In his latest single, titled YVR, an acronym for Young Van Riebeeck, the Cape Town rapper YoungstaCPT stays in his subversive lane. It’s December and hip-hop artists have strategically released party anthems. There’s L-Tido and AKA with No Favors, Kwesta with Vur Vai, Cassper Nyovest with Gets Getsa 2.0 and Moozlie with Vatel, among countless others.
Then comes Cape Town’s own with a song that brings the spirit of protest. It’s the chant hook delivered with verve over an ominous trap instrumental. With a chant hook reminiscent of Nyovest’s Doc Shebeleza and A$AP Ferg’s Shabba, YVR takes the same route of being named after a person, a trend that dates back to the 1990s (Outkast released Rosa Parks in 1998). Young Van Riebeeck is the rapper’s nickname, by which he has addressed himself in previous songs.
The nickname is a spin-off of Jan van Riebeeck, the infamous Dutch colonialist who set up shop in the Cape Colony in 1652. YoungstaCPT draws parallels between himself and the colonial administrator; Jan van Riebeeck colonised what is now Cape Town, while Young Van Riebeeck is set on a coup in the hip-hop scene. With 30 mixtapes, eight EPs, three albums and countless music videos and guest appearances on songs by South African hip-hop A-listers and niche artists, his work ethic is unmatched.
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On the first verse of YVR, YoungstaCPT lets us in on the fact that he’s aware his efforts to unseat the incumbent kings were always going to bring about resistance, much like the process of colonising. He raps, “A lot of mense is hating, but that’s not surprising. The hip-hop game is like a country I am colonising.” He equates his arrival to “the British and the Dutch arriving, when they landed at the seashore, and they thought the Cape was just a detour.”
But YVR is less about taking over the rap scene and more about reflecting on the current state of affairs in South Africa, particularly for the coloured youth of Cape Town. It’s an insight shared by all shades of black people who were victim to the apartheid government’s many segregation Acts and laws.
YoungstaCPT raps about being in love with Cape Town, as flawed as it is:
“I can’t tell you how this feels yoh
This the city I would bleed for
But I’m at the bottom of the seesaw
Hoping, praying for a beanstalk”
Right after recalling how colonisation stripped black people of their dignity, he talks about how the same colonialists wrote our history, which led to a form of erasure of our stories. “We all share the same symptoms. But you can never ever hide the scars. Take a look at how far behind we are,” he raps, reflecting on the repercussions of colonisation.
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But the beauty of YVR lies not only in reflecting but also in YoungstaCPT’s look into a reimagined future, one in which things are different; where victory falls on us. And that future, which we are partly living, is possible if we look deep inside ourselves and restore our own dignity:
“You can’t win with the racists ’cause they still think with that hatred
But victory is my fragrance so I’m emphasising my statements”
Another instance of overcoming the effects of colonisation is when he raps:
“We was locked up in the ghetto, far away from the meadows
No Shakespeare, no Othello, what you hearing is a demo
Had to scream until it echo, from Khayelitsha to Soweto
Call me Stefano DiMera
You was shocked I turned into a pharaoh”
This could also speak to his success. A rapper from Cape Town, with an overtly coloured accent and using slang, has broken the boundaries. Last year, he won Best Lyricist at the South African Hip Hop Awards, which was a first for a Cape Town-based rapper. Most awards, and the industry’s establishment, favour artists who are based in Johannesburg, as the geographical proximity helps put them in the inner circles of the industry.
Accomplished Cape Town photographer and filmmaker Imraan Christian interpreted the song visually in directing the music video for YVR. It shows a reenactment of Jan van Riebeeck and his acolytes capturing slaves. But sticking to the song’s narrative of overcoming, the slaves unshackle themselves and defeat Van Riebeeck, whose body can be seen floating in the ocean towards the end of the video.
The notion behind the video is reminiscent of the Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained, in which a freed slave assists bounty hunter Dr King Schultz. Django assists him in hunting down criminals, white men, giving him a chance at revenge for the years of slavery and drudgery.
Similarly, the music video for YVR is fiction with a twist to the story’s end. It is not necessarily a fantasy, but a reimagination, and when interpreted in a present-day context, it could mean that we must not give up the fight. With the system of racism still in full force in South Africa, and the rest of the world, it’s up to those who are alive today to do their best to fight against it.
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YoungstaCPT is an important voice, one that represents a marginalised group of people whose portrayal in pop culture and media is frequently stereotypically negative. Coloured people are often portrayed as caricatures with their front teeth missing, or as gangsters.
YoungstaCPT has done his utmost to counter this narrative by showing coloured people for who they really are in most of his music videos. YVR is yet another song that shines the spotlight on the struggles of his people, and with a video that figuratively portrays their resilience.
It will take time to win the fight against oppression. It has been centuries since 1652 and the fight is still on. But the fight doesn’t have to stop with race. After being announced as one of the performers for the festival Afropunk, which took place in December 2018, YoungstaCPT’s transphobia was revealed.
The MC and a friend were accused of taking a video clip of and mocking TV presenter Muzi Zuma, who’s a transwoman. They laughed at her and asked “What is this?” The artist still got to perform amidst the backlash. This was a serious indictment of Afropunk, a festival that is supposedly a safe space free from all kinds of discrimination.
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[Thumbnail image] 27 April 2017: YoungstaCPT at the Back To The City festival in Johannesburg. (Photograph by Sabelo Mkhabela)