Posted: Jan 31, 2010 1:49 am
“It's not about where you've been...it's about where you're at” runs the rhyme in pioneering hip-hop duo Eric B & Rakim’s I Know You Got Soul. This classic rap could be Watkin Tudor Jones’s motto. For most emcees back in the mid-90s scoring a major label deal with spliff-rappers Original Evergreens and a Best Rap SAMA award for Puff the Magic would’ve been a fantastic foot in the door. But not for Jones who hated being pigeonholed as South Africa’s answer to Cypress Hill, and left the major label to expand his creativity with a new conceptual hip-pop crew Max Normal. After critical acclaim for 2001’s Songs From the Mall, rapturous performances at the Dutch Pukkelpop festival and talk of pop siren Nelly Furtado being keen on a collaboration, it seemed a slam dunk that the world would finally get to know Waddy Jones.
But Max Normal imploded. Word has it that Jones just wasn’t interested in selling out and disbanded the crew simply because they’d become “too successful”. A couple of hiatuses in a Buddhist ashram and some yoga studies later and he was back in the game with cosmic cartoon hip-hop conceptualists the Constructus Corporation and their cult epic Ziggurat (2003) which featured then unknown young beat boys Markus Wormstorm and Sibot. A year later the concept dissolved amidst rumours of ignominious beefs about the merit of creating commercially “phat beats”. Wormstorm and Sibot left to form The Real Estate Agents, cult local success and later, international tours with Sweat.X and Playdoe.
Despite favourable critical reception for his own The Fantastic Kill (2005), it was only when Max Normal was reanimated as corporate hip-hop concept, Max Normal.TV in 2007 that audiences started paying attention again. A slot at Oppikoppi’s Way of the Dassie festival gave Jones the chance to unleash a parade of personas that ranged from the super-stylised motivational speaker sermons of ‘cult leader’ Max Normal to the slapstick braggadocio skits of rave rapper Wad-E. All of which was capped by a nomination for Good Morning South Africa in the Best Alternative Album category at this year’s South African Music Awards.
Only problem is Max Normal.TV is no more. Jones has moved on. He’s got his head into a brand new band he needs to share with the world. Enter Die Antwoord. Billing themselves as “a fresh, futuristik rap-rave crew from the dark depths of Africa”, Die Antwoord debuts Jones’ new alter ego Ninja, alongside Max Normal.TV legions Yo-Landi Vi$$er and DJ Hi-Tek. Intriguingly, Ninja and Yo-landi rap in a ‘Zef’ parody of Cape Flats Afrikaans about topics ranging from rich bitches and getting blind drunk to groin-grabbing boasts about who’s going to rock the party to what’s hot and beyond. Right, sounds like yet another delightfully artful deconstruction of the impossibility of ‘keeping it real’ while ‘selling out’?
Well, let’s just say that there’s a whole lot more method to their darkly surreal live show than such seeming slapstick might suggest. As Ninja suggests, “Max Normal.TV was kind of like an experiment I think. Die Antwoord is more like a discovery”.