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Golden age of hip-hop a memory trip

Khuli Chana./Vathiswa Ruselo
Khuli Chana./Vathiswa Ruselo

"A lot of people must know that rap started way back in the continent of Africa. There's also different musical tastes of rap, our style is this style of hip-hop." - Afrika Bambaataa.

The rise of the SA hip-hop wave in the 1990s was propelled by the gale that is rap in kwaito, a juggernaut genre that swept the whole country into a euphoric frenzy.

The first Boom Shaka single, It's about Time (1993), had Thembi Seete "ceasing the needs to disease with ease" with intricate rhyme schemes; Bongo Maffin saw Stoan Seate rapping in what has become a hip-hop sub-genre called motswako.

TKZee released what was to be one of the best albums in the history of SA music, Halloween, where Tokollo Tshabalala and Kabelo Mabalane rapped to a point that they even passed soccer star Benni McCarthy the ball.

It seems that even with the use of an essential element of hip-hop in other genres, there was not a confusion of the identity of hip-hop in South Africa, but rather an aid of sorts that led to a wide-spread acceptance of this foreign culture.

SA Hip Hop Timeline

2000 - 2010

The arrival of Y2K did not bring the end of the world as we knew it, but the beginning of the end of SA hip-hop as a niche culture and music genre.

This age came with a wild mushrooming of hip-hop cyphers at high school gates, libraries and sports centres countrywide; the YFM Rap Activity Jam became a dandelion with the youth whisking its seeds to scores of radio stations across the country.

With shows like Harambe (Bad Boy T, Lee and Sanza), Open Mic Set (Zak Dakile), Rhyme & Reason (TBo Touch), The Essence (Kamza), The Joint (AK), etc, Le Club seemed to have birthed a flooding litter of sessions that hounded club owners in every major city. There was Black Sunday, Slaghuis, 1808, Splash Jam, Forefront Movement, EvoLokxion, Heavy Hitters, Inqaba at the Bat Centre and Puppet Masters.

Where there was a park, the grass and pavement were kin to the B-Boy; graffiti was climbing inner-city walls like ivy.

We were purchasing hip-hop magazines, and dubbing hip-hop music with cassettes from our home radio.

This is the age that gave birth to kasi rap, spaza, and popularised motswako and boom bap. An age where there were too many rappers to mention. It was a glorious age! The golden age of SA hip-hop.

Hip-hop was becoming bigger than kwaito, the biggest kwaito songs were derivatives of hip-hop, with guys like Zola winning kwaito awards with raps in their songs.

Prominent Groups:

Skwatta Kamp | Cashless Society | Optical Illusion | H2O | Morafe | Teargas | Driemanskap  | Tumi and the Volume |Godessa | Die Antwoord | Hidden Force | Jozi | Entity | Last Days Fam

Prominent Solo MCs:

Mizchif (RIP) | HHP (RIP) | Tumi | Hymphatic Thabz | ProVerb | ProKid (RIP) | Zubz | Amu | Slikour | Pitch Black Afro | Flabba | Zuluboy | Mr. Selwyn | Tuks | JR | Snazz D | Ben Sharpa (RIP) | Reason | Khuli Chana | Ms. Nthabi |Da Les | Maggz

Notable Events:

This was the decade of prime respect for the Producer, when the one who made the beat was at times more popular than the rapper. On this part of the series we will graffiti the Timeline with the experience of one of the most renowned producers in SA Hip-Hop, Tongogara Battlekat Ntlokoa.


  • Mizchif (Hechichamunorwa Kwenda) takes over the hip-hop streets with his first EP (1999), Life From All Angles.
  • Spex (Vongani Rikhotso) is haled ahead of his time with his first EP (1999), Rhymziwrote
  • HHP (Jabulani Tsambo) releases his debut album,
  • Formation of Cape Town crew Godessa by Burni AmanEJ Von Lyrik andShameema Williams.
  • Formation of Soweto rap duo Zulu Mobb by Inshala(Thato Mahlatsi) and Dez(Desmond Radebe).


