JAB­U­LANI Tsambo has his back to me. We’re in the stu­dio at­tached to his home and the se­cond track off his up­com­ing EP, Feels Good

To Be Back, is waft­ing through the speak­ers.

The motswako OG, who has an­swered to Hip-Hop Pantsula (HHP) or Jabba, is at the sink wash­ing dishes and bop­ping his head as though he’s hear­ing the song for the first time.

He is clean­ing up house, lit­er­ally and oth­er­wise. Soon, he will re­lease his 10th and, he says, fi­nal HHP al­bum called Drum. Then he’ll be known as Jabba X.

“Hip-Hop Pantsula has taken so many shapes that the brand is broad,” he turns around to tell me with his hands cov­ered in soap suds.

“There are peo­ple who know the mu­sic, oth­ers only know Strictly Come Danc­ing, oth­ers know the Sta­tus TV show and oth­ers only know me for my ide­olo­gies – like the daraja walks I do.

“The 10th al­bum is a cel­e­bra­tion of the work of Hip-Hop Pantsula. But as Jabba, the way that I think and where I’m at right now is dif­fer­ent from Hip-Hop Pantsula.”

But be­fore he re­leases Drum, Jabba X is test­ing the wa­ters with a five-track EP called Feels Good To Be Back.

The tracks tra­verse a loosely chrono­log­i­cal or­der of the rise of South African pop(ular) mu­sic. There are early kwaito in­flu­ences on the ti­tle track, a pi­o­neer­ing rap feel on Mazenke Mu­sic, mid-tempo grooves on Boom­town, an un­de­ni­able trap flex on Hugo and gqom on Ganda Dance.

To cre­ate this EP, Jabba X part­nered with a young pro­ducer called Hugo. Yes, the se­cond track – which fea­tures the pro­ducer rap-singing like Pro­fes­sor-meets-KO – is named af­ter him.

Jabba X says: “I went to go see him one day and the syn­ergy was or­ganic. We didn’t plan it. We lit­er­ally recorded this EP in five days.

“On the third day, he told me this would be his first com­mer­cial re­lease.”

In giv­ing Hugo a chance to break out into the main­stream, Hugo is also giv­ing Jabba X a chance to stand in the light that was be­stowed upon HHP.

Where HHP cut a clean fig­ure, Jabba X is will­ing to be dif­fer­ent.

It’s a big risk to take for a mul­ti­award win­ning, beloved per­son­al­ity in a time when fans are spoilt for choice.

To me, this EP sounds like an evo­lu­tion, an ex­per­i­ment even. But not one that would taint the HHP legacy.

The way Jabba X tells it, this pre­lude to Drum could cost him some of his base.

But he’d be in­au­then­tic if he didn’t step out as his true self.

“Hip-Hop Pantsula has got to a point where he is type­cast as some­one who only raps this way on these types of beats and makes you feel this way,” he says.

“Jabba X wants to ex­plore more. I want to do things that aren’t con­ven­tion­ally in Hip-Hop Pantsula’s space and cre­ate a new au­di­ence who will ap­pre­ci­ate that.

“As Jabba X, I’m at a place where I am just so hon­est… I would rather have peo­ple dis­like me for who I truly am, than like me for who they think I am.” ■ Jabba X’s Feels Good To Be Back will be re­leased in dig­i­tal mu­sic stores to­day.

Jab­u­lani Tsambo

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