Poet and hip-hop artist Tumi Molekane has just released his second full-length project since adopting the stage name Stogie T. The album, titled Honey and Pain, explores the themes of pain and pleasure, and precedes his self-titled 2016 album.
On the album’s opening track, Purgatory, Stogie touches on the ills faced by the working class, the treacherous ways of politicians and the evils of the music industry.
The song is almost like a table of contents, with snippets of some of the subjects the listener can expect on the rest of the album. Many lines give the listener cause for introspection, for instance: “Holding to middle management, but in his forties/All he got is a half-paid bond, jacked up on coffee”.
Soon after, Stogie T laments the depression caused by the difficult and brutalising forces inherent in various modes of work under capitalism.“You heard the story; prescription pills and depression/System keeping them healthy enough to keep digging wealth.”
The album’s title track further establishes its theme, with the emcee using witty wordplay to demonstrate that nothing is completely bad or good, everything has a bit of both. “Life ain’t fair/ You can kiss the ground and the ring/Think it’s a breeze, that’s only ‘cause the pendulum swing/ This is honey and pain, both struggle and gain/ Gold mining in vain if you can’t shine with a chain.”
The song Numbers Game, featuring Cape Town’s YoungstaCPT, explores Cape Flats gangs. In the song, as on most of the album, the artist takes the role of a neutral observer, neither glorifying nor condemning gangsterism.
He simply looks at gang culture from different perspectives. He first paints the picture of what’s happening with the Flats’ gangs, from the kinds of crimes that are committed to jail sentences and death.
He then gives the perspective that gang members, because of the ill-gotten wealth they’ve created, are a ray of hope for the children who grow up in the same communities. This creates a vicious cycle as the children aspire to be gang members themselves.
He raps: “It’s kids floating in the streets with no hoverboards/ Trying to belong, hoping to be underlords/Carnivores that handle beef with a salad fork/Ambidextrous, they couldn’t tell you right from wrong/Find their moms in the mansions, cleaning someone’s floors/And their pops in the tavern, drinking out the quarts.”
As with most of the songs on Honey and Pain, the listener is always given the space to form their own conclusions.
In the song Side Chick, featuring Rouge, Stogie plays the role of a married man with a mistress who is dependent on him, with Rouge playing the part of the mistress. That the mistress is given a voice is something remarkable in a male-dominated genre. “I know what happened, but remember it vaguely/ Became the type of woman that I judge on a daily/ The ones they call a thot without thinking,” she raps. She is ambivalent, and goes on to express how much she hates herself for having feelings for a man who devalues her.
Still playing the role of observer, on Johazardousburg, Stogie T tells the cautionary tale of how the city of gold has broken many a dream. From how the desperate are taken advantage of, to how those who thought they had it figured out, were humbled. “We’ve seen a replay over and over/ Something about Johannesburg that breaks moral codes up/ We’ve seen niggas go up, come up and get shown love/ Light up the whole club, get hoe love, forget where home was/ It’s a marathon, nigga, slow up/We know people in Avalon that had your buzz/ Hold up, it’s a marathon, nigga, slow up/ We know of people at Avalon that had your buzz/ When shit go bust, them pretty women get toe up/ Your friends AWOL up.”
The closing song, God’s Eye, runs for 14 minutes, with bite-sized songs within it. The rapper shares his observations about Black Lives Matter, the pursuit of happiness, the terrorist Islamic State, the prison system and the interconnectedness of the universe, among other topics.
In the subsection of God’s Eye titled Leeurhof Prison, he tells the story of a prison warder who finds his job toxic as he watches young, mostly black, people being destroyed by the same institution that is supposed to rehabilitate and care for them.
“He’s seen psychopaths/Some cry or laugh/With their last grasp/Seen their skin lose colour/And their eyes collapse/That shit stays with you long after the fucking fact,” he raps of the man who is introduced to the listener in a monologue towards the end of the song.
This is a fresh take on the prison system, as we usually hear the story of the prisoner, while the prison warder is painted as part of the prison apparatus. But it is often overlooked that they are also traumatised by witnessing souls being broken.God’s Eye takes on a life of its own; it’s like an album within an album.
It reveals an emcee who is acutely aware of what’s going on in the world beyond his surroundings. His take on slavery goes beyond the “we were once kings” cliché. Instead, he raps, perhaps audaciously, from the perspective of a slave master writing a letter to his wife who he left in Yorkshire in his quest to steal black bodies for cheap labour in The Gambia. He reports to his “dearest loving spouse” about the challenges he and his fellow slave traders face, and how many of them lost their lives. He refers to Africans as “heathens”.
When the artist changed his stage name in 2016, he did so with intent to allow himself to explore subjects beyond the scope a conscious rapper is expected to operate in. So, while he still raps about social issues, he does not shy away from celebrating his wealth. Songs like Rapture, Big Boy Raps and Pretty Flowers give the listener a glimpse into his life as a globe-trotter with a cigar between his fingers as he drives a German car. On Rapture, he raps: “When the currency do funny things, I move the money quick/Keep a European stash like Borat.”
The message on Honey and Pain is loud and clear: There’s no separating pain from pleasure. A single event can consist of both, and happiness can eventually lead to pain, and acknowledging your pain doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time. As he raps on the title track: “You can get stung from honey/It’s the water to drink, but still the shit you drown in.”
Honey and Pain is available on Apple Music.