  • Skwatta Kamp releases its first mixtape on cassette, Skwatta Kampaign.
  • Cashless Society releases their first EP, Blaze Tha Breaks, through the independent Unreleased Records.
  • Optical Illusion releases their first mixtape cassette, Thoughts Illustrated.
  • Mizchif teams up with Kwaito artist Mavusana to release the album Summertime through Ghetto Ruff.
  • Tumi releases his first mixtape, Tao of Tumi.
  • Hymphatic Thabs releases his debut album, Error Era.
  • Formation of Cape Town crew, Driemaskap by Elnino (Elethu Mpengesi), Ma-B (Sonwabo Kambi), Dla (Dlambulo Mancunga) & Redondo (Bukhulubakhe Nompetsheni)
  • Zwai Bala’s Lifted vol 1 controversially wins Best Rap Album at the South African Music Awards (SAMAs)

Rapper and producer Tongogara "Battlekat" Ntlokoa reminisces: "In 2000 while doing my second year sound engineering with Allenby Campus, I met and became friends with Skwatta Kamp member Nkuli Habedi (Flabbagasta); I asked Flabba for a feature and he asked for a beat, and the rest, as they say, was history.

"Inspired by how Skwatta Kamp released their tape in 2001, which was exclusive on cassette and sold hand-to- hand, we as Optical Illusion released the project Thoughts Illustrated, which with the help of manager Romeo "DJ Romz Deluxe" Malepe got a dope review on Y-Mag.

"It also got us our first gig as a head-lining act at one of the monthly events hosted by Kenneth "DJ Kenzhero" Nzama, known as the Open Mind Sessions, held at the original Bassline in Melville."

The Open Mind Sessions is where I got to meet other Hip Hop acts on the come-up such as Tumi, and Hymphatic Thabs, even Spoken-word Artists such as Lebo Mashile and Zee Cube, and the band 340 ml were also a regular act there, which is where Tumi actually met them; poetry, live bands, and Hip hop where inseparable at the time.”


  • Production company Black Rage launches the independent stable, Outrageous Records (Rage).
  • The first SA hip-hop Magazine, Hype Magazine, is launched.
  • Skwatta Kamp releases their debut album through Buttabing Entertainment, Khut En Joyn, earning them Best Rap Album at the SAMAa and the Metro Fm Music Awards (Metros).
  • Tumi teams up with the band 340ml to form hip-hop live band, Tumi and The Volume.

Godessa releases debut single,Social Ills, which is playlisted in the UK, the Czech Republic, and made available on 12" vinyl through Lowlands Distribution in Belgium.  “The early 2000s were big for hip-hop, it was the birth of Rage, Hype Mag, a lot of independents, and Gallo and Ghetto Ruff taking in rappers.

I had just gotten a job at Rage as a music production/ sound engineer. By the end of that year I had completed work on a compilation project that Rage partnered with Sprite on titled Expressions, which featured a collective of rappers, singers and poets who were mainly up-and-coming, and some who were already making waves at the time such as Proverb, Amu, Selwyn, Skwatta Kamp, Optical Illusion, Tumi, Ngwenya (formerly of Skwatta Kamp), Nosisi (who would later become the Lead Vocalist for Kwani Experience), Lebo Mashile and Outrageous Records own signed artists Pebbles, Zubz, and H2O,” Tongogara said.

Lebo Mashile
Lebo Mashile


  • Rage releases compilations, Expressions: Words Unlimited, and Maximum Sentence produced by BattleKat.
  • Skwatta Kamp signs with Gallo Record Company (Gallo), making them the first hip-hop act to sign with a major label. They release their second album, Mkhukhu Funkshen, becoming the first SA hip-hop album to be certified Gold (over 25 000 units). The album earns them another Best Rap Album Award at the SAMAs, Best Hip-Hop Group at the Kellogs Kidz Star Awards, and their single, Umoya is used as the official Vodacom Challenge Theme.
  • Cashless Society releases their debut and only full-length album to date, African Raw Material volume one,on their own Unreleased Records imprint with distribution handled by Sony BMG Africa. They win Best Rap Song and Best Music Video for their single, Hottentot Hop Bantu 1,2 at the SAMAs.
  • Optical Illusion releases their debut album, Definitive, through Catalyst Five, founded by the group.
  • Spex releases his debut album through UTHOHT Production Enterprises, Nothing for Mahala.
  • H2O (Menze Dludla and Siphiwe Ngwenya) releases their debut album with Rage, Amanzi 'mtoti.
  • Mizchif releases his last album with Gallo, Supernatural (My Return).
  • Tumi and the Volume performs alongside legendary bands The Roots, and Coldplay at the Quart Festival in Norway.
  • Zubz (Ndabaningi Mabuye) releases his first mixtape with Rage, The Last Letter
  • Amu is signed by Ghetto Ruff and releases his debut album, The Rap, Life, and Drama.
  • Zulu Mobb releases their debut album through Sheer Hip Hop, Corner, Bullet 'n' Knife.
  • Ben Sharpa (Kgotso Semela) wins the MTN National Freestyle Battle Competition.


