“I make lines speak to the heart of the darkness, everything’s hidden, unless you’re listening with your conscious, take and revisit them lyrics to feel the content.”
The greatest emcee from Africa turns 40 years old today. Boitumelo Molekane was born on 16 August 1981 in Tanzania where his parents were exiled. Since then, the South African emcee has lived a rich life, full of meaning and purpose as one of the most important artists of his time; an endeavour he has taken with the utmost seriousness and sincerity. While the enjoyment of music may be fleeting in its nature, there are a few artists whose music transcends trends and fads, artists whose music can impart life long lessons that will never leave a person. Stogie T is such an artist. When you listen beyond his awe-inspiring, uncanny ability to bend words and economise their meaning with mind bending double entendres, Stogie T’s lyricism is a well of knowledge and wisdom.
For the most part, Stogie T is among the foremost emcees whose music I have consumed the most in my life. Out of sheer fandom, as well as owing to his voluminous output in an unprecedented career, spanning almost two decades. There are instances when I have literally fallen off my chair, astounded by his incredible wordplay, masterful flow and indelible penmanship. But I have grown to value the quiet moments I spend listening to him, where I am imbued by the wisdom, humanness and keen sense of observation that abounds in his music.
The foray into Stogie T territory may have given him more room, as far as subject matter is concerned – Tumi was pigeonholed to the conscious poet MC trope, whereas Stogie T can rap about sipping Mumm champagne and trips to Champs-Élysées. Regardless of this dichotomy, his writing is still laden with acute lyricism, layered with multiple meanings, while retaining the same poetic license that Tumi of Tumi and The Volume was known and loved for. Pointing out the name change becomes merely an acknowledgment of his artistic progression, and not a material distinction on a change in the DNA of his music. It is therefore fitting that, when examining the life lessons I have accrued from his music, I look at his holistic discography, as Tumi – before, during and after Tumi and The Volume, and as Stogie T.
As a caveat, I would like to categorically state that I can never claim to know with certainty what Stogie meant with every single that has been quoted herein. However, I believe that once art has been put out into the world, the consumer reserves the right to interpret how they receive and process it. I am aware that I may be wrong in some of my interpretations, but this is my personal account of the life lessons that I have gleaned, through listening to the artist formerly known as Fat Bouy, Stogie T.
Do not look to artists for guidance
Tumi and the Volume – “What It’s All About”
“Turn the music down, talk to your pops a bit…”
Most people who are fans of music started listening to it from a young age. Everyone knows that that is the time when we are most impressionable. Young people can easily be consumed by not only the music but the life of the musicians and artists. They are rock stars who look like they have it all figured, living life that dreams are made of. The mistake that we do is taking all the things that these rock stars say and do as the gospel. We want to live like them and end up looking to them for answers. On “What It’s All About”, Tumi sternly advises against this. Do not look to artists or celebrities for answers. Talk to your pops, call your mother, listen to your teacher – whatever you do, do not look to artists for guidance.
Never be ashamed to be yourself
Tumi – “Music From My Good Eye”
“This is hip hop music, I’m not afraid to say it (are you?) I do this for my culture, this is me, man, this is me… this is my story, it might be yours too… ”
South African hip hop has always been a contentious realm, especially for an exclusively or predominantly English rapping emcee. Very early on in his career, Tumi was shunned for being an English rapper and was never fully embraced by South Africa – whether the industry or the fans. Nonetheless, he never shied away from who he really is and what he believes. Even when the industry was trying to box him in as just a rapper in a band, he fought against that stereotyping and refused to be relegated to the role of ‘the band member who just happens to rap’. He put out a solo album, Music From My Good Eye, without the band and rapped his ass off, in English and still proved his worth as a proudly South African artist. He was never ashamed to be himself in what he knows and believes hip hop to be – a form of artistic expression that isn’t limited by language or stereotypes. Never be ashamed to be yourself.
Honour your mother and father in truth
“No man is an island, I’m drawn to his life’s breath like Joker needs Batman….”
Stogie often shares details about his life’s story on many of his records. He has dedicated numerous songs to his mother (“Son of A Soldier” comes to mind) and rapped about his father almost in equal measure. The stories he tells about them are usually tender and endearing but there are times where he reveals the not so flattering parts about them and their lives. What remains constant though, is that he embraces and holds them dearly in love and compassion through all the stories he shares. He acknowledges how much of his life is tied to both of his parents and I think there is a valuable lesson there – regardless of what our relationship with our parents or guardians turned out to be; regardless of how imperfect our parents are. It is important to embrace their goodness, while acknowledging their flaws but most importantly, it is important to honour your mother and father in truth.
