an ambitious agenda for their career. Leader Ninja claims that $O$ is merely part one of five and that the trio is developing a feature film. If I were a certain black man double fisting Hennessy at a Hawaii studio, I’d watch my back. A new brand of crazy is loose.
For all remaining doubters, the album is available for free streaming at DieAntwoord.com. They even have lyrics and conveniently placed English translations for their rhymes in Afrikaans. How much easier could it get?
Recommended Tracks: In Your Face, Enter the Ninja, Fish Paste, She Makes Me a Killer