Do you ever wonder why great wordsmiths like ProVerb had to diversify? Why did Tumi become Stogie T? Why did Zubz disappear from the scene or even why did Blaklez switch styles from The Anvils to the Rap Steve Biko? What happened to Cashless Society and Optical Illusion?
The business of South African rap until now has never had space for backpack hip hop.
There was a time when we wished hip hop could be accepted in the mainstream and when it was eventually received, it was at the terms of the South African consumer, in which it was musicality, dance-orientated and a native familiarity to the cultures that have inspired South African music.
Therefore, you had to ensure you had some type of vernacular integrated in your song and of course, the capability to make a mainstream relevant song. This meant the backpacker lyricists couldn’t co-exist in the mainstream, but their efforts would still be revered by purists.
Fast forward to 2021 and A-Reece drops a non-compromising lyrically charged album made up of vintage instrumentation provided by Mashbeatz that could easily form the backdrop of the late 90’s hip hop. I mean beats like “THE SAME THING” could be the type of skit you’d hear on an Organized Konfusion Equinox album:
While “NIGHTMARE ON BRYANSTON DR” could easily be Mobb Deep’s producer Havoc minus the 808 kicks:
The same goes for “NO MAN'S LAND” with Buckwild's Black Moon aesthetic:
(For fun, go Google these artists and their music if you don’t know them the links are just guides)
This isn’t the mixtape where you sing the choruses but you obsess on it word for word as it triggers an emotion. It’s those 8 Mile scenes where the audience is pulling their faces for every line, except these cats aren’t going to be in a club but on their phones listening to “DICHOTOMY” in awe of how A-Reece has broken down their broken family woes or how “NO MAN'S LAND” is the life of the young dude who’s just impregnated a girl and he doesn’t know what to do next.
If you studied the format of premium hip hop artists, they’d always be the radio single on side A and the street single on side B. Think of Nas’ “If I Ruled The World” as a mainstream single:
And “I Gave You Power” as the street single:
A-Reece joins the ranks of new generation emcees like Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid Maad City, where the whole album was pushed with what would be dubbed as street singles. What makes it special for A-Reece and the whole backpacker generation is that it’s the first mixtape locally where a rapper spazzed in English bar-for-bar, unashamedly rapping in an American accent and cadence, and then also throws the word “nigger” like he’s one himself and you’ll end racism before you find a radio single like “Paradise.”
Regardless of this, A-Reece owned the charts and social media hearts with almost every song on his mixtape. The word backpacker is probably extinct in 2021, but everything A-Reece has done has backpacker DNA written all over it, from being totally media shy, building a non-conventional fan base on digital, which put him on the top of the charts with some of the most mainstream artists, has received coverage from click bait platforms that only report on so called A-listers. The boy has accelerated the heights of how far you can go when choosing the underground route.
Going back to how I started this article, do you think your favourite lyricists would have left the game, changed their name or diversified if the underground gave them the A-Reece success?
Leading me to conclude that A-Reece is the realisation of the backpacker dream in South Africa… Well, at least this mixtape!