Be empathetic and understanding of people’s experiences
“Sho’nuf, she needed to be robust, the city show no love, sister got more issues than Oprah…”
For a lot of us young people, we struggle in romantic relationships because we are usually unable to be compassionate towards our love interests, regardless of how much we claim to love them. A lot of us come with baggage and while this may not be ideal, all we would like is for a lover who at least attempts to understand us – more specifically, the experiences of our pasts that inadvertently but inevitably shape the people we become. This kind of empathy and compassion goes a long way in helping us exist harmoniously with people we love. Tumi raps about his lady and how he had to understand a lot of what she went through in her past relationships in order for him to understand her insecurities and defence mechanisms she resorted to along the way. It is this empathy and understanding that helped them start a family.
Drown the enemy with love
Tumi – “What They Want”
“I drown the enemy with love like a Fela track, why would you ever act less than you are?”
Perhaps not as easily achievable as the other lessons but it’s noble to aspire to – showing love to people who may wish you ill or have done you greasy. This is important because in a world where nobody is perfect, chances are, you may have done something bad to someone and they may see you as an enemy or adversary. In light of that, and because life is long – tables turn, it’s prudent to think that we could all use some mercy from such a person. This is why when we are in a position to offer the same mercy to a person we ordinarily see as an enemy of ours, it’s advisable to show them love instead.
In your effort to uplift people, don’t infantilize them
Tumi – “Broke People” (Tumi – “Maria”, Stogie T – “Nobodies”, Stogie T – “Numbers Game”)
“I’ve seen broke people, that once were broke people, get their cheques for bringing death on their own people…”
A lot of times when we attempt to uplift people whom we deem as oppressed or inferior in any capacity, we tend to infantilise them without realising it. That is to say, we speak on their behalf regarding whatever precarious situation they may be in and we do so by absolving them of any agency or responsibility – however inconsequential that is to their unfortunate situation. We treat matters that have to do with the oppressed with kid gloves and I believe this does not benefit them at all. As a keen observer of the world and someone who has always spoken for the oppressed in our societies, Tumi has mastered the craft of speaking up and uplifting the oppressed without infantilising them. While he employs a deep sense of empathy and compassion, he is also very brutal in his honesty in how we are sometimes party to our misery – not as an indictment but as a fact of life and declaration of humanity. I believe this is important and it’s a lesson I have learned, as part of the oppressed myself, in some respects.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get to the moon
Tumi and the Volume – “People of The Light”
In a perfect world, everyone has a purpose and something to aspire to. Some people can go their whole lives without realising this, while some people just choose not to subscribe to this notion. For those who do yearn for that light – that purpose, it’s important to understand that it can literally be anything you choose for yourself. Anything that moves you – that’s your light. It does not have to be dictated to you by anyone in the world other than yourself. Even more crucially, you do not have to be a super-saiyan level of yourself in order to reach your purpose and light. By just being yourself and inching to it day by day, you can reach it. It’s not bigger than you and more often than not – you’re probably living in that light and purpose already and it isn’t some grand destination. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get to the moon.
There is value and strength in unity and collaboration
“Sixteen 16s For June 16” (“The POWA Mixtape”, whole discography)
There is no artist in South African music active today who has collaborated as much as Boitumelo Molekane has in his whole career. This is not mentioned enough. From international to continental and regional, as well as local collaborations, this man’s collaboration track record is stupendous – not to mention collaborations with esteemed artists across genres, with varying degrees of stature. From being on songs with Immortal Technique to Nasty C, from Arno Carstens to Sibongile Khumalo, from Kommanda Obbs to Manifest, from Busiswa to Simphiwe Dana – the list is literally endless. Whether on his own record or guesting on others’ and even whole projects built on collaboration, he has done it all. This shows just how much he believes in the importance of collaboration and working together – regardless of differences, whether geographic, racial or otherwise, there is immense value and strength in unity and collaboration. Working with others and willing to share creativity and responsibility is a valuable lesson to learn and Tumi has been exemplary in that sense.
Make something of life
“Make something of life…”
This is self-explanatory. Make something of life… whatever that means to you, its your life, make something of it.
The Atom Bomb/Mushroom Cloud Dichotomy
“‘Cause from afar there’s some charm in a mushroom cloud but when the dust settles that’s still an atom bomb…”
A lot of things exist within an inescapable duality. There is good and bad in virtually everything, therefore in this day and age where most of us are concerned and wound up about picking a side and aligning with specific ideologies in order to define our personhood, it’s very easy for us to fall in the trap of being attracted by certain beliefs and ways of thinking that seem perfect. Stogie T’s overarching theme in his music (since the name change at least) has been exposing this duality of good and bad – honey and pain – love and war. We must be wary of the destruction that is resultant in the systems of belief that we adhere to in effecting good in this world because from afar there’s some charm in a mushroom cloud, but when the dust settles that’s still an atom bomb.