Last week, South African rap veteran Stogie T (Tumi Molekane) sat down with US radio host Sway Galloway for an interview that lasted just under 30 minutes. Stogie T is only the fifth South African rapper to feature on Galloway’s show, Sway in the Morning, and the first from the “Le Club era” of South African hip-hop. (Cassper Nyovest, AKA, Nasty C and Kwesta, who featured on Galloway’s show last year and in 2016, are from a later era.)
In the interview, Stogie T contextualised South African hip-hop, tracing its history from Cape Town in the 80s to where it is now. He spoke of the importance of the late Pro and gave his take on the young rapper Nasty C, among other topics.
Speaking about his name change, which has been a struggle to understand for his old fans, the rapper repeated an explanation he has been giving since 2016. Stogie T’s reality has changed since he was fronting the band Tumi and the Volume in the early to mid-2000s, which was known for overtly socially conscious songs, such as 76, Yvonna, People of the Light, off their seminal album Live at the Bassline.
“The name Tumi and The Volume represented something that I felt like. Yo I’m not there any more,” the rapper told Sway. “I started this when I was 19, 20. I’m in my mid-30s now. So I was, like, I’m not there any more. I wanna be a repository, I wanna represent all my people’s stories, encompass all of their stories. Usually they would be like: ‘He’s a conscious rapper.’
“[So] When you start talking about bad bitches in the club wanting to get it, success … people are like: ‘This is not Tumi, though.’ So I was, like, I wanna be deliberate about it, and said, look, I’m purposefully doing this so I can represent a lot more. I still talk about my mom as a soldier, Umkhonto weSizwe, but I wanna talk about it all. Sometimes your legacy can be a prison.”
The Stogie T moniker has always been about the duality of life as we know it – “poppin’ bottles” while still not divorcing himself from the realities of others, in a country where most black people live below the poverty line. On his eponymous first album as Stogie T, released in 2016, the rapper gives his fans socially conscious songs such as Going Gorilla, Sub City, Son of a Soldier and Pray For Us along with songs where he celebrates success, such as Big Dreams, Diamond Walk, By Any Means and Miss Joburg.
His latest album, Honey and Pain, released this year, is deliberate in exploring this duality, from the title to how he draws juxtapositions between pain and pleasure in different life situations. While on the first album, the pain and pleasure lived in different songs, on Honey and Pain, they coexist on every song. The point is that there’s no single activity under the sun that’s free of either.
This was the basis of the freestyle Stogie T rendered after his interview with Sway.
In his freestyle, which has been trending since the full interview went live on YouTube last Friday, the emcee opens with a bit of a brag:
There ain’t no French bottle we ain’t pop
A fresh article we ain’t cop
Benz top that we ain’t drop
And dress model we ain’t knock
Festival we ain’t rock
Destined to be this hot …
As Stogie T knew he was rapping to a mostly American audience, the use of “we” instead of “I” could have been a reference to Africans as a whole. This is as a dig at Americans, and perhaps Westerners in general, who have narrow and inaccurate perceptions of Africans and Africa.
This could explain why, later on in the freestyle, Stogie T raps:
They gon’ photograph an African prototype of a starving kid
But not show you the royal blue Aston Martin whip
It’s complicated, and fuck vibranium,
Educate ‘em, we got ghettos too, and they orange-juice concentrated …
He goes on:
I say South Africa, you think Trevor,
I think Nelson, it’s half apparent, you getting mixed messages
I say Nigeria, you think Fela,
I think Delta, it’s past and present, blurry as an impressionist …
Here, the rapper shows that Africa is more complex than the image of starving children with flies on their faces, an image that has for far too long served as a window to the continent. Those lines were the rap version of the omnipresent meme you’ve probably seen on your Twitter timeline: “The Africa they don’t show you …” usually followed by an image that shows the beauty of the continent and its advanced infrastructure.
The line, “It’s complicated, and fuck vibranium/ Educate ’em, we got ghettos too, and they orange-juice concentrated,” was the emcee eluding the denialist label by acknowledging that most of these stereotypes are derived from fact.
As on Honey and Pain, in his freestyle Stogie T spoke of the duality of life, especially across the continent. To make sure he didn’t alienate the show’s core listenership, he threw plenty of US pop culture and history references in the mix. He also took a jab at mumble rap – a popular microgenre of hip-hop that, unlike “traditional” rap, is not centred on lyrics:
These ready-made superstars, with tattoos and scars,
And you think they can save face with a few bars
They lukewarm, I’m in true form
38 like Jordan in Utah, killing them with the flu shot
Strus God, that means trust me, I'm nutty as Rupaul
But I wear out a pussy like King Jaffe in New York …
More than halfway through the intense freestyle, the emcee spelt out that he aims to “give them honey and pain, happiness and anguish”. He also touched on the importance of celebrating the little freedom that we have in South Africa and the toxicity that comes with being moneyed, especially if you are a heterosexual male:
For all the times the po-po [police] had my folks against the ropes
For all the times we drove a shawty out to Marie Stopes
And all the ones we almost broke, but still be calling hoes …
Distinctly Stogie T
While a reasonable number of fans were convinced that the freestyle sounded more like Tumi than Stogie T, it’s an inaccurate assertion. Tumi wouldn’t have opened the freestyle by making references to “poppin’ French bottles and dropping Benz tops”. Tumi, the ultimate “conscious rapper”, had a limited scope.
In his earlier music, the rich were normally vilified for their disconnect from the harsh realities of the country and continent, and the poor were always in favour. Think of songs such as The Now Rich; Health, Food and Shelter; People, People and Broke People, among others.
Neither would Tumi have rapped about “wearing out a pussy like King Jaffe in New York”. This cynicism, egomania and disturbing sexism are some of the traits that come with being Stogie T. Unlike Tumi from Tumi and the Volume, Stogie T is not ashamed of being flawed, materialistic and scornful. But he hasn’t entirely divorced himself from social commentary and sympathising with the subjugated working class.
So, as with his previous two projects, the lyricist gives a 360-degree view of his surroundings, captured in the following lines:
I’m from the continent of poverty and long walk accomplishments
Where former heroes give birth to spoiled rotten kids
The opulent meet the poor cleaning their offices
We push rocket ships like Elon Musk … charge the whip …
So, while the first four SA rappers to have appeared on Sway in the Morning were great (especially Nasty C and Kwesta), what makes Stogie T’s appearance more memorable is how he was able to evoke different emotions from his listeners. He instilled a sense of pride by highlighting the continent’s merits, but also made us uncomfortable by reminding us that a lot of work still needs to be done.