Recap: Back To The City, A Diverse Celebration of Hip-Hop’s 50th Birthday

By @Masechaba Kganyapa & Sabelo Mkhabela on 10/10/2023 in Article

Last weekend, Back To The City celebrated Hip-Hop’s 50th birthday and South African Hip-Hop’s 40th at Mary Fitzgerald, its residence venue, with Hennessy as its flagship sponsor. A perfect alignment. When it comes to brands, Hennessy and Sprite have the longest and most consistent relationship with Hip-Hop.  

“We are thrilled to be a part of Back to The City once again, celebrating the vibrant Hip-Hop culture that continues to inspire and unite people across the globe,” said Lungile Mpharu, Brand Manager at Hennessy in a press release. “Our longstanding commitment to Hip-Hop is a testament to our belief in the power of music and the arts to shape culture and bring people together.” 

Just like last year, which marked the inception of Hennessy and Back To The City’s partnership, the who’s who of South African Hip-Hop and street culture such as L-Tido, Zingah, Yolophonik, JR, DJ Sabby and more enjoyed the festival from the Hennessy VIP area. 

The Hennessy Boombox Viewing Deck offered festivalgoers the opportunity to enjoy Hennessy cocktails with the best view of the stage. Inside the Boombox, the Interactive “Letter to Hip-Hop” offered participants a chance to write their personal messages to Hip-Hop for inclusion in the South African Hip-Hop Museum.

“Hennessy’s involvement adds a unique dimension to Back To The City, and we are proud to have them by our side,” said Osmic Menoe, the founder and director of Back To The City, the South African Hip-Hop Museum, and the South African Hip-Hop Awards.

 "Hennessy's support for hip-hop goes beyond mere sponsorship; it reflects a genuine admiration for the culture. This is evident through their global initiatives, such as collaborating with GRAMMY-Award-winning icon Nas to launch a limited-edition Hennessy V.S bottle commemorating the 50th anniversary of the genre, as well as locally supporting the Back To The City festival. I am truly honoured to be a part of the Hennessy family," said A-Reece who gave one of the best performances during the festival. 

A Hip-Hop Timeline

Back To The City is known for striking a balance between old and new acts, but it being a 50th and 40th birthday celebration, this year’s lineup was more nostalgic than usual. 

On the main stage were contemporary stars like Big Zulu, 25KMaglera Doe BoyLoatinover PoundsZulumeccaLokiTouchlineGigi Lamayne etc. alongside yesteryear icons such as Optical Illusion, iFaniTha Hymphatic Thabs and Township Frequency (AmuWikid and Mr Selwyn) who were joined by some members of Skwatta Kamp and Zola during their set. 

The Hennessy Moment included performances by DJ Ready D, Stogie T and A-Reece and a monumental performance of Riky Rick’s ‘Amantombazane (Remix)’ by Maggz, Kwesta, Ginger Trill, Kid X, Nadia Nakai and Okmalumkoolkat — “the SA Hip-Hop All Stars” as Moozlie described them. 

US acts The Beatnuts, J-Live and Mobb Deep's Havoc also held it down on the main stage. Havoc took old heads back to the 90s and early 2000s with the duo’s long string of hits and classics from ‘Shook Ones, Pt. II’ to ‘Outta Control - Remix’

The lineup was a timeline of sorts commemorating South African Hip-Hop’s different eras. 

All Elements 

SA Hip-Hop’s new thought leaders on Twitter, however, weren’t so impressed with the curation of the festival, raising concerns about the time slots of some performers and a large number of old-school artists. 

That Back To The City could do with young bloods in its organising team is a valid criticism especially after Emtee and Blxckie’s cryptic tweets last year. 

But anyone who’s attended enough festivals should know that the main stage of any festival isn’t the place for innovation and its main function isn’t to introduce new talent or push the envelope. 

Back To The City’s Play stage is where the cutting edge and emerging acts – NotBenjamin, XXC Legacy, Static Flo, Lucasraps, SPeeKa etc. – performed, and fans who were looking for those kinds of acts should have spent most of their time under the bridge. It’s on the same stage where B-Boys and B-Girls showcased their moves in a competition judged by legends Mr Vouks and some members of Prophets Of Da City. The annual 10K MC Challenge was also hosted on that stage and saw emerging lyricists battle it out for the ultimate price. The winner was Mthizo from Soweto.

As usual, there were plenty of food and clothing stalls to spend your cents on while graffiti artists embellished the bridge’s pillars with new colorful murals including those of Hip-Hop legends Riky Rick and DJ Kool Herc.  

Day ’N’ Nite (Nightmare?)

Back To The City is a day and night festival, but it seems some fans missed the memo as, this year, unlike many years before, people started arriving in the twilight hours. The blame can’t be put on the organisers in this regard. Fans need to show up on time to support artists and immerse themselves in the festival’s activities. 

This year’s edition of Back To The City also came with a Dancehall stage that was a distance from the hustle and bustle of the other two stages. It offered a serene experience with a picnic feel while deejays and selectors dished out the best riddims.

After 17 years, Back To The City is still the one festival that brings all elements of Hip-Hop together and shows respect to both the old and new school. Hip-Hop is in a weird space in South Africa right now; this year’s edition of BTTC didn’t feel as packed as previous ones, and the absence of our fallen heroes (especially AKA and Riky Rick) was felt. 




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