5 reasons why Back To The City is important for SA hip-hop

by: Sabelo Mkhabela - 24 April 2017


Back To The City, South Africa’s biggest hip-hop festival returns for its 11th year this week. Here’s why the festival is the most important event for hip-hop heads.

1. This is the place to discover your next fav hip-hop artist


YoungstaCPT at last year’s Back To The City. (Image: Sabelo Mkhabela)

I wasn’t there, but in 2014, Mashayabhuqe KaMamba stole the show at Back To The City. He was performing for the first time at the event. His performance was so great everyone who had been there couldn’t close their mouths about this unique artist who blended maskandi and hip-hop.

Thereafter, the download numbers of his EP The Black Excellence Show peaked. Every friend of mine was telling me to download it. I did, and I wasn’t disappointed. I have been a fan ever since.

Every year, there’s a name you’re not familiar with on the festival’s line-up. If you take time to watch those artists’ performances during the event, you usually become a fan of at least one of them.

Last year, YoungstaCPT, a relatively unknown artist had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hands. He had everyone screaming “Kapstaad Naieer”, and amassed a legion of fans who he otherwise wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for BTTC.


2. The festival is documenting SA hip-hop history


Optical Illusion at last year’s Back To The City. (Image: Sabelo Mkhabela)

There’s always a few old school artists. In 2015, it was Pitch Black Afro, last year it was Optical Illusion. This gives a chance to young and new South African hip-hop fans to see these legends perform on stage, instead of just hearing about how they changed the game or listening to their classics.

This year will just be too lit. The organisers have introduced a new feature called The Heritage, in which old-school artists will perform their breakout albums. Zola will performing his debut album Mdlwembe, which, even though is a kwaito album, did a lot for South African hip-hop.

Hymphatic Thabz will also be performing his debut album Error Era. I’ve always been a fan, but I’ve never seen him perform. His song “Those Who”, from Error Era, made me an instant fan. I can’t wait to catch the Holy Ghost when he performs songs from the album.

3. This is a great place for networking


Whether you are an up-and-coming rapper from the Eastern Cape who wants to get your mixtape into Ms Cosmo’s hands; or a podcaster  whose been trying to score that interview with Cassper Nyovest; or any kind of hip-hop hustler, Back To The City is the place for you. BTTC is where the whole industry is, so make use of the opportunity. Bug people, as you’ll never know where it might lead.

4. You will learn that hip-hop is about more than just rapping


Oskido speaking at the summit last year. (Image: Sabelo Mkhabela)

Before the performances, there’s a free summit hosted by hip-hop activist Rashid Kay. The man himself is a walking encyclopedia of SA hip-hop, but the summit is not about him.

There’s always an impressive panel of industry experts such as record label executives, popular radio deejays and artist managers. They discuss topical issues like the effects of the game going digital, how to make money off your craft, among other issues.

The summit will open your eyes; it will teach you that to be part of hip-hop, you don’t have to be a rapper or a producer – there are a lot of exciting and important roles behind the scenes that will get you money and help you make a name for yourself.

5. Witnessing all four hip-hop elements


Gogga’s grafitti installation at last year’s Back To The City. (Image: Sabelo Mkhabela)

Back To The City is not just a rap festival – all four elements of hip-hop (deejaying, emceeing, breakdancing and graffiti) have platforms on the day. There are graffiti artists embellishing walls in real time. There’s an impressive line-up of deejays who spin records and display skills that you might not have been able to see, as deejays usually use CDJs in clubs. There are usually break dancing competitions in which you’ll see b-boys and b-girls spinning on their heads.

But there are areas of improvements


Skyzoo was one of the international artists on the lineup last year. (Image: Sabelo Mkhabela)

The organisers, in the last three years, has been booking international artists for the festival. Last year it was Skyzoo and Elzhi; the year before, there was the group EMC. This year, there will be Capadonna from the super-group Wu Tang Clan, which was popular in the 90s. That’s amazing.

But I personally feel the festival needs to make an effort to bring artists from around the continent – the likes of M.anifest (Ghana), Ice Prince (Nigeria) and Black Vulcanite (Namibia) would bring great flavour to the festival. South African hip-hop is flourishing, but not in isolation – there’s a lot going on around the continent.

It would be great for Back To The City to bring us the best deejays, break dancers, graffiti artists, and of course, emcees from around the A.

Back To The City takes place this Thursday (April 27) at Mary Fitzgerald Square). Peep the festival’s full lineup below, buy tickets here, and get your outfits ready for the Moria of hip-hop heads.