Artist Spotlight: Donne Jovi delivers his ode to the North with 'Kill Your Darlings EP'


WHEN DJ Kool Herc hosted that house party in Brooklyn in 1973, chances are he didn't expect it to be the start of a cultural movement that would spread worldwide. 

Fifty years later, thanks to (or woe to?) the internet, American hip hop culture has seeped into the Zimbabwean social fabric—from the language, to the clothing, to the mannerisms, right down to the music. This is nothing new really.

Ask the OG's, the influence has always been there. From the days of Biggie, 2Pac, Lil Wayne and 50 Cent, American hip hop has somewhat guided Zim Hip Hop's evolution. From the urban grooves days to Stunner, Maskiri, Few Kings, Mariachi, and the mainstream superstars of our time, all these are heavily influenced by American hip hop culture. 

Same as American hip hop, subgenres have emerged in Zim Hip Hop. Some have added their own twist to the original boom-bap rap, using our own languages, blending sungura, afro beats, and even dancehall.

Lyricism: From Underappreciated to Mainstream

Surely, Zim Hip Hop has now evolved into its own distinct sound, and one subgenre has endured—somewhat the closest distillation of the American rapper.

This is the punchline rapper, delivering catchy bars on a hardcore beat, English the usual language of choice—for effect. 

Punchline rap is considered one of the subgenres of Zim Hip Hop, but has always suffered a somewhat underwhelming response from music fans. Lyricism just doesn't have the mainstream appeal it should have. 

For too long, the punchline rapper has been subjugated to the dark corridors of 'underground' and given the terrible tag of 'boring'. Not anymore. 

Thankfully, a new crop of lyricists have emerged in Zim Hip Hop. The punchline rapper of our time is able to stay true to the essence of hip hop whilst still managing to be thoroughly entertaining . 

And the industry has been taking notice, hasn't it? Just look at what the lyricists are doing. 

We spoke to one of Harare's top punchline rappers as he makes his much anticipated return to the scene. 

Donne Jovi
Multi-faceted creative Donne Jovi

Meet Donne Jovi—Joina Jamz Radio co-founder, actor, performer, and radio personality. 

He had this to say about lyricists' place in Zim Hip Hop; "Malcom Mufunde just won album of the year. Artists like RayKaz are getting more popular. Artists like VI THE LAW, Mvpani and Gold Furnace are now reverred. There’s never been a more competitive time for lyricism in Zim rap."

The Colonisers' Language Conundrum 

Most of the ugly stereotypes have been melting away, and the punchline rapper is now firmly in the spotlight of Zim Hip Hop. 

Still, one issue remains. English—the coloniser's language. The general sentiment is that the English rapper can't (or doesn't want to) resonate with the average Zimbabwean. 

English is a second language to most Zimbabweans. Most use their own languages in conversation, for comfort and convenience.  

English is usually used in professional spaces, and this is where the problem arises. A language has inadvertently become a status symbol. Thus, a form of expression is now (wrongly) associated with a negative stereotype. 

"Sad reality is artists can only have so much control over how they are received. North Samora artists will always be seen as snobs, no matter how sincere. The English artist has to deal with people who probably see them as privileged," explains Donne Jovi. 

But should it even matter? If Zimbabwean hip hop fans can enjoy American hip hop, why can't they enjoy English Zim Hip Hop? 

This is the angle that Donne Jovi encourages his fellow compadres to tackle this thorny issue from. He says, "English rappers have to be just as compelling and creative as American and UK creatives. They also have to strike a balance and meet both worlds (local and international) halfway."

One might think Donne Jovi is too far removed from the realities of the average Zimbabwean, but he believes the English rapper still has a role to play. "English artists need to realize they are ambassadors of our local stories. They showcase their talents and tell our stories to the rest of the world at large. Because we can’t fight the disposition," he declares. 

Kill Your Darlings EP: As North As It Gets

Kill Your Darlings EP

Donne Jovi has been playing his part in telling the Zimbabwean story worldwide through his talents. His foray into American hip hop started in 2020 when he submitted his music to radio stations in Atlanta and New York. He started getting radio play and interviews that gave him an opportunity to connect with artists in the USA. 

His latest offering is an Extended Play called Kill Your Darlings, released on 1 December. There's features from two Americans. One is a playful skit from an adult entertainment star called Notmyequal on Mz Dani.

The other is from a Virginia based hip hop artist called STM Kapone who reached out to Donne Jovi after coming across his music on local radio. They linked up on social media, and gradually developed a brotherhood, which has culminated in Twin Turbo, the EP's outro.  

