EVERY so often, along comes an artiste who stops you in your tracks and grabs your attention. To quote JAY Z, first they “snatch the streets”, then they “snatch” your heart. One cannot help feeling this way while listening to Asaph, one of Zimbabwe hip-hop’s biggest voices of the last couple of years.
By Admire Kudita
Big in terms of achievement at the awards (which seem like now the only other objective criteria of musical greatness aside from crowds who attend shows consistently) in a country which is struggling with economic challenges.
Inspired by Coca-Cola’s Flavour Dome around the year 2002, the prepubescent Asaph then finishing primary school at Bulawayo’s Hillside Primary School was angling to attend private school at Petra High and typically want something to make him fit in with the crowd and look cool. But rap was to become an opportunity to ride to fame and stake a claim as hip-hop’s new messiah (with Kingpin now gone). Riding on his chart-topping hit Vibe is Correct, Asaph, born Takudzwa Tarukwana, some “twenty something” years ago, is an artiste with bright prospects.
Decked out in hoody and jeans in line with the hip-hop genre’s sub-culture he says matter-of-factly: “To me hip-hop is a lifestyle, hip-hop is a culture. Hip-hop is a certain identity for people to find belonging to. The reason I got into hip-hop was it wasn’t even about music at first. Yes, I liked the music but when I was seeing the visuals of the music, I thought it was something to get into, to make me look cool. My dad bought a Wiztech decoder, and we plugged it in. The first thing I saw was Snoop Dogg and Pharrell on Flavour Dome . . . I knew that was it. I was just identifying myself with the culture.”
Hip-hop has come a long way since its genesis on the streets of America’s inner city projects of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens in New York. Its pioneering artistes, the significant ones, such as Kool Herc and KRS, one being of Jamaican origin, have spawned a sub-culture steeped in a view of the world in which urban youths are able to define themselves according to its credo of self-assertion and braggadocio.
At that superficial level, it does seem like an ego trip — the late Muhammad Ali being its spiritual father and the deceased soul music legend James Brown being its groove doctor.
The genre has travelled but, originally, in songs such as The Message (29 million views on YouTube) by Grandmaster Flash, the genre spoke to the challenges of inner city life in New York’s underbelly. The song chronicles those Reagan-era years with a stark realism that does one better than what any newspaper ever could, which is to make the hard knock life sound heroic. The Bouncy Ditty written by Sylvia Robinson, Clifton “Jiggs” Chase, Melvin Glover and Edward Fletcher has been hailed by some as the greatest hip-hop song ever.
What does Asaph want to achieve with rap?
“I want to be the biggest hip-hop artiste in Zimbabwe and perform on all the biggest stages. I want to be able to make a bit of money from it. At the end of the day, I want my impact in Zimbabwe music to be felt that when I leave I want to be remembered like Tuku.”
Last year, Asaph won the outstanding hip-hop awards for both the Zimbabwe Hip-Hop Awards and Bulawayo Arts Awards. Once again, at the recently held Bulawayo Arts Awards, a crowd favourite, he won the gong again, leaving competition trailing in the dust. His hit song off the album People’s Rapper titled Vibe Is Correct has a kwaito-inflected groove upon which he rides and flows with the self-assuredness and authority of one who has a sense of mission.
Talking about his influences, he says “I admire Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake who has transcended hip-hop. In Africa, it’s AKA, Tehn Diamond, MC Chita who has managed to stay relevant and Kingpin when it comes to the rapping. If you look at the time that I heard his song, it was way before I ever knew about hip-hop . . . The first time I heard I Salute You, to me reminded me of NAS and Common. Even the subject matter, I think it was what impacted me to say that you needed to be real with the music and if there is something that is happening with the people who you say are your people as Zimbabweans , you have to put it in your music. I really liked what he was doing. It felt like someone had to continue with that work that he started.”
But hip-hop, over time, has been glossed over. The text has changed to reflect the genre’s mainstream acceptance which has rewarded some of its leading exponents financially. But they are just a few. The rest have to do with the music industry’s shiny ball of illusion. The videos reflect aspiration rather than reality for the most part. Asaph is aware of the stark difference between the glow on stage of the adulation of fans and just being ordinary citizens trying to make ends meet in the concrete jungle.
“Whatever affects me, whatever I come across in life, that’s what will come through in the music. I think that’s why I made The People’s Rapper. I just felt like there is lots of hopelessness. Because even for me sometimes, even when we win awards and kill a performance, you come back to that thing of what’s next? Where people say, ‘You know you are very talented, but it’s just that you are in Zim’. So I really feel like a lot of people are in a hopeless state. Ummm, yes, we keep going everyday, waking up, going to work, but there is no real hope or aspiration for something bigger in life. It’s just to survive, get to the next day until things are okay. So I won’t lie, that’s what’s on my mind to say ‘how can we make a way?’,” says the young rapper, who carries the mantle of being the gifted voice of a generation of this nation’s young people who are caught in the maelstrom of socio-political turmoil.
True to hip-hop’s ancestral calling, Asaph rides the wave of fame built on a lyrical dexterity which would have him stand shoulder-to-shoulder with global stars such as Kendrick Lamar and South Africa’s precocious Nasty C who is gracing global stages. In a sense, he is a successor to the likes of Nasir Jones, Tupac Shakur, Kingpin and, most importantly, the likes of Grandmaster Flash who reigned over the discotheques and urban street parties way before young Asaph was even born in the early 1980s.
The Bulawayo Arts Awards merely confirmed what many in this town and the nation are beginning to come to grips with: Asaph is truly gifted and, with proper handling, his desired collabos with the likes of Nasty C, Winky D and others of that ilk will just be a preamble to a fantastic tale of musical success. Why not?