  • Skwatta Kamp releases their third album, Washumkhukhu, earning them another Gold status, and the Channel O Video Music Awards for Best Hip Hop Video, the first time this is awarded to an SA hip-hop act.
  • Godessa release they first and only album to date,
  • Pitch Black Afro (Thulani Ngcobo) releases his debut album under Ghetto Ruff, Styling Gel, becoming the first SA hip-hop album to be certified Platinum (over 50 000 units).
  • Tumi and the Volume record and release their first offering Live at the Bassline, the first SA hip-hop Live Album.
  • Zubz releases his debut album, Listener’s Digest.
  • Selwyn is signed to Gallo, and releases his debut album, Formula, earning him Best Rap Album at the SAMAs.
  • Last Days Fam is formed by Thabang “Landmarq” Byl, Tshepo “Bonafide” Shabangu, Thembelihle “Brain Train” Mlambo and Thapelo “Baggz” Mpai.


  • H2O releases their last album to date,
  • Morafe (Khuli Chana, Towdee Mac, Kay-G) release their debut album, Maruapula The Anticipation, with Ghetto Ruff.
  • Hidden Force (Gaoza, Lebza, Hoodlum, Bon Bhutiza and Supremo) releases their first and only album to date, The Takeover, through Sheer Music.
  • Entity (AKA, Greyhound, and Vice Versa) release they first and only album to date, The Royal School of Hip Hop, independently though Creative Kingdom, earning them Best African Hip Hop nomination at the KORA Awards.
  • HHP releases is fourth album, YBA 2 NW, and sells Gold.
  • ProVerb (Tebogo Thekiso) signed by Rage, releases his debut album, Book of ProVerb, later hosting thehip-hop Show on Channel O, Head Rush. He’s then appointed health ambassador by The Premier of the Northern Cape.
  • ProKid (Linda Mkhize) signed by Gallo releases his debut album, Heads and Tales.
  • Tuks (Tumelo Kepadisa) signed with Ghetto Ruff releases his debut album, Mafoko A Me, earning him Best Rap Album at the SAMAs.
  • Slikour (Siyabonga Metane) releases his debut solo album,Ventilation Mixtape Vo.1.
Stogie T
Image: Instagram


  • Motif Records, an independent label is founded by Tumi Molekane, to later partner with Bradley Williams.
  • Beats Against The Beast, an independent label is founded by Tongogara Battlekat Ntokoa and releases the compilation, The Re-genesis : Beats Against The Beast Vol. 1.
  • Tumi releases his third offering, his first full-length studio album, Music from My Good Eye, through Motif Records.
  • Optical Illusion signs with Rage and releases their last album to date, The Offering, and gets a Levis clothing endorsement.
  • Teargas signs with Electromode Music as the label’s first hip-hop artists, and releases their debut album, K’shubile K’bovu, earning them Best Album (a first of SA hip-hop), Best Hip-Hop, and Best Song of the Year Award for Chance (another first for SA hip-hop)
  • Jozi (Bongani Fassie, Ishmael Morabe, Lesley Mampe) release their debut album, Muthaland Crank, certified Gold and earning them Best Live Performer at the MTV Africa Music
  • Zulu Mobb releases their last album to date,
  • ProVerb is signed by Gallo and releases his sophomore, He then travels to France and Spain as a South Africa delegate at the World Hip Hop Summit.
  • Tuks releases his sophomore, MC Prayer, earning him Best hip-hop Album at the Metro
  • Flabba (Nkululeko Habedi) releases his debut and only solo album, Nkuli vs. Flabba, earning him Best Rap Album at the SAMAs.
  • Zuluboy (Mxolisi Majozi) signed by Native Rhythms releases his debut album, Masihambisane - Da 1st Hip-Hop Lesson.
  • Nthabi signed with Rage releases her debut EP, From The Streets To The Lab.

"In the years that followed the ball was rolling, we were living a dream, touring and being paid well for doing something we would do for free.

"I remember distinctly one time in Bloemfontein when ProVerb was running for his life chased by a mob of fans, and another in Eastern Cape as the crowds rapped to every word of our songs."

Hip-hop was becoming bigger than kwaito, the biggest kwaito songs were derivatives of hip-hop, with guys like Zola winning kwaito awards with raps in their songs.

"Hip-hop became a real career for most of us, something that was once unthinkable,” Tongogara concludes.


