Rapping in Vernac: Native Rhymes

Zimasa Mpemnyama

Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique

Socially aware and outspoken Hip Hop crew from Cape Town, Jargon Music talk about the language aspect in Hip Hop and share their views about art in general.

For me we have to question everything! Question why are we here? Who are we? Why are there people like ooTat’uBiko? Why were they fighting for what they were fighting for? Why does the Mandela family live the lavish life that they do when most people struggle? Why are there artists like us, that feel the need to question these things? And then why are there artists like ooAKA for instance?“_ Lukhanyo ‘Freeze’ Zondani



Socially aware and outspoken Hip Hop crew from Cape Town, Jargon Music talk about the language aspect in Hip Hop and share their views about art in general.

How did you guys meet and why the name Jargon Music

Nce: We met early 2006, I [Ncedisa] was a poet at the time and Freeze was part of a group called Abanqolobi with a guy called Soska Mjindi, who is currently our producer -he stays in Khayelitsha. At that time they were doing something Hip Hopish but still with a demon of Kwaito. He [Freeze] had recently moved to Delft South and he approached me to start the group because we felt that Delft needed another [hip hop] group because there were maybe two groups namely Elemental Instinct and D.S.O. Before them there was Ruff Cheese (the first group to ever rap in Delft) with members Given and Wandile. When we were thinking of the name, we were thinking of putting in another element to the hip hop movement, initially we were called Jargon, we added the Music in later. Jargon meaning a way of speaking that only a certain group of people can understand, like Tsotsi taal for instance. We felt like at the time our music was not understood… So our music becomes Jargon, if you are no invested in what we are invested in, which is everyday struggles of the people, particularly black people.

How would you describe Jargon Music to some one who has never heard your music before? 

Freeze: Our music is like a language you know, it speaks for the people. We also call our music “daily conversations” because it talks about people’s lives and what’s going on around society. We fight things like racism, xenophobia, sexism, tribalism through our music. Our music also deals with black people, because black people are the most oppressed and disadvantaged people the world over! Basically we are about that. A voice for the voiceless.

Nce: After 1994 you have a situation in South African art where the idea of “art for arts sake” is coming to the fore and becoming fashionable such that South Africa as a country located in Africa, which is a troubled continent, the voice of the oppressed does not come across… Jargon Music is trying to go against that grain! The music would strike you as “itshisa mpama”, a huge slap in the face waking you from your slumber to deal with what is going on in South Africa at this point in time.


Was Hip Hop a choice for you guys or did it just fit what you wanted to do at the time?

Freeze: To us Hip Hop is a culture (well Hip Hop is a culture), it’s a way of life as much as being Xhosa, Zulu or any other African culture is but these cultures may be oppressive and not allow you to think out of the box. In Hip Hop we found a free zone or free space to express ourselves and then even the music allows you freedom of speech to say whatever you wanna say. Hip hop allows you the space to talk about anything.

Nce: In Hip Hop you also have the license to speak your mind and in that narrow, tribal, cultures you don’t have. For example in the Xhosa culture if you have not been to the mountain there are things that you cant talk about, there are people that you can’t confront at the level of discussion but with hip hop as a modern, cosmopolitan culture within a broader culture of SA and the world, affords you this opportunity to (once in a while) find freedom at the level of expression where you can say what ever you want provided that you know what you are talking about and provided that you are not encroaching on the freedoms of other people. And I make a provocative claim that Hip Hop is more progressive than our tribal cultures.

Melanin Fam

Was it a choice to rap in vernac ?

Nce: Well Isixhosa is the mother tongue so it comes first. And also as someone who lives in a country that predominately for business and other similar things speaks English, it also comes across but Isixhosa is the language “esiyincanca ebeleni”. It’s easier for you to express yourself in your own language provided if you didn’t attend those multi-racial schools (like us). It was always gonna be too difficult to just njeeee rap in English when you are just still struggling to grasp the language yabo.

Freeze: But you also need to understand that we are not limited, we don’t rap in isiXhosa only. We always try to keep a balance though. Even if you would listen to our first mixtape Times Have Changed we try to keep a balance and try to deal with the colonial aspects of language.

Nce: There is this language that was forced on us [English] that whether we like it or not is here and we cannot ignore. So we used it as a way of crossing the tribal divisions for example you cannot speak to someone who is coloured using only isiXhosa. So what we do is also try to Africanize English, like they do in Jamaica with patois, which speaks of the real realities of Jamaican life.

Do you think the challenges faced by vernac rappers are different to that of English rappers in SA? 

Freeze: To me Mcees are so arrogant you know. It doesn’t matter if you rhyme in English or Isixhosa or whatever. The challenges are when ever someone starts rhyming in English they then have a problem with isiXhosa or other indigenous languages. Hip Hop started and is currently dominated by America who obviously spit in English.

Nce: The other thing is, the language issue in Hip Hop is a broader societal issue. It goes back to decolonization and how language plays a role in decolonizing the African minds and black minds. English is not the problem, as Freeze said it doesn’t matter what language you rhyme in, what matters is what you are saying. The point is the aesthetics – urapper kanjani and what are you saying. You can talk with the deepest Xhosa ever (esona sixhosa sinzulu) saying that the people in Marikanna brought that massacre upon themselves, which is a problem. So not always the case that if you speak isiXhosa then you are speaking something worthwhile. Also not saying that if you rap in English you are international. The problem with some hip hop heads is that they look upon rappers that don’t necessarily rap in English as not having a universal appeal and that’s not the case… To us Jargon is about substance, we want to create music that has a substance and a lasting legacy.

Freeze: there is a line in a song in Times have changed where Nce says “its not about what you know, its about how you flow, its not about how you flow its about what you know” meaning you have to keep it balanced, if you just flow with out any content, ungenanto oza nayo then there is a problem and again if you are saying something worthwhile then you need to have a creative way of articulating your massage. As an artist you have to challenge yourself all the time.

You guys are known for your energetic performances, so to you what makes a good performer and performance? 

Nce: Generally a good artist elicits a response and moves you from the beginning, so if an artist is on stage and nothing happens to you and at the back of your mind you are thinking “yey this guy must get off the stage”, then that is a bad artist. Stage presence, confidence, assertiveness.

Freeze: An artist has to have character on stage, move you without you having to sit down and listen, move you and hold you at that instant. Also just the basic fundamentals, an artist must be able to hold a mic, be articulate, audible etc.

So far what are your biggest career highlights?

Nce: our highlights would be sharing a stage with James Matthews – a world renowned poet from the 70’s, performing with Zubz, the launch of our mixtape Too Gifted to Surrender in October last year, the people that we have helped along the way and also how some people related to  our music. Freeze has a story where he was talking to this guy who says he got robbed while listening to one of our songs called Imbandezelo, he was so invested in the music that he didn’t notice the s’kolis  coming to get him. These are the stories that give us the power to go on!


Twitter: @jargonmusicsa

Facebook: Jargon Music

Reverbnation: jargonmusic

Youtube Channel: JargonMusicTV1

SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/jargonmusicsa