Repping your city is far from a novel concept in hip hop. A genre rooted in identity presentation, it’s almost unheard of to *not* let your fans know which city you’re putting up for.
In 2010, Bittereinder released “A Tale of Three Cities” off the album ‘n Ware Verhaal. With all three members of the group coming from Afrikaans-speaking backgrounds but attending English schools, they formed the Afrikaans rap group as a way of rekindling their pride in their mother tongue. The track “A Tale of Three Cities” was one way of expressing that pride, taking three rappers from three different cities with each of them giving us a verse in tribute.
Jaco van der Merwe rapped about his home town of Pretoria, with distinctly archetypal references in lyrics such as “Soos ‘n hoëveldweerligstorm is hierdie stad in my ingebrand/ Kerkorrel se Snor City, Pretoria in my hart.” Tumi Molekane took up the second verse and spoke on Johannesburg with lines such as “Subtle racism, mixed couples, race killings/ Big scuffles, hate lives between that “us and they” shit/ New York of Africa, you saw the traveller, suit on for hustling/ Big apples, hawkers to the corner customers.” Jack Parow wound up the track with his verse speaking on his experience of Cape Town, saying “Dis die plek wat my bou en my maak, my nooit sal verlaat/ My bloed en sweet op die straat, dis die goeie ou Kaap.“
van der Merwe has described the first time he rapped on stage in Afrikaans, and his reconciliation with his language in that medium, as a spiritual experience. “For the first time in my life, I felt that I was not hiding behind something, I was not pretending. It was the purest musical experience I have had and almost a spiritual experience as an artist.”
“A Tale of Three Cities” was one of the vehicles of that experience, taking pride in his language and his city, and inviting other rappers to express experiences of their own.
Fast forward to 2019 and Gigi Lamayne released “Jou Stad” as a teaser track off her project Job Woods, and it features YoungstaCPT and 25k. She’s just released the video for the single last week, feeding into the theme of repping your city.
She starts off her verse with “Heavyweight bars, I hope Stogie gets to hear this” and continues rapping with Soweto in the background of the video during her delivery. The leader of the Y?Gen follows up her verse with a tribute to Cape Town, evident in lyrics such as “When you come to my hood you get a heart attack/ these raps are a Kaapstad starter pack.” 25K rounds up the verses, and is filmed with Atteridgeville, Pretoria in the background. He raps, “I be in the white blocks eating curried kos/ the dark side, mob ties with the drug lords.”
First listening to “Jou Stad” – and then seeing the accompanying video – my mind’s eye was immediately taken back to Bittereinder’s “A Tale of Three Cities.” The similarities are striking, intended or not. But where someone familiar with the two works’ first instinct might to say that one is bitten from the other, I’d like to think that they’re two sides of the same coin.
The obvious similarity is their version of representation in hip hop, spanning three different cities, and having rappers from each city putting up verses speaking on it. Where they differ is the perspective of that representation. Jaco had begun to take pride in his language and used music as a medium for that reconciliation. With Gigi’s track, there seemed a steadfastness in what she already knew to be true – that the streets built this identity – and she brought YoungstaCPT and 25K along for the ride.