HHP: To infinity and beyond
After 13 years at the top of his game, HHP - one of South Africa's biggest hip-hop artists - tells the M&G why it's time to try something different.
"What would summer be without Jabba? / And ah ... what would Jabba be without a sample?"
It seems Jabulani Tsambo, better known as Hip Hop Pantsula or HHP, thinks life without all the lights and action would not be such a bad life after all, as the opening lines from his hit Music and Lights suggests.
His Motswako music has earned him various accolades, most recently two Channel O Music Video Awards. He won the third season of the reality dance show Strictly Come Dancing and even had his own TV talk show, The Respect Show with HHP, on SABC 1. So what more is there left for him to do?
After 13 years his contract with record label EMI has come to an end, and HHP thinks it is time to try new things, be it going to film school, trying his hand at the world of advertising or even settling for a crappy music deal abroad.
Rhodé Marshall spoke to him about South African music, his plans for the future and his Channel O Music Awards nominations.
What sets you apart from other Motswako rappers?
We are all different. Khuli Chana is a master at flow. From the first time we met, he was just an amazing guy when it came to flow – how he puts things together. Khuli is the kind of person who could tell you your mom has passed away while rapping and you would be like "Oh that is so cool [gushing], like, that is so cool". Towdee Mac is a conceptual guy. He's got flow but it is how he says it that is funny – the humour in it, his play on words. Kaygee is like a poet, a singing guy, Mo'Molemi touches on idioms and all the stuff we were taught as young boys. Me, on the other hand, I do a bit of everything. I love flowing because flow is everything. I am not big on similes. There are people like Lil Wayne who are similes guys. There is always like, like ... I am more of a story teller – I tell a story and put a melody to it.
Did you start off rapping in vernacular?
We started off in English because at the time rap was an elitist thing. You didn't rap unless you went to "those" schools. You had to understand the concept of a simile even though you didn't know what a simile was, if you had to be asked about it. I'm cool like ... an ice cube. I'm hot like a ... Prima stove. You had to understand a hook, 16 bars, how to count. We all grew up with the English vibe.
What are your thoughts on where hip-hop is at on the continent?
Hip-hop is about to unite Africa. Hip-hop created one nation among young Americans. It fuses things. It is no longer just black. It is youthful. In Africa it took a while to penetrate mainstream because it was synonymous with violence and gratuitous language. Now people quote some of what we say because these are things they can relate to. Show Dem, my song with JR, was one of those songs. Things that sport, politicians, and religion won't be able to do, music will.
What do you think has been your most important contribution to the industry?
My contribution has been not allowing myself to be boxed. To see possibilities beyond our borders or beyond the lines that has been drawn for us. I should be able to be booked at a jazz festival, an Afrikaans music festival, at traditional music festivals, and choral festivals.
What would be the next level for Jabba?
The next level will be touring the continent, performing with a band, my own stage and sound, and my own crew. South African artists need to start expanding the music industry. I feel like a have hit the glass ceiling in the country professionally. I feel like a matric student that has been doing matric eight times, every year it is the same script, same teachers. We have excluded ourselves from the continent and what is happening out there. Other African artists mingle, they know each other's music and they visit each other's countries to perform there. We don't. We go to Macufe, we go to Oppikoppi. We do the same thing every year and it is about time that we started expanding.
Your song Baheitane, with Jamaica's Lutan Fyah and US artist Omar Retnu has been nominated for Most Gifted Ragga Dancehall video – tell me about the song and concept of the video.
The song is about haters. Forget about your criticisers – they'll always look down upon you. Just use it to fuel your gift. Lutan had to fly back to Jamaica and I had a show I had to rush to, so we only had about two hours to do the video. We shot it in my garage, put up a green screen and decided to put graphics in the background. I worked with Justin Campos of Gorilla Films; he came up with the idea of the stars, something psychedelic. It's just an abstract video for an abstract song. People received it quite well, I was actually shocked. I thought it was going to be the kind of video I'll just put out on the internet, I didn't think it would go on TV and get a Channel O Music Video nomination.
What was it like collaborating with Omar and Lutan?
Lutan is an amazing guy. I actually didn't know who he was until some guys brought him over to my house and said that he is a big deal in Jamaica and that I need to do a song with him. I was with Omar at the time; he and I have been friends for about two years – we have a very brotherly relationship. After Lutan left our studios we went onto the net and saw this one clip of him which had about five-million hits. We called him, played some songs and in the spur of the moment he came up with song, after song, after song. He is such an approachable guy.
And Bosso has been nominated for Most Gifted African South Video – what's the story behind the song?
A woman and I were dancing and she wanted to dance better than me and said "Bosso ke mang" – like who's the boss now. I thought it was a cool concept and started performing that hook. One of the guys at EMI heard me doing that once and suggested that I turn it into a song. I thought it is just a hype thing like "Can you feel it? Yebo!" but he insisted. We went into studio to do the song. I wanted it to be grungy, kwaito with a heavy pulse. A lot of what we were coming up with didn't make sense – we thought it was a stupid song. But people went crazy with it online. It went viral. Bosso turned into our own version of Chuck Norris jokes. It really took off and is part of a Vodacom campaign. I've come to realise that simplicity is key.
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