Cape Town hip-hop got interesting again

The difference between Isaac Mutant and Die Antwoord is that Mutant is the real deal.

Isaac Mutant in a promotional image for "Dookoom."

It has often been said in hip-hop circles in Cape Town that the wildly successful Die Antwoord owe a lot of their success to the Cape Flats rappers that they hung out with just before dropping their breakout album $O$. Isaac Mutant was featured on that album, and he is often credited with being the bra that Waddy Jones (Ninja) got his swag from. Mutant, a veteran of the Cape Town hip-hop scene, has just released a provocative new video called ‘Kak Stirvy’ for a new collaborative project he is fronting called Dookoom, which also features DJ Roach, Spooky and Human Waste (Dplanet).

The video for ‘Kak Stirvy’ is shot in Heinz Park, Cape Town; an area of the Cape Flats which is no stranger to hardship. Mutant has strong ties to this part of town, and even lived here for a time. Immediately something about director/producer Ari Kruger’s video screams Die Antwoord. The dark treatment of the images. A discarded teddy bear. A grim overcast Cape Flats street. Two aging coloured women dressed as playboy bunnies. Mildly disturbing. At times, the video veers into the realm of sensationalism and the glorification of “thug life” the way Die Antwoord does in ‘Evil Boy’ and ‘Fok Julle Naaiers’. The difference between those tracks and ‘Kak Stirvy’ is that Mutant is the real deal:

The production on the track is done by the prolific Pioneer Unit’s Dplanet, and is grimy, electronic and dirty; much like Isaac Mutant’s “I don’t give a fuck” rap persona. In an interview with Rob Cockroft for Mahala, Mutant has explained the word dookoom as “a myth and whatnot…everything negative is associated with dookoom.” While Mutant is not wrong here, it’s a little more complicated than that. The word dookoom, a by-product of the Cape’s slavery history, comes from the Malay word dukun, which is a kind of spiritual healer/witch doctor. In the Southeast Asian context it doesn’t have necessarily negative connotations. In the Cape context the doekoem is seen as a practitioner of black magic and is therefore dangerous. The idea of Malays/Muslims as dangerous was common and held even up until the early 20th century — they were said to curse and poison people, possessing knowledge of “Malay trickery.”

On the Cape Flats, when you ask a girl out and she says no, usually she gets labeled as “kak stirvy”. Literally translated, she’s “shit” uppity — “shit” denoting the degree of her uppitiness. In the track, Mutant refers to himself as “kak stirvy”. Here he is playing with multiple meanings of the word, using it as a way to elevate himself above the regular hip-hop crowd, which he has repeatedly called “boring” in his recent interviews. After years of being an underground MC, Mutant is ready to try new things.

The lyrics and flow of the song are a bit of a departure for Isaac Mutant, who is known for intricate rhyme patterns in deep Cape Afrikaans. On the mic, Mutant is something to behold; he is at once the raw energy of Wu Tang’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard combined with the street poetry of Tupac. On Dookoom, his lyrics are slower and repetitive and a lot of English is thrown in. While he has been one of their main sources of inspiration, here Mutant is taking a lesson from Die Antwoord, who successfully repackaged (and appropriated) Afrikaans rap and brought it to a mainstream audience in South Africa and an indie rap audience worldwide.

In one of his Mahala interviews, Isaac admits: “Lyrically Ninja taught me a lot my bru. Like rounding off shit and stylising punchlines, attitude.” He also mentioned in another interview with Cockroft: “But it’s about stylising, it’s about packaging. Us brasse from the ghetto want to be too complicated, we want to brag the metaphors and brag the fokking lettergrepe (syllables) and the people on the streets can’t understand that kak.” In other words, dumb it down. At least just a little.

It has to be said that part of Die Antwoord’s appeal and curiosity with the public had to do with the absurdity of middle class white South Africans posing as gangsters. It will be interesting to see if Isaac Mutant can replicate their formula combined with actual genuine Cape Flats grittiness, and whether the South African mainstream will be as receptive. Either way, he is definitely on the cusp of something.

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