Motswako leg­end one of a kind

Jabba drew in­spi­ra­tion from ev­ery­thing and his re­sponse was emo­tional and spon­ta­neous

Mail & Guardian - - News - Kwanele Sosibo

Mo’Molemi, a reclu­sive con­tem­po­rary of motswako phe­nom­e­non Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP) once wrote about a meet­ing they had at his North West Bakang farm in the mid-2000s.

Hav­ing turned his back on the rap scene, Mo’Molemi was be­com­ing bet­ter known for his farm­ing un­til Jabba showed up with beats he was com­pil­ing for an al­bum. They messed around with ri­fles and smoked un­der the stars be­fore HHP pulled out his bag of beats. He played a rough beat of Let Me Be, which sam­ples Aretha Franklin’s Walk On By.

“I just burst out with a mean verse,” writes Mo’Molemi. “… bot­sh­elo ke sera, don’t be too friendly hao phela … af­ter a long break I was of­fi­cially back rap­ping … I’m only one of tens oth­ers that you touched with your gen­eros­ity … and ge­nius … and this is your legacy for­ever HHP … bosso.”

It was fit­ting to dis­cover this fiveyear-old post on the day of HHP’s death. A re­frain re­peated by his mu­si­cal as­so­ci­ates is that he was the undis­puted flag bearer for motswako.

Com­monly as­so­ci­ated with rap and Setswana, for HHP, also known as Jabba, motswako was not nec­es­sar­ily aligned to mu­si­cal form and lan­guage. It was more an ap­proach to mu­sic-mak­ing, as Jabba told Te­bogo Dit­shego and Masech­aba Dlengezele in 2010: “Ishmael, I don’t know whether he did gospel, kwaito, R&B, hