It’s Bigger Than HipHop

Goabaone Zeus Bantsi

“It’s bigger than HipHop” — a powerful and definitive declaration from the cult classic “Let’s Get Free” album by Dead Prez is a phrase that resonates with my journey. Comprised of two wordsmiths M1 and Stic, this revolutionary African American duo of politically conscious MCs, gave me a new take on what I thought the Hip hop culture was as a young man. One of the key things that has set HipHop apart as a genre is that it is way more than just a genre but a culture that consists of different elements and lifestyle aspects.
In my first article in this series, I spoke about what it means to me to be an artist in 2017. In my attempts to share my own experiences, I realised in hindsight that what artists internationally, continentally, regionally and locally are doing goes way beyond music and has become part of value proposition that they offer. Hip Hop entrepreneur heroes like Jay Z, Diddy and Dre who year after year top Forbes wealthiest rappers list without releasing albums. These icons have transferred the goodwill around their personal brands to a long list of successful commercial products, through endorsements for some of the biggest brands and companies on the planet, as well as more recently and very importantly I might add; building their own. I did not get to speak of their influence beyond business which now stretches into politics, philanthropy and civic leadership. I did not mention mega producer/artist Kanye West and his multiple sneaker line successes first with Nike and now with Adidas. Will-I-Am designing for Lexus and Swizz Beatz for Reebok. Not so long ago the legendary Wycelf Jean ran for president in Haiti. These artists are lobbyists, activists, film makers, designers, brand consultants, influencers (real ones), thought leaders and more. They are not the only ones, nor are they the first ( for example, Ray Charles). They are literally taking the “artist career beyond art” model to new heights.
The sentiments from the song, as well as the lives of these exemplary Hip Hop artists speaks to the very roots of why the culture was born in inner city ghettos by marginalised young people. They are descendants from generations of other marginalised people, and they constantly remind me of my role and purpose as a Hip Hop artist in the blessed and cursed original home of all across the black diaspora.
It is quite clear that many international artists of this modern era reflect this multi-skilled ability and holistic approach to life that allows them to be so much more. I say so much more with caution because the ability to make music on its own is a talent worthy of celebration and recognition from any society. Progressive countries know and encourage this, hence why someone can carry the professional title of songwriter for example, and be protected by private and public institutions that allow them to earn respect and a living as one. Not every artist will go beyond art, the same way that not every employed person can be an entrepreneur even with all the qualifications in the world. But for those who seek more career and personal fulfilment, there are several avenues that allow for them to reach their untapped potential as socially engaged/entrepreneurial creative industry and civil society leaders.
In Africa, and specifically Botswana, we have our own examples of artists that display several abilities beyond what they have become popularly known for. Yet, our society still does not seem to grasp or understand the connection between their core business and these other outlets not just for their creativity or talent but their brands. Not so long ago, Kast turned his vision of having a line-up that consisted strictly of Botswana artists serve as the main attraction for a stadium size audience. A vision many thought was impossible in a market that has become known to be keener on seeing foreign talent, including B-list candidates than its own A-list artists. In mobilising support for the event, he became a martyr and inspired different corners of our society. A lot can be said about the shortcomings of the event and whether in the end it met other key objectives he originally set like ending the exploitation of Batswana artists, but that is another discussion for another day.
The point for now is the leadership and management ability Tshepiso “Kast” Molapisi displayed in not only sharing a vision, but working with and through people to bring it to life. Again, I do not ignore the fact that a lot still needs to be done by all stakeholders to improve the standards of our event management industry to ensure safety, sustainability and fairness in all its dealings as we have been tragically reminded recently at another stadium held music event. My proposal is that artists like Kast and others who are proven organisers have been able to shift the status quo using skills beyond their more popular role as artists, and those at the helm of trying to drive these same objectives in the public and private sector should be working more in partnership with such individuals. Kast is not new to trying to create social change. He has a long track record including working in the non-governmental organisation space through his own foundation.
Another great example of a multi-skilled artist is Eureka. Through his alliance with the incredible Urban Soul brand, he opened a new store for the dynamic business in what seems to be a partner/franchisee capacity. Eureka went on to establish his presence in the urban fashion and apparel space by developing his own brand “Real Legends” which is now one of Urban Souls most successful Botswana brands and is constantly growing with new additions to their product line. So, while he has been on a musical hiatus like I have, he has been developing other related products that speak to other parts of the culture that keep him relevant even to music audiences while building a following with niches who are more passionate about other aspects of it like fashion.
I feel like I have had a very similar experience with Jam For Brunch which turns 3 years old in November and has grown into everything that I had hope it would when I joined my two partners after the first pilot event they had. Over the years we have built a strong following, strategic partnerships with reputable blue chip brands and even created a Sunday picnic day/food event trend while at it. I cannot wait for the next steps we take with this venture as to me it represents the chance to be a part of something that grows much bigger than yourself and can outlast even your own existence. In 2017, a discography is not the only way to build an artist’s legacy.
There are many other artists and DJs in Botswana who I could mention including Boogie Sid and his accomplishments in eventing working alongside some of the biggest brands and institutions in the country, to DJ Izzy (formerly known as T-Izzy) and his annual Hotness In The Cold initiative which has been one of the most consistent and creative social good campaigns for some years now.
The greatest artists are people who have an extraordinary capacity to build and share vision with others. This trait alongside an innate connection to emotion, passion and people makes them amazing champions for causes from social change to even mindless consumerism. Many organisations in Botswana have been aware of this and hence the campaign theme song syndrome and attempts at deriving the value of artists by putting their faces on campaigns without fair reward or true alignment. For those seeking a better way to do this, I say do not just engage artists in a “smile and wave” kind of manner. They are much more strategic, creative and capable than you ever imagined. For the artists themselves, I will borrow the famous United States Army recruitment slogan: “Be all you can be”. Being able to sing, rap, dance, DJ, play an instrument and other talents does not mean that is all you can do, even if you are exceptional at it.