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Event Review: Back to the City

 After a number of years of attending festivals you begin to wonder if the festival still has the same appeal or if you’ve fallen into the ho-hum of habitual patronage. Every year, however, I walk out of Back to the City gates at the end of the night begrudgingly, with a sense of wonderment at the marvel of South African hip hop in all its finery but also wishing that it didn’t have to end.

In its 11th year, Osmic Menoe and team put together a cultural masterpiece; a celebration of the love of hip hop in all its facets but, moreover, a space to be yourself, unapologetically so.

The festival lit up three stages. While the main stage held the attraction of the industry’s biggest names, the smaller stages showcased industry gems. The Play 10k challenge was a competition for MC’s and producers to showcase their talents with the top 8 submissions battling it out on the day and was won by producer Speeka and rapper Froz.

As a showcase of all facets of hip hop culture, there were graffiti artists painting 12 of the concrete pillars under the M1 highway in real time; b-boy dance crew battles; a basketball court with male, female, and wheelchair teams; and a thrift market of various urban culture inspired merchandise stalls.

Back to the music, the main stage’s international attractions were Cappadonna, Skyzoo, and Apollo Brown. As unclear as Cappadonna’s affiliation to Wu-Tang is as an official member, so was the confusion surrounding him performing their biggest hits viz. C.R.E.A.M. In an interview with EWN last year, Osmic said “The aim of bringing these international artists has always been to try and bolster a synergy between our local markets and international markets. It’s there for the younger generation to learn, because the younger generation can get a little bit naïve where they think the world starts and ends with a Drake. Before there was a Drake there was also these guys and these are the guys that have propelled the culture to get to where it is today.”

On the local front, the line-up was spectacular. The more memorable performances were those of Rouge, Priddy Ugly, Youngsta, the Fresh 2 Def collective and Family Tree. The boy doing things, A-Reece, gave the best performance I’ve seen of him to date, and Big Zulu stole the show with one of the best performances of the night.

In response to Stogie T’s interview on V-Entertainment the previous evening calling Tito Mboweni ‘trash’, Cassper treated us to a few lyrical gems off his new album Thuto and said “Even though these niggas is talking shit, calling my songs trash, we still got the biggest song in the country mother******” before shutting the venue down with an incredible performance of Tito Mboweni.

Zola 7’s performance of his biggest kwaito hits and DJ Khenzero’s set introduction of Phuzekhemisi’s Imbizo and Mbongeni Ngema’s Stimela were a few of the elements of the festival that showed the eclectic nature of influences on South African hip hop and how uniquely distinguished it is.

Where previous years’ events had a few administrative and line-up snags, this particular execution seemed to go down without a hitch. The atmosphere was electric, even in the haze of the seemingly permanent cloud of kush the event was cloaked in. People braved the autumn bite and came out in their thousands for the love of hip hop. It’s no coincidence that the festival is held on Freedom Day; it’s a celebration of freedom of expression, freedom of the arts, and is worthy of the title of the biggest hip hop event in Africa.

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