  • Africa’s Biggest hip-hop festival, Back To The City, is founded by Osmic Menoe
  • Morafe releases their last album to date, A Ene: The Revelation.
  • HHP releases his fifth album, Acceptance Speech, selling Gold.
  • ProKid signed by TS Records releases his third offering, Dankie San, dominating the Hype Awards by taking Best Video, Lyricist of the Year, and Artist of the Year.
  • Hymphatic Thabs releases his third album, The Age of Horus, earning him Album of The Year at the Hype Awards.
  • Snazz D (Julian DuPlessis) releases an album with the Cashless Family, Dangerous Mix-CD, and goes on to win the Sprite MCee Africa Championship title.
  • Mawe2 (Mawethu Maliwa) releases his debut album through his own lable, Rooftop Media, with distribution by Soul Candi, A Fool’s Hope.


  • The firstdedicated South African Hip-Hop awards event, MTN Hype Awards (Hype Awards), are launched
  • Die Antwoord is founded by Ninja (Watkin Jones) Yolandi Visser (Anri du Toit) and
  • HHP takes Best Male at the SAMAs, a first time win by a hip-hop artist, he’s later named Brand Ambassador of
  • Tuks releaseshis third album, Monopoly, under his own record label June/July Productions, partnering with EMI  He wins Best Album and Best Solo Artist at the Hype Awards.
  • Ben Sharpa releases his debut solo album, Sharpa.
  • JR (Thabo Bogopa) releases his first album under Electromode Music,The Main Event, winning Song of The Year at the Hype Awards for the single Gata Lenna, and subsequently signs an endorsement deal with Renault SA (the first endorsement of that magnitude for an SA hip-hop artist).
  • Da Les releases his debut album, Fresh 2 Def.
  • Reason (Sizwe Moeketsi) releases his first mixtape, Understanding B4 Reasoning through Beats Against The Beats.
  • Last Days Fam releases their debut album, The Official Street Ep.
Image: Sibusiso Msibi


  • Skwatta Kamp releases their last album to date, Fair and Skwear, earning them Best Music Video at the Metros, for the single, Hey!. The group is also honored by the community of Heidelberg with the Karen Beef Community Award as role models, and also by the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) with a Certificate of Appreciation for their contribution to the fight against substance abuse.
  • Teargas releases their third album, Dark Or Blue, earning them their second Best Rap Album at the SAMAs, and BET Award for Best International Act nomination (first time nomination for an SA hip-hop act).
  • Die Antwoord releases their debut album, $O$.
  • HHP releases his seventh album, Dumela, and features Rap Legend Nas on Keledimo, to later scoop the MTV Africa Music Award for Best Video, Mpitse, the first South African win.
  • ProVerb releases his third offering and last album with Gallo, Write of Passage.
  • ProKid releases his forth album, which was the last with TS Records, Snakes and Ladders, and sells Gold.
  • Zubz releases his fifth and last album with Outrageous Records, Cochlea - One Last Letter.
  • Selwyn releases his third and last album to date, Foundation, through Universal Music.
  • Having won Best Rapper at the 2008 Metros, and Best Vernacular Rapper for the 2009 South African Traditional Music Achievement Awards (SATMAs)for, Inqolobane, Zuluboy releases his last album with Native rhythms,
  • Khuli Chana (Khulane Morule) releases his debut solo album, Motswakoriginator, earning him Best Newcomer at the Channel O Music Video Awards (a first time for SA hip-hop), Song of The Year at the Hype Awards for Tswakstikem, and Best Vernacular Hip Hop Album at the SATMAs.
  • JR releases his sophomoreColourfull, and goes on to sign an endorsement with Vodacom.
  • Maggz (Gift Magubane) releases his debut album, The Breakout.
  • Driemanskap releases their debut album Igqabhukil' Inyongo.


  • Maftown Hights is co-foundedby Khuli Chana and Refiloe Ramogase.
  • HHP is nominated for Best International Act at the BET Awards, In the same year he does the hip hop version of the Aretha Franklin classic, Respect, created for the Status deodorant campaign. The popular single is used as the theme tune for his TV show, Respect on SABC 1.
  • Tumi and The Volume release their last offering together to date, Pick a Dream.
  • Tumi releases his fourth solo project Whole Worlds, and collaborates with Kwaito star Brickz on the track
  • Amu releases his second, and last album to date through his record label BuvGround Entertainment, The Principal, earning him Best Rap Album at the SAMAs.
  • Reason releases his debut album through PromiseLand Entertainment, The Reasoning.
  • Last Days Fam wins Best Group at the MTN Hype Music Awards.

The first decade of the 21st century haled with a plethora of rappers and hip-hop related events, it is heart wrenching that one cannot mention all of them, but only those who worked themselves into the history books.

“If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

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