Album Reviews

Die Antwoord – Ten$ion

(Downtown) UK release date: 6 February 2012

Apparently, we are in the midst of recession. High street stores are closing by the dozen, yet people are buying overpriced headphones. Perhaps it’s an urban disease, but the number of Dr Dre‘s Beats headphones adorning the skulls of the morning commuter and late teen risers is definitely on the rise.

It’s not just Dre who has his own signature headphones; there are even some rather nifty Miles Davis ‘phones that do a better job than the hip-hop impresario, but Dre’s monopoly on popular culture is such that Londoners shouldn’t expect to be seeing surges of fellow consumers trapped on trains, flipping out, wide-eyed with excitement as they experience neutral tones delivered by headphones that enhance the clarity of music on the move. Instead, the bone crushingly unbalanced bass of Dre’s headphones will probably continue to rule the roost. One cannot, it seems, buy taste.

One of the images being used to promote the latest album from South African hip-hop trio, Die Antwoord, features female vocalist Yo-Landi sporting a pair of arterial blood-splattered Beats headphones. Coincidentally, Die Antwoord were signed to Interscope, home to Dr Dre and his Aftermath Entertainment outlet. However, after a public fall-out between the group and their label, Ten$ion will be released by the band themselves. Apparently, Die Antwoord didn’t want Interscope telling them what to do with their music in order to make them ‘sound like everybody else’.

After the inexplicable success of their debut $o$, and its lead single Ninja, the group have decided to go back to basics and do things their own way so they don’t have to compromise over the inclusion of words like ‘faggot’ and ‘nigger’. Anyone would think that a major American label wouldn’t have a problem with words that can be construed homophobic and racist. After all, we’ve heard Lil Wayne use those same words in much the same way. Well, this is different. These are chaps from the Rainbow Nation of South Africa: a country with a history of racial harmony and tolerance, and they are far more advanced than any corporate pinheads over at Interscope.

Stand-up comedian Louis C.K. has addressed the use of both ‘faggot’ and ‘nigger’ in his live show, Chewed Up. He explains that he used the word ‘faggot’ as a child without even knowing or understanding what it meant to be gay. Die Antwoord frontman Ninja, however, knows that the words are both used in derogatory contexts, but he claims it’s OK because DJ Hi-Tek is gay, and some of his mates are black and he can apparently say stuff like, “Yo! What’s up, my nigger?” to their faces. Ironically, he calls DJ Hi-Tek his ‘nigger’ on DJ Hi-Tek Rulez: a track where the repeated lyrical hook is “DJ Hi-Tek will fuck you in the ass!”

Even if one agrees with anything contentious Die Antwoord had to say, that wouldn’t detract from the fact that their music is the worst thing labelled ‘hip-hop’ since Dr Dre’s recent outing with I Need A Dr. Even if we can tolerate Ninja rapping like a male Debbie Harry (yes, OK, he can go double-time on a verse), Hi-Tek’s construction of techno beats and rave stabs on the quirky I Fink U Freeky and heavy brostep on opener Never Le Nkemise just add to the nauseating concoction of trash that comprises Ten$ion. At best, Die Antwoord are jokers of the rap scene, and anyone that disagrees is a killjoy. Or maybe detractors just don’t like to tolerate nonsense at the expense of quality. An all-white outfit, one would think that Die Antwoord would like to avoid any reference to Vanilla Ice and Eminem, but they actively embrace them, citing both during the jiggling, repetitive rhythms of Fatty Boom Boom. It’s not exactly progressive, is it?

Die Antwoord are a stain on sense. Quite why a clamouring audience wants to see, let alone hear, anything by Die Antwoord is anyone’s guess. But then, it’s also difficult to understand why people can’t see through a transparent marketing drive that instils a need for crappy, ‘luxury’ headphones during austere times.

With 11 languages spoken in South Africa alone, there is a wealth of South African rap talent to explore. It takes little research to see who’s out there, what style they use, and how they use the music of their nation to represent themselves. Why is it that this group are considered by the West to be the great white hope of the South African nation? What about the black South African rapper, Spoek Mathambo? Not only did he rap with Ninja in the distant past, but he also has a record out on prolific US label Sub Pop. Unlike Die Antwoord, however, we’re yet to see him on the David Letterman show.

Die Antwoord are like 2Unlimited and Aqua rolled into one, but with less ability and finesse. If they’re a joke, then this Borat of the rap world could disappear into oblivion soon enough – but with the backing of director Neill Blomkamp and a legion of American fans, it doesn’t look like Die Antwoord will be backing down anytime soon, for their listeners understand the complexity of the answer Die Antwoord present to an unasked question.

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More on Die Antwoord
Die Antwoord – Ten$ion
Die Antwoord @ Scala, London
Die Antwoord – $O$