Where did Die Antwoord come from? The future perhaps, rising from the ashes of a music apocalypse with bravado that could only come from knowing you were the last act standing. How likely is this theory? It’s still unclear, but a more plausible explanation is that they have always existed. As lead MC and visionary force “Ninja” Waddy Jones explains, “Die Antwoord was always there, waiting in the dark for me to find it.” All he had to do was tap into his “inner Zef.”
The rest of the self proclaimed “rap-rave next level” crew is made up of the fierce, blonde sprite-like Yo-Landi Vi$$er whose sassiness and odd sex appeal often steal the show, and the silent monolith and “beat monster” that is DJ Hi-Tek. The group hails from Cape Town, South Africa and claims to be “a lovable, mongrel like entity, the love-child of many diverse cultures, black, white, coloured and alien, all pumped into one wild and crazy journey down the crooked path to enlightenment.” (That’s straight from their Web site.) As fanciful as this claim seems to be, they just might be right.
In less than a week Die Antwoord went from the latest buzz on obscure music blogs to the next big thing over the “intraweb … worldwide” with music videos that short circuit your mind with their blitz of Afrikaans slang and the sheer absurdity of their images. “Zef Side” features Ninja rapping on his neighborhood doorstep with a particularly memorable shot of his twirling “junk” cloaked behind Dark Side of the Moon boxers. The “Enter Ninja” video is Die Antwoord’s anthem, featuring Leon Botha, one of the oldest living Progerian survivors, Vi$$er in a demented school girl fantasy and Ninja rapping shirtless declaring “I’ve seen the future, but don’t got anything in my hands, / nothing but a microphone big dreams and a plan, fly talking sky walking like a ninja.” Just as you realize that you’re utterly terrified by the images before you, you’ve watched the video five times and posted its link on every Facebook wall you’ve come across. Give into your addiction and channel your “inner Zef,” because there’s an album too.
Die Antwoord’s debut album titled $o$ “is inspired by Cape Town’s fast and furious mini-bus taxi’s you can hear coming from blocks away with an evil DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!” Combining heavy electronic rave beats with fast paced gritty and often vulgar lyrics, $o$ feels like just that — a roller coaster cab ride through the streets and clubs of a city that’s culture is vibrant and fresh. The opening track titled “Wat Kyk Jy” (trans. ‘What are you looking at?’) has Vi$$er and Ninja yelling at a likely a cab driver “drive, drive fast,” “play kak music loud now” over a heart pounding beat and synth siren. “Wat Pomp” features the triumvirate of Ninja, Vi$$er and South African hip hop regular Jack Parow with a hypnotic beat and equally entrancing lyrics that never get old. The mid section of $o$ sees Die Antwoord loose some color as they settle for tired tropes of today’s mainstream hip hop, mimicking American acts with catchy synth hooks, the pervasive “counting” lyrics (“1 … 2 … 3 … 4 …”), and even auto-tune. Essentially, these shy away from what makes Die Antwoord great: eccentric originality. But $o$ pumps along, never completely loosing its rhythm, and never slowing down. Then comes “Dagga Puff,” the nursery rhyme homage to smoking that slows the album like an enormous bong rip. Imagine if Lil Wayne and MIA were to remix “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The album closes by highlighting two of Die Antwoord’s less obvious influences, which could not be any more different: heavy metal on “Doos Dronk” and trance electronica on the title track “$o$.” By the end, Ninja’s opening monologue comes to fruition: “I represent South African culture … I’m like all these different things fucked into one person.”
It just so happens that Die Antwoord has fooled us. They do not hail from the streets of Cape Town and they’re not the inbred street hoodlums they bill themselves as. Die Antwoord is a satirical post-ironic take on the South African “Zef,” or common folk, exaggerated personas contrived to expose a niche that until recently was unknown to pop culture. And thank god for Die Antwoord.