Hip hop, injustice and agency: Dookoom’s Isaac Mutant as Boland badman figure

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The 2014-release of South African hip hop outfit Dookoom’s rap song “Larney, jou poes” (Fuck you, white boss) which comments on the unfavourable circumstances and frustrations of farm workers in the Boland wine district in particular, as well as historical injustices suffered by disenfranchised South Africans in general, led to widespread controversy in the formal media as well as on social media platforms. The song’s music video especially attracted a lot of media attention and provoked fervent debates due to its depiction of angry coloured farm workers igniting the land of a white farmer which – coupled with the threatening lyrics “jou poes, my larney / jy kan my nie vertel nie” (fuck you, white boss / you can’t tell me what to do) – led to civil rights organisation AfriForum labelling it as hate speech and laying a charge against the band at the South African Human Rights Commission. Critics of the song argued that it incites violence whilst some analysts tried to make sense of the way in which the song highlights the deeply polarised South African socio-political context within which it originated.

“Larney, jou poes” came into being against the backdrop of historic injustices of the South African past including colonialism, the slave trade, seizure of land from indigenous communities by white settlers, and formalised racism in the form of apartheid, of which the effects today continue to be exemplified in the South African wine farming industry, an industry with a “deep-seated racialised hierarchy which has kept white landowners prosperous and black labourers dependant and impoverished” (Howson 2019:4). In the case of “Larney, jou poes” rap is utilised to comment on and expose these injustices suffered by marginalised communities. With the aim of adding to local hip hop discourse and establishing a nuanced understanding of the song and music video, this article takes into account not only these historical realities but also the history and ethos of hip hop and rap.

Rap is an element of hip hop, a cultural form that evolved during the 1970s among the socio-politically and economically marginalised youth of New York’s South Bronx (Rose 1994), and that is rooted in a longstanding history of black oral culture (Nyawalo 2013; Ramsey 2003; Wald 2012). Due to this history hip hop carries with it certain “symbolic tools of identity” (Neate 2004:107) to be utilised in the creation of agency through song and performance, especially in so-called conscious hip hop. This symbolic ethos is entrenched in conscious hip hop and functions in “Larney, jou poes”. In this article, it is argued that particularly the symbolic figure of the badman resonates in emcee Isaac Mutant’s lyrics and performance. The mythical figure of the badman predates rap in Afro-American oral culture, and can be traced back to the American slave era where it played a role in self-preservation and in the undermining of the oppressor’s narrative; it is therefore instrumental in the creation of agency within oppressing, marginalising circumstances (Nyawalo 2013:469–72).

The song’s lyrics and music video are therefore explored by considering the nature and ethos of hip hop as oral practice rooted in a long history of black oppression, and as one that plays a role in the creation of agency within these oppressive circumstances. This analysis of “Larney, jou poes” demonstrates how conscious hip hop functions as a space within which local marginalised socio-political realities – and the suffering of injustice in general – are highlighted.

As theoretical framework for this discussion, the concept glocalisation is employed, whereby hip hop is viewed as a globalised medium which is locally adapted to meet local realities and where it assumes a distinctive local character (Neate 2004:85, 96). In other words, by employing the “symbolic tools of identity” (Neate 2004: 107) which are harboured within this globalised genre, local issues are tackled and exposed (cf. Urla 2001:173, 185). This is indeed the case in the South African context, where hip hop was first employed during the 1980s by the disenfranchised youth of the Cape Flats (cf. Haupt 1996, 2004) as platform for the articulation of identity due to the shared experience of socio-economic and political marginalisation and oppression which underlay American hip hop (Künzler 2011:28, 41; cf. Rose 1994:21).

In this sense South African hip hop has demonstrated the glocal nature of this art form since its earliest inception. By employing a glocal view of hip hop in the analysis of “Larney, jou poes”, light is thus not only shed on the song (and performance in the accompanying music video) but on the functioning of hip hop itself.

Ultimately it is argued that the figurative performance of the badman is employed by Dookoom’s lyricist Isaac Mutant in the lyrics and music video of “Larney, jou poes”, and argued that hip hop is productively employed here on local level to address centuries of challenges faced by marginalised groups in South Africa. In doing so the song establishes symbolic agency within a historically unjust system.

Keywords: Afrikaans rap; badman; Dookoom; Isaac Mutant; “Larney, jou poes”; South African hip-hop


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Hip-hop, onreg en agentskap: Isaac Mutant van Dookoom as Bolandse badman-figuur

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