Ubiquitous. Ridiculous. Ludicrous. These are some of the words that come to mind upon being exposed to Die Antwoord for the first time. It is no question, however, that they demand your attention: they effortlessly command it instead. The enigmatic South African duo instantly captures the focus of anyone giving them a glance, and should you like what you see, you’re in for it.
It is clear that Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer”) is an oddity. They have been described as resonating “trance hip-hop” and “rave rap,” both definitions falling short but displaying their musical blend. Born from the ashes of a project that was an in-itself-strange-and-unusual take on rap music (Max Normal TV,) Die Antwoord consists of the mysterious, crude yet strangely articulate Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones) and his constant companion Yo-Landi Vi$$er (Anri Du Toit.)
The duo is often accompanied by the occult-ish DJ Hi Tek, who seems to be played by a different actor in his every visual media appearance, and wears a buck-toothed mask in live performances. Mixing trance and rave with old and new-school hip hop and Afrikaans lyrics with English ones and with a firm grasp on lyricism itself, Die Antwoord channels a music that is a genre unto its own. Ninja and Yo-Landi’s lyrical styles are vibrant, their flow rich and varied, and you often find yourself listening to one or both spitting razor-sharp lyrics at incredible speeds without losing coherence.
However, Die Antwoord’s lyricism is what leads many to dismiss them as a crude joke. Tracks like “Enter the Ninja”, “Rich Bitch”, “Hey Sexy”, “Baby’s On Fire” are filled to the brim with ridiculous lines and almost beyond over-the-top indulgence in the excess. It’s when songs like “Fatty Boom Boom” appear that you get a glimpse at the truth: Die Antwoord isn’t three weirdos clowning around for the sake of it, and making a buck in the process. Theirs is not an art that’s limited to music: from the sets, costumes and production of their music videos to their live shows, their in-your-face image, to the things they say in interviews, it is a cohesive whole. Die Antwoord isn’t, in this context, a music duo: it’s a concept, an experience, a riddle and an answer.
“Zef” is at the heart of Die Antwoord, to the point where they themselves describe their music as “fresh Zef” (also stated in their monumental single, “Enter the Ninja.”) Zef is a philosophy that venerates the lower class and demands more attention to be paid to the content, rather than the context. Zef, as a term, describes a lower-class ‘class’, a punk-like approach to life. Zef means that money and/or being upper class is meaningless, because the same kind of lavish, or to abuse the term ‘posh’ is attainable no matter what your financial standing is. Ninja’s declarations, such as “you never seen Zef so fresh,” “locked in my Zef zone,” and similar express not only this, but expand on it to boast fuller credentials: if we go by our previous comparison, it’s like the Sex Pistols saying that they are, indeed, working-class punks. By no means does Die Antwoord boast a credential such as being “Zef heroes,” they simply take pride in being a part of it.
The question becomes, then, what does “Die Antwoord” mean? When asked this very question, Ninja revealed that it meant “The Answer.” The answer to what, one may ask, and Ninja’s reply, following a scoff, says it all: “Whatever, man.” Because Die Antwoord, while an answer, is at the same time a question. How to figure both out is easy, if Ninja’s words in a separate interview are anything to go by: “Some people think too much… other people get it.”
With the latest album, “Donker Mag” due to a February release, I believe we can expect an even more layered approach from Die Antwoord… but you never know with them.
(2014) Donker Mag – upcoming