#ZimHipHop and the Diaspora Watch — Should Rappers Outside The Country Return For Increased Relevance?

By Takudzwa Kadzura

The issue of Zim Hip Hop and the diaspora is reminiscent of the 60s and 70s, when ZIPRA and ZANLA sent gallant sons for advanced militia training to countries such as China, Russia and Cuba. The Chimurenga liberation struggle, a yesteryear tragedy and today’s memory is in no doubt the zenith of all Shona/Ndebele revolutions.

zim hip hip diaspora 2021

The diaspora/international community immensely contributed towards improving the black man’s odds against a relentless and properly equipped Smith’s Rhodesian army. So here is another illustration of the journey motif and diaspora influence.

In the post-war independent Zimbabwe, so many people have evacuated and fled to different parts of the world. Despite successfully logging off the harsh realities of Zimbabwean citizenry, most have kept their identity vivid. Be it nurses, social workers or sportsmen who ply their trade beyond our borders we still see them via social media proudly waving the colorful flag.

So proud that it can be mistaken for mockery or as if a prisoner who has been granted amnesty. Which is not the case anyway!

The Zimbabwean hip hop scene celebrates artists who are scattered across the globe for representing the motherland. Based on their proximity we actually expect more from these guys considering our view of the diaspora for instance quality studio equipment, production standards and so forth.

In the iconic raps of Tendai Ryan Nguni [Tehn Diamond], it is quoted, “hip hop came from abroad and we honor it”. His name can still be found in the first batch of Zimbabwean rappers abroad. It has been documented that Tehn dropped out of school in Australia to fulfill a mandate for not any longer he could hide from the truth.

He had to pen a version of his story which initially might have fallen onto the wrong cynical ears and critically delayed a form of acceptance within the confines of our music industry thus one must always know the terrain for hip hop stars has always bumpy.

So much can be derived from his mic-inspired repatriation which without disputing became a fairytale. Again, this is reminiscent of the 20th century black empowerment movements (spearheaded by the likes of Marcus Garvey and later on, establishment of the notion Pan Africanism) when repatriation to Africa received mixed feelings amongst the negroes.

Why would Tehn Diamond abandon the diaspora privileges? This piece is aware of the varying circumstances artists find themselves and will attempt to highlight the material realities of diaspora Zimbabwean hip hop artists in their different contexts.

Artists in the Diaspora vis-à-vis Local Artists

A change in time and disruptive technological advancements have leveled the playing ground for artists in the diaspora who envision to make an impact in their homeland. From Vengere, Rusape we can watch a premiere set in California and it translates to better vicissitudes of being foreign-based.

What then becomes the selling point of an artist based in the diaspora? Is it superb lyricism or super-mellifluous vocals or sound – sonically appealing music? Most Zimbabwean hit songs are composed in a way that relates to a mother and all her offspring. Music that a cheating guy can play to all his four girlfriends at different intervals and his music taste becomes an icing on the cake.

What happens in this vexing cut-throat industry is that there are many (infinite, precisely) talented kids and it’s a heartbreaking predicament that a few special ones get a mbinga endorsement.

On the flip side, blessed is the artist who quickly identifies their uniqueness and exploits it, without being pressed to please large audiences – so this equally applies to diaspora and local artists in the same breadth (a local artist whose levels matches a diaspora artist will create magic together). VI THE LAW’s Van Choga remix, which impressively features diaspora-based rappers Kuda K and Chief Chino then stands out. (It’s always the ‘crazy guys’ or the unconventional ones who find their way out).

Therefore, artists who unapologetically expose their true-self and essence become accessible to the masses via their music. Go-harder or go-home type of vibe in the streets.

Impact for the Homeland, or for the Foreign Land?

The plight of Zimbabwean hip hop artists in the diaspora is heightened by the incessant demands of Zimbabweans who, like war mongers, have machetes in their undergarments ready to strike your neck if you do not voice out their concerns.