STM Kapone
Virginia-based rapper STM Kapone

Donne Jovi describes how the collaboration came about, "So one person that really approached me was an Artist called The Wicked Twin (fka STM Kapone) we got locked in some time in 2021. From that we spoke a lot developed a real friendship. I’m not allowed to speak on why it took so long to get us to work together but the moment he was free we got back in touch and we made Twin Turbo together."

Twin Turbo wraps up a solid seven track EP that is an easy 22 minute listen, pregnant with catchy punchlines, potent flow, and infectious beats. The majority of the project is produced by  AB3L X and Cheng. 

Nag Beats lends his hand for the intro titled Barbossa (Kill Your Darlings). Donne Jovi makes sure to start strong, delivering catchy punchlines as expected. Lyrics like, 'Since time don't wait for no man, so I won't wait for permission' already hint the theme for Kill Your Darlings— cutthroat. 

Cheng takes over at 1:34 with a sublime beat switch that ups the tempo of an already uptempo song. 

The only Shona you hear on Kill Your Darlings is a hook by Qoph on the catchy second song titled Splash. The sing-along chorus goes like: 'Tomwa Zambezi kusvika yaaKariba', clever and relatable. The song is complete with the infectious beat from AB3L X, and punchline deliveries by Donne Jovi. Splash standouts as the easy-listen party track of the EP.   

AB3L X and Cheng show their prowess and keep bringing in the perfect beats for Donne Jovi to glide on. On Guka T, they deliver an omnious beat that Donne Jovi effortlessly decimates. At this third song of the EP, it becomes clear that Donne Jovi's bag of lyrics is bottomless. 

A funny skit starts Mz Dani, but the sensual guitar strum used on the beat make it sound like a love song, by Donne Jovi's standard. The song diverts from the hype of the preceding three songs, and sounds more like an interlude.  

If Mz Dani is the interlude, then Thr33z Company is a great fifth song. The song features upcoming female rapper Gwaapp Million, and it definitely gives off club banger vibes. The 19 year old rapper delivers a City Girls-esque hook which compliments Donne Jovi's two verses perfectly. 

The penultimate song on the EP is titled Hearse, such a personal song. Here, Donne Jovi reminisces and laments on the realities he finds himself in, not just as an artist, but as a person. Donne Jovi sheds off the bravado displayed throughout the EP to show us that he's human after all.

Final Thoughts

Kill Your Darlings is as personal as it is commercial, relatable as it is disconnected, Zim as it is hip hop. The title is inspired by literature lore, where writers eliminate parts of their writing that do not serve their storytelling. 

"For me this project was talking about taking out the elements of my diary that don’t serve me anymore," says Donne Jovi. 

Donne Jovi
Hard times make for great EP's 

Thus the making of Kill Your Darlings was therapy for Donne Jovi. The result is a distillation of the range of emotions he felt for most of the year. 

"This project was less calculated but more about chasing a feeling. I lost my little brother early this year so, but I’m not ready to do a song about him. Rather, I did songs about what inspired the escape from my grief," he says. 

This is the dawn of a new era, after a two year hiatus for the 2022 Zim Hip Hop Awards nominated rapper. His performance at Noble Stylz' Bars on Bars on Bars Rap League (on 25 November) confirmed that Donne Jovi is back and here to stay.

As for this year's Zim Hip Hop Awards, Donne Jovi considers it a fair nomination list that recognised everyone who's been playing a part to build Zim Hip Hop. And not just the mainstream players. 

"I think this year has the fairest nominations list. It was good to watch rappers like REAP3R and blogs like The CuratorZW get the recognition they deserve," says Donne Jovi. No comment on the award winners though.

He shares the industry's general sentiment that this is a purple patch for Zim Hip Hop, but not to go as far as calling it a 'golden era'. There's still need for infrastructure and resources that allow for the industry to perpetually discover talent and create great stories. 

"It’s the best it’s ever been but it still has a long way to go. Too many untold stories, too much undiscovered talent. Most of all, a lot of the structures need different characters and resources," he quips. 

Ultimately, Donne Jovi hopes his music will grant him immortality. Above all, he wants to inspire the next generation, saying;

"I want to show them I’m timeless. Set the standard like the greats did before me. Sometimes the best thing you can give the newer generation is a level to live up to, an example to follow, goals of longevity. That’s what Winky D did. That’s what Noble Stylz is doing. That’s what imma do, you feel me?"

If immortality is what he's after, then Kill Your Darlings is a great first step for Donne Jovi. Here is a future classic that is right in touch with the source—America, yet still rooted to Donne Jovi's homeland—Zimbabwe, something for the party, something if you're feeling sentimental, something for the radio, his ode to the North. 

You can listen to the 2023 latest ZimHipHop project Kill Your Darlings EP by Donne Jovi on Spotify and YouTube; and share with the world your thoughts. 

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