My earliest memory of hearing local female rap music was listening to Goddessa’s feel good beat “Mindz Ablaze” about 10 years ago. Fast forward to December 2016 and the trio of #femrappers were celebrated with a lifetime achievement award at the SA Hip Hop Awards. But, if you had to randomly ask any young South African to name the greatest local rappers of all time off the top of their head, my guess would be that names like Cassper Nyovest, AKA, HHP, Tumi Molekane, Brasse vannie Kaap and Khuli Chana would be top of their mind. The reality is that success and notoriety in the rap world is still firmly associated with men, both in SA and abroad. All you really need to do to test this view is to repeat my earlier question, but, exchange the word “local” with “international”. This became very clear to me after I watched the Netflix series “Hip Hop Evolution”, a four part documentary on the birth and evolution of hip hop, where not a single female rapper was interviewed. Not one. This begs the question, even though women in rap music may be recognized with awards and accolades, why is it acceptable for their stories to be overlooked when documenting history? As one of the characters from ‘Hidden Figures’ so aptly articulated, “Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line. Every time.”
Underground rapper, Dope Saint Jude, brings a breath of fresh air to this debate, having developed a talent for songwriting and rapping growing up in the Cape Flats. Her music engages her audience on topics ranging from feminism to race, and township life to queer culture. In addition, she delivers each line with sheer brilliance, bravado and beauty. Listening to songs like Realtalk and Xxplosive serves as a reminder that local #femrap can not only feel good, but also spark a level of consciousness that only a woke twenty-something year old South African can provoke. This year, Dope Saint Jude will be performing at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on Saturday 1 April 2017, and she’ll be among a coveted lineup of international and local legendary musicians including: En Vogue; Tom Misch; Laura Mvula and Thandiswa Mazwai.
MR: I love how you’ve described yourself in other interviews as “a student, a thug, a rapper, a hustler, an activist, a producer, a community worker, a filmmaker, a party animal, a lover, a sista and a BOSS B****!” With all those titles, what has been your biggest accomplishment to date?
DSJ: I believe that the most important accomplishment one can achieve is to find true fulfillment. I have managed to feel fulfilled this last while. Feeling fulfilled is not informed by the validation of others, because when you are alone with yourself and your thoughts, you need to able to sit in that silence, without distraction, and be happy with the person you are. I struggled for a long time to find that peace with myself but I have slowly learnt to master it.
MR: You seem to be thriving in the local and international underground hip hop scene. Do you plan to remain an underground artist?
DSJ: I am an underground artist mostly because I have not had the resources to be in the main stream yet. I also believe that it is easier to produce authentic and honest art while still in the underground. I have no real intention of remaining in the underground. My intention is to continue to create art that is authentic, honest and relevant.
MR: Gender, sexuality and intersectionality are prominent themes in your music, performance and style. How did you discover your artistic niche?
DSJ: These are themes that colour my life daily, so I found it fitting to speak on them. From the beginning, and because of my personality, I was adamant that my work always be a reflection on my perspective. This is how I found my groove. I also draw my creative inspiration from books, my environment, my feelings and basically anything that makes me feel some sort of way.
Photography by: Thandi Gula Ndebele
MR: You’re currently touring internationally, what have you learnt on the road that you think has made you a better performer and artist?
DSJ: I have learnt that discipline is important. It is easy to get caught up in the “glamour” of touring, but it is important that you stay focused in order to deliver the best performance. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but it’s good to understand your limits. I have also learnt to be more open to people and their different approaches to the world.
MR: I recently watched a Netflix documentary called “Hip Hop Evolution”. While I thought it was a fascinating and educational documentary, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of women contributing to the story. In fact, the only woman mentioned in the entire documentary is Sylvia Robinson- who was the commercial genius behind the Sugar Hill Gang. What do you think this says about the way stories are being told, even about recent history? How can young women avoid being the “hidden figures” of history?
DSJ: This we see in all of our history. Women are excluded from the narrative so much of the time. But, this is changing and with the emergence of social media, it is a lot easier for women to archive their contributions and create platforms that celebrate women and their accomplishments. This is precisely what your platform does. I know that the more we continue to create and collaborate on these platforms, the less we become “hidden figures”.
Photography by: Thandi Gula Ndebele
The rap industry is but one case where women’s contributions and stories are still marginalized when it counts the most. Most, if not, all industries have unsung heroines who saw their talents as a tool to innovate in their field and serve humanity, despite the significant obstacles of prejudice. Dope Saint Jude is an example of how important it is for young women to keep telling our stories, creating our own platforms and be our own BOSS B****. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I encourage you to find the hidden figures that have shaped your industry and/or organisation and allow yourself to dream even bigger about the mark you want to make in your field. After all, as someone once said, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Article by: Magcino Radebe | Mbewu Movement Founding Member
Magcino Radebe holds a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (University of Cape Town). She is an Executive Assistant in Financial Services