Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He’ll report on new African music every other week. This week, he shares BIG FKN GUN's “ABC.”
I am currently passing through New York, which in my personal understanding of the world, is first and foremost the birthplace of hip-hop. As I come back to the rap Mecca, I can't help but reflect on how far hip-hop has spread around the globe. Geographically and culturally, hip-hop has permeated the planet like no other genre. Case in point: let's look into South Africa with our musical guides for the day, BIG FKN GUN.
Download: BIG FNK GUN, "ABC"
So&So, one of the two beatmakers in the group, tells me their first inspiration is golden-era US hip-hop and R&B. "That was I believe the height of hip-hop infiltration in South Africa. Then came the era of the Lyricist Lounge. Then we started looking back home as kwaito music grew, but a lot of us still idolized our American heroes as teens."
This same scenario happened in many countries. For instance, I grew up in Paris, where French hip-hop initially mimicked US hip-hop, before finding its own personality. What strikes me in South Africa is that artists there took hip-hop and transformed it into a distinct genre. So&So tells me: "Kwaito pretty much mirrored the hip-hop culture in the way that it created a path for itself. All of the artists were directly influenced by hip-hop, they were b-boys doing kwaito, which to me was a fascinating thing to see, being such different musicalities. I remember seeing Mandoza bust a windmill at a fashion show filled with artist types. I think I got goose bumps."
BIG FKN GUN's three members, emcee Bra Sol with Soulfaktor and So&So on the beats, all hail from Durban, the capital of kwaito. To this day, kwaito remains intact there, with artists such as Big Nuz injecting new blood into the scene. In Johannesburg, however, kwaito artists have been experimenting with house music for some time now.
With such rich hip-hop foundations, it becomes easier to understand how a group like BIG FKN GUN can come up with such a fresh sound. It also makes sense that it took them quite a bit of time and effort to create their own style: "We spent the last two years creating Pop Models. It was a very laborious process, but one that we have learnt a lot from, and one that has aided us in discovering our own sound."
The first songs the three settled for were "Pop Models", followed by "Wunga." Both of these songs caused a shift in BIG FKN GUN's sound: "Suddenly we had two tracks that we really liked. We would then send beat ideas over Blackberry with comments from all of us for weeks. Soulfaktor and I would chop and change, arrange, re-arrange, get rid of it, get it back then get tired of it, hate it and suddenly Sol would have an amazing verse…"
What happens next when you have a great, innovative album under your belt in SA? So&So thinks "there are a lot of cool kids eager for something new, but the interesting thing is they too need a lot of spoon feeding." While he feels many follow trends dictated by the media, "there are pockets of kids genuinely interested and they are always checking for that next shit."
"In SA generally you need to be on mainstream media to be accepted, which we don't currently have." However, what BIG FKN GUN does have is artists like Spoek Mathambo, Dirty Paraffin and Big Space paving the way. "Our focus now also is to build and be the masters of what we are doing, and this is our first official work which we chose to sell as a way to test what people think." I'm sold.