The current state of South African hip hop is looking very healthy. A lot of artists have emerged and the anticipation of new music has reached inconceivable peaks. Artists like AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Da LES and Reason are just a few of the many artists who have managed to create a lot of hype around their music.
Big brands such as AXE, Castle Lite and Miller are on board and work closely with some of these artists.This helps make a career in hip hop viable and it allows music to reach the masses.
While this growth is indisputable, we have also witnessed the decline women’s contribution in this male-dominated genre. In the 90s andearly 2000s, we witnessed a significant rise in the number of relevant female hip-hop artists. The likes of Nthabi, Goddessa and Qba were some of the women in the game who made their presence felt and gained the necessary respect.
In 2014 it’s difficult to list your top five female artists in SA hip hop… Thankfully, there is a virtuoso that shines through it all.
Hip hop DJ and radio personality Noni Rwaxa – also known as Ms Cosmo – has to be one of the most relevant females in SA hip hop right now. Ms Cosmo, who got the idea for her nickname from her favourite drink, the cosmopolitan, has established herself as SA’s leading female voice in the game. “Males actually do take me a little seriously when I state something based on the current state of hip hop or anything around that topic. Obviously there’ll be a few egos bruised and the response sometimes won’t be the same, but majority of the times I’m taken seriously.”
From her days of being a student at Fuse Academy, a DJ school for girls, to juggling her DJing with her studies and a job, Cosmo made sure that she excels at everything she does. She has a BCom degree in finance at the University of Johannesburg and went on to work at one of the big four banks as a commercial property finance consultant.
“Corporate is obviously not that fun. Although I do have experience in the corporate world I haven’t thought of starting anything in that field yet. I’m at a point where I’m steady trying to build my career and gain a few more cents because starting a business is not that easy,” says Cosmo, sitting outside Daleah’s restaurant in Braamfontein.
Ms Cosmo was the first female DJ on Channel O’s Basement show. She also played on Yfm’s “YTKO” before landing her own show on 5FM called “The Stir-Up” where she is on air every Sunday at 10pm. Never forget… these platforms are male-dominated, especially when the genre is hip hop.
“I didn’t give up. I worked hard and made sure that I go for every opportunity that was there. The problem with us women is that we give up easily. I also wanted to give up at some point but I didn’t. If women push hard and don’t give up, we will witness more females dominating in the spaces that I am in.”
So the competitiveness is not there? “No, not that there is no competition,” she laughs. “I know a whole lot of female DJs who play hip hop too and I do believe that if they push more we can all be a movement in these fields,” she continues.
Interrupted by the chilly weather, Thabiso (the photographer) and I decide to cut the interview short and pay her a visit at the 5FM studios. Our reason for cutting the interview short proved to be pretty pointless seeing as the night that Thabiso and I walked up to the 5FM studios was cold. We arrive at the SABC building in Auckland Park and have a little quarrel with the security guard who doesn’t want to let us in because we have cameras. “Haa mama, we signed them in mos,” I debate with the old lady at reception who seems very grumpy. “Maybe it’s the cold” I think to myself. Regardless, we deal with the problem with the help of Ms Cosmo and a friend of hers who made everything clear.
We walk in to find her bubbly and energetic personality fillinf up the studio but as soon as the mic goes off and a song plays, she sighs and bows her head. “I’m sorry guys, I’ve been busy all weekend and only slept for a few hours.” That doesn’t stop her from deliveringher listeners with the hottest hip-hop tunes though. We considered ourselves lucky to be in the studio because it was the day AKA’s much-anticipated song “Run Jozi”, which features Mr Cashtime himself K.O, was released.
“In the club? It’s standard procedure. I have to play turn up. I don’t want to be that DJ when I’m playing and people want to go to the toilet or go to the bar, so of course I’m going to play turn up when I’m in the club”, said Cosmo.
“On radio? I play whatever is good music.There is more room for me to explore on radio than in the club. There are a lot of songs I play on radio that I’d never play in the club,
primarily because the platforms are different. If you’re sitting home and listening, you want to listen to a good song. I do play turn-up [music], yes, but I also do play good music at the end of the day,” she explains – adding however – that hip hop is not all she plays.
“No! I don’t play hip hop all day hey. I’d be sick of some of the songs. Imagine if I play hip hop at work, at home and at the club? I’d quickly lose interest in some of them. So when I’m home I’m chilled and let my family take over the playlist. Even when I’m in my car I don’t listen to hip hop, I try playing something else.”
While her sets consist primarily of R&B and hip-hop, she does throw in kwaito, a genre that has, in recent years, flirted with hip-hop influences. Hip hop and kwaito were never really friends until a few years back. Kwaito guys always thought hip-hop was “too pretty and for the snobs”, while hip hop guys thought kwaito was too “ghetto” and didn’t speak for both parties. Today we see these two major genres merging to give us some of the dopest music.
“We don’t have to segregate. Why should we?” asks Cosmo. “I don’t understand why we should. Music is music. The same way hip hop would sample house, it doesn’t seclude house, it doesn’t seclude hip hop at all. It’s just a fusion of good music.”
She continues, “if hip hop is going to sample kwaito that’s fine because that’s a South African sound anyway. I dont see it as a problem fusing the two because it just expands the different platforms. Now hip hop can perform for kwaito masses as well as the hip hop masses.”
Ms Cosmo is selective with what she says and how she answers questions. She has good speech and her replies are not short of any glitches or any use of vulgar words.
“Guys throw anything at me. I know the way I reply may sound like I’m following protocol but that’s not the case. I mean – like you’ve witnessed – I answer anything. I’m just selective with how I answer, and that’s also because of how I was raised and how I was taught at school.”
Her voice in hip hop is one of the most listened to, but do they give Cosmo the necessary respect and do they take her advice? A lot of the times artists who are in the hip hop genre do not enjoy any form of criticism from anyone.
“Guys don’t usually take me seriously when I comment on certain issues, but you know rappers and their ego. Ugh, you know guys.”
Is Cosmo’s voice not being heard at all by the masses or do they not want to take this advice from her because she is a female DJ? “I don’t know hey, but I’m slowly but surely getting my way around these things. I think it’s also because as a female I always have to prove myself. I always have to prove that I know what I’m talking about. But with the guys they respect my opinion when I tell them why to do certain things, and also maybe it’s a little difficult because I’m not in your face trying to behave like a dictionary” she answers.
With time passing by very quickly, Ms Cosmo’s eyes have turned blood red and she yawns and takes a deep sigh. “It’s past 12am with only two hours of sleep that I got, so hey,” she giggles.
She is a hard working woman balancing her show, gigs and family time can get exhausting. But the hard work pays off. One thing that I can say for sure right now is that Ms Cosmo is a voice of authority in the SA hip hop game.
As we leave the studio and walk back to our friend’s place, her voice resonates in our heads, playing sounds of SA hip hop. She was walking us home in the same way that she has walked so many through the world of hip hop.