Words by Glenn Kisela

Hip hop has always held a level of romanticism. It’s carried the hopes of many and provided soundtracks to our deepest yearnings and most audacious dreams. To many people, hip hop has also served as a form of hope, a trait no one has exemplified more locally than Cassper Nyovest. He is undeniably one of the biggest names in South African hip hop, so it should come as no surprise that his dream to fill up the FNB Stadium captured the imagination of the country. His ambitions began with filling up the Ticketpro Dome and Orlando Stadium, both incredible stories that captured the hearts and minds of South Africans.

Photo by Jabu King

Much like his audience, Cassper’s ambitions continued to grow in size and this year he set his eyes on the FNB Stadium with #FillUpFNBStadium. Scepticism in his ability to achieve it was rife and understandably so, no South African artist had ever done so. Despite this, Cassper ended his Fill Up trilogy on a high note and achieved the impossible. Cassper made history by filling up the FNB Stadium and was received in the most incredible fashion. Of the 75 000 seats, Cassper reportedly filled 68 000 and in the eyes of many, that was enough for him to call it a success. What he achieved holds a lot of significance for not just himself, but South African hip hop and the country at large. What he did transcends music.

To begin with, it holds significance for Cassper himself. It validates the self-belief he had in himself to be a crowd pulling superstar. #FillUpFNBStadium brought Cassper personal glory – he’s in the history books and a pioneer in the local hip hop scene. He moved the scene forward and that alone is an achievement worth talking about. The local hip hop community rallied around him with many buying tickets, spreading the word and doing their part for his success. They understood that a win for Cassper would be a win for them as well. He showed what South African artists are capable of without the help of an international act. That’s an important distinction and one that brands and event organisers would do well to note.

Photo by Austin Malema

They don’t need to spend millions in bringing in international acts to sell out stadiums or get people excited. #FillUpFNBStadium showed that South Africans are eager to support one of their own when you have the right narrative. The hip hop community is vibrant and ready to do its part to push each other upwards, to greater success. There is passion, and most importantly talent, that can be utilised in this country without needing to seek external help. It also showcased the power of local stars that brands sometimes underestimate. Brands scramble to have their names next to international acts but when a South African artist attempts to do something great, there are only crickets. That is telling of the corporate world in South Africa and their relationship with hip hop. They will make use of the culture but when it comes to support it, they still prefer to wait for overseas talent or pass up an opportunity to be part of local greatness.

Photo by Austin Malema

Cassper raised the bar for what it means to be a superstar in South Africa. Not in the sense of numbers or size, but in the sense of what you can achieve within the borders. For many, being a superstar means performing overseas and posting up large numbers there and in many ways, that is true. Cassper, however, showed that you can do the same thing in our own backyard and do it like a rockstar. You don’t have to leave the borders of this country to be a force to be reckoned with and create something special. By doing that, he also paved the way for up and coming rappers by redefining what is possible within local hip hop. It shows that there is hunger in this country for its own superstars and that the public is willing to get behind them when you do it right and put in the hard work.

Changing the perception of the hip hop community in the eyes of brands, the public and artists in the scene is significant beyond words. In time we will be able to look back at this moment with more context and hindsight, but a strong argument can be made that Cassper shifted the paradigm for what South African hip hop should look like. It makes the prospects for local hip hop in 2018/19 exciting. It is also a source of inspiration for black South Africans as whole, to aim bigger and believe in themselves.

Photo by Paul Ward

#FillUpFNBStadium showed that just because something has never been done, doesn’t make it impossible. In a country with one of the highest rates of inequality in the world, the odds are largely stacked against people of colour. Everything looks impossible when no one in your family has done it. For many black university students, they are the first in their family to do it, because so much was sacrificed to get them there. For others hoping to do the same, it can be a daunting task that is intimidating to undertake. Seeing a black man do the impossible because of self-belief is powerful. The influence of role models should never be underestimated, especially in a country where people are starved of options. Cassper showed the power that comes when the black community rallies together for something great. He became a reminder that in a world that systematically does its best to keep people of colour down, success is still possible. It’s a powerful reminder and one that will hopefully stay in the minds of many as 2017 comes to a close.

Not everything around #FillUpFNBStadium was positive for black South Africans. The debate around whether Cassper ‘really’ filled up the stadium was trivial at best and arguably disrespectful at worst. Cassper ended 2017 on a high note and he should be nothing but proud of what he has achieved. One concert has done so much to shift the landscape of South African hip hop. There’s no doubt that once the satisfaction settles from this achievement, Cassper will be looking to bigger dreams – and so he should. You would be foolish to bet against the man after all he’s achieved.

Photo by Austin Malema

South African hip hop has come a long way and still has so much to do. Caron Williams has already thrown down the gauntlet, challenging the scene to dig deeper and bring something new. In his own way, you could say that Cassper has done the same with #FillUpFNBStadium, challenging the scene to strive for the impossible and then do it.

The boundaries for what the local hip hop scene can achieve have been pushed. That will inspire Cassper’s competitors to push themselves further. It will create a space for young artists to come up with bigger dreams and more self-belief. It will hopefully be the catalyst that pushes the scene further and in time, put South Africa on the map musically. A black man from Mafikeng changed South African hip hop with a dream many doubted would become a reality – now he has cemented his place as a legend.