The local music industry is undergoing a huge change. From the fringes, a new set of rules is slowly emerging, favouring individuality, unrestrained creativity and a break from a rigid obsession with prepackaged genres.
The artists doing this are breaking their way into the local scene with an edgy style, eclectic taste and a new consciousness that pushes the boundaries of tightly circumscribed gender roles.
Mx Blouse is one such act, who combines a variety of musical influences, such as electronic, R&B, hip-hop, kwaito and house, to shift the one-dimensional image of what a rapper looks and sounds like.
It’s exciting and refreshing to see queer musicians starting to take charge of their art. Mx Blouse is gender-nonconforming, which puts them in a position to smash the ambiguities that come along with producing work in the contemporary art world.
Mx Blouse was born in Melmoth in northern KwaZulu-Natal and grew up in Richards Bay and the east of Johannesburg, and is rewriting their own lyrical path in their mother language, isiZulu, and in English. Their first foray into music was as a DJ in Cape Town. Before that they worked as a consumer trends researcher and arts journalist.
Now in the second phase of their career, Mx Blouse is in their element. After immersing themselves in their rap-heavy debut EP Believe the Bloom, which dropped on May 15 last year, Mx Blouse offers us a different face with a new single. The kwaito and gqom-infused sonic palette is called Is’phukuphuku, a term in isiZulu that means “idiot”.
The single sees Mx Blouse collaborate with fellow artists and producers: experimental musician and producer Thor Rixon, beat wizard Jakinda (from the future-kwaito duo Stiff Pap) and Cape Town-based musician Albany Lore.
Mx Blouse says the song came about in an organic way. “I recorded a song a while ago with Parabyl, one of the producers I work with, and the beat felt so kwaito and very nostalgic to me. The vernacular just came so easily, and it was fun rapping in my mother tongue. I’m quite adventurous as far as my taste in music is concerned.”
This song starts off with a woozy beat with a hard-hitting snare — a key element in any gqom song, while sirens shuffle in during the pre-hook, almost as a warning that Mx Blouse did not come to play. Their flow stays on beat, very much reminiscent of classic Pro Kid songs, with an array of kasi slang and cocky vernacular rhymes that set you in a good mood to hear more.
Mx Blouse also brings sociopolitical issues to the fore in the first verse, and the lyrics give us a realistic notion of where we are as a people.
The influence of the futuristic kwaito-gqom beat is also a hand from Stiff Pap’s Jakinda, one of the producer collaborators on the track. The engineering of these new beats gives us hope in the fresh direction our local artists are taking, borrowing from the past and present and merging these elements to birth something fresh.
In the second verse, Mx Blouse sets a scene where a woman is not seeking validation from any man — “He offers her drinks; she doesn’t want it/ She thanks him and leaves and leaves/ Now he’s here talking shit …” — while still sticking to the gittering beat and giving us tea on how a woman’s agency can be infringed upon and violated, and reflecting on a safer space for everyone to have fun and not be problematic.
The accompanying music video to this Nineties-infused bopping track is a gender-fluid fashion statement. Mx Blouse is seen walking in a black lace bodysuit ensemble, a black leather belt, edgy accessories and an overly dramatic mesh headdress at a shopping centre where there are several convenience stores, including a hair salon and butchery. The scenes of them and gender-nonconforming bodies are shot by director Jarred Figgins.
This video is an avant-garde dream. Mx Blouse is completely decked out in South African fashion brands such as ALC Man, Nicholas Coutts, Steffany Roup and Lorne. Some of the dancers are in matching pantsula-styled clothing — trousers, long-sleeved, grey-scaled shirts, cat-eye sunglasses and bucket hats.
The supporting cast also sport local streetwear such as Art Club & Friends, Crystal Birch and Nicola W35T. The styling of the video shows the kinds of bodies seen in diverse, inclusive spaces in the urban areas.
Mx Blouse touches on the choice of location and the fashion choices in the video. “I just wanted a fun video. At first, the idea was about me and friends dressed to the nines, going to a party and buying gatsbys or fries. I wanted something super basic.”
Mx Blouse finds expression in the way that they dress. Clothing has been an important part of their self-articulation, especially as someone who is gender-nonconforming and nonbinary.
Rap still has issues with inclusivity, although some mainstream acts, such as Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert and Jaden Smith, have taken it on themselves to redefine their masculinity aesthetically and shine a light for men about their sexuality and how their fashion choices and lyrics have a direct effect on their music.
Is’phukuphuku is a good example of art becoming a way to break barriers that haven’t catered for the queer act. It’s a single that is experimental and works for mainstream appeal.
Locally, there are only a handful of artists who are willing to push the envelope, namely Nakhane, FAKA and, now, Mx Blouse. These artists are bringing a fresh narrative in our music industry and they’re breaking social norms through art to inspire those who might not have the ability to find their own voices.