It’s like that relationship between a taxpayer and their government. However hip hop being a popular culture world-wide, highly infectious, the genre has claimed a fair share of listenership in the last 3-5 years. This implies that artists have been presented with a chance to create a niche for their products. This is again a fate that awaits artists in the diaspora. And this phenomenon will always be unevenly distributed – a certain diaspora artist will have wide listenership in Zimbabwe while another will struggle. Another will find a niche in the diaspora country where they are based, and another will struggle to even please such a fanbase.

Year in year out, promoters in the diaspora invite a line-up of Zimbabwean artists to come and perform for homesick tenants. Hence, there is a keen audience for Zimbabwean content all over the world. The fate for rappers in the diaspora mirrors bits of identity crisis. Perhaps one could refer to Dambudzo Marechera whose manuscripts publishers at Hennemann deemed him unfit for the African Writer Series.

One can actually adopt the foreign style of hip hop that reflects the commercialized versions of global north hip hop, and artists are at great liberty to purely portray the art they deem sound for their interests. The risk being that they [diaspora-based artists] can also be absorbed in those foreign cultures to such an extent that the Zimbabwean image is totally erased.

Zim Hip Hop Artists Based in South Africa

Yung Tyran is a good example of Zimbabwean hip hop artists who did not struggle to settle in the SA hip hop scene.

His magic trick was to tap in the style adopted by most young rappers that include A-Reece, Nasty C, Flame, Krish, Shane Eagle, etc. – it is a style relevant for South African audiences, and for Zimbabwean audiences too because the latter are familiar with vast discographies of South African hip hop.

On parallel lines is Joburg-based Mlue Jay who has remained in firm touch with the Zimbabwean hip hop turf. His style is not even alien to South African and Zimbabwean audiences (check his song Safe featuring VIC Jita and Sykotek).

Mlue has enjoyed a stellar 2021 following the release of Donatella, an album named after his daughter. The video for his song 24/7 which features local hip hop act Dakid Verse was shot over two mighty cities, Johannesburg and Harare, and such kinds of chemistry are exciting to witness.

Long serving beat tycoon and rapper Mclyne Beats signed for Masterminds Records last year and has since sent back home two solid projects Formula EP and an album (Luv Remedy II) this year. Mclyne Beats is the craftsman behind many Probeatz’s projects lately and features on the hit Ibanga Iroro.

GT Beats is another prominent artist in SA who mostly plies as a producer made a popular appearance in the Simudza Gumbo collaboration with Crooger and Kikky Badass. Crooger hinted on leaving Zimbabwe for SA in the song Egoli from his latest album Kongrete Jungle highlighting the material benefits of hustling in the City of Gold. He was also behind Jnr Brown’s Baba Bona.

Notable (Non-South Africa) Diaspora-based Artists Rocking 2021

Amongst the conspicuous productions of 2021 in the diaspora are Inside A Panoramic by a producer named Zee and Kuda Verse by Kuda K aka ‘Muyera Dragon’. The latter exhibited some exceptional style of rap (a story well told). There have been several drill projects by fellow UK-based Chief Chino.

Zee in Cyprus assembled rappers and singers of various strengths to come up with a powerful debut EP. He spoke to us, “[A]s for my target; I’m not really targeting any particular audience at the moment. I don’t wanna box myself into one lane so to speak. I’m just gonna keep making the music I feel like making. Obviously, I know though that for commercial success here in Zim, probably more vernacular-centric songs would be the way to go, I’m not opposed to that, but it’s not something I want to be restricted by”.

More Solidarity Needed With The Diaspora

The culture is alive and revered, whether one is in the homeland or in a foreign land. Zimbabwe, like the days of our liberation struggle, still has cadres scattered across the planet who have not lost their cultural and contextual relevance but still march on, alarmed by the echoes of our wailings in a neoliberal Zimbabwe.  

Is there need for these rappers to come back and fully navigate the music scene with much context like what Tehn did? The discussion could be longer…what would suffice is that with our existing material realities – those in the diaspora and those in the homeland – there is greater need for more honesty to have unbreakable solidarity in taking the game forward. It is solidarity with each other that we need - geographical locations are secondary.

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