Imagine if Cassper Nyovest failed to fill up the dome. How would South African Hip Hop look at him? What would #TeamAKA think and say? Most importantly, how would social media react? Well, the memes generated would dwarf those produced in the wake of Drake’s If You’re Reading This…” and “Hotline bling” releases. Facebook take-downs would be legendary! Cassper would probably de-activate his accounts temporarily to recover from the windfall. AKA would have a field day. Yup, the Don Mega go in, full throttle, no-holds-barred. It’d be epic! Prophets of doom, among them the collars that be at Big Concerts and their circle of jerks, would have permanent smirks on their faces. They’d feel fully justified to keep South African rap acts permanently locked in opening slots, treated as third-rate garbage in their own land.
But that’s speculation. The reality is that Cassper Nyovest did fill up the dome. He did it by making formulaic songs and utilising his growing celebrity — the result of said formulaic songs — and an on-going media-fuelled ‘beef’ with AKA to achieve it. He made it about him, as in: “I, Refiloe Phoolo, shall use my newfound influence to convince 20, 000 people to buy tickets, and then go all the way to some fuck-off enclave in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg in order to see me.”
Gemini Major, who’s produced for Reason and is affiliated to Family Tree, opened up the show. Stilo Magolide succeeded him. Black Motion, ever the entertainers, had the crowd asking for more. Cassper Nyovest got on stage at around 8pm, dressed in white, eyes covered by dark shades, looking dapper. He rapped on backing tracks for the first half of his set, which was cool but left one feeling that he was out of his depth in an arena. Though people generally enjoyed it, there was no apparent theme tying the songs together. That first half felt like listening to Tsholofelo — a disjointed experience with a few bright moments thrown in, such as when he called up L-Tido on stage, or when dancers joined him with their gawdly routines.
It’s the second set which grabbed me. He had a live band, and seemed more comfortable doing the more experimental cuts such as “She loves me”, dressed in a maroon (?) suit which made him look like a cross between Rick Ross and Keith Sweat — sexy, chubby-ass brother with a smooth flow and a bit of auto-tune to his mic. The stage, the lights, the sound and the band all contributed to making it a memorable performance. Still, the songs could’ve segued better from one to the next.
When 2Broke Twimbos commented on the continued growth of South African Hip Hop in 2014, Cassper responded by crowning himself the sole proprietor of its prevalence. “I feel like there [are] a lot of people who’ve got their share, but I think I started it. ”
He is wrong, and he isn’t the first one to ‘take it to the hood’ either. That he filled up The Dome is owed in part to his celebrity and pull, yes, but it’s also due to the diligent work of every single person who’s ever given their time to advancing rap in South Africa. Separating his current achievements from what Stoan, Baphixhile, Jabba, Morafe/Khuli Chana, Tuks and others did, and seeing himself as the IT without fully acknowledging the contributions of other ITs who came before, is a glaring oversight.
Somewhere along the line, lost in the smog of a draining ego-match with his ‘rival’ AKA and his engagement to Boity Thulo, Cassper decided to include other people on the bill. Notably, House music heavy-hitters Black Motion and DJ Black Coffee agreed to be part of the line-up. From that point onward, filling up The Dome became an easy sell, or easier than the extra time he would’ve had to invest to see the dream through.
Cassper Nyovest is the unwilling savant, the leader of his generation of rappers. He realises it and revels in the adoration, but isn’t sure how to carry himself henceforth. That partially explains the hit-and-miss moment he’s had throughout the year. He’s still weary of the mainstream despite being fully embraced by it, or by some in its quarters. He’s still unsure of his efforts. He missteps, a lot! But it’d be reductionist to assume that he doesn’t see and acknowlege his mistakes; to separate him now from the him before the fame. The before stands neck-a-neck with the now; one feeds into the other to map out a possible ‘after’. Cassper’s background as an underdog from the hood is the yin to his form at the moment. Disentangling himself from any of the two vertices can only lead to his unbecoming.
To me, and surely to countless other black kids who went to The Dome and screamed their lungs out for the duration of his three hour-long set, Cassper represents a further undoing of the chains which bind Africans to the monopoly of white greed, white-owned capital, and white enterprise. #FillUpTheDome couldn’t have come at a better time either. South African students marched and demanded that the proposed fee hike be scrapped, a move that led to other victories such as an end to Universities outsourcing their labour. Days before the concert, the Economic Freedom Front marched to Sandton in their thousands, with their leader Julius Malema shelling a piece of his mind to the South African Reserve Bank, the Chamber of Mines, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
Cassper Nyovest is power, black power — unrelenting, rough, rugged and raw. Unfortunately, his success to date is going to attract attention from corners which never ever thought it possible for one to dream up an idea, map it, and devote their entire being to seeing it through. My worry is that this moment shall be co-opted; that the indie-ness of Cassper Nyovest’s hustle shall crumble under the pervasive muscle of an industry which refuses humanity to youth who play their cards off-centre from their nauseating circle of influence.
But then again, he’s smart enough to notice — and probably has contingency measures in place to ensure — that this is but a defining moment in a string of more defining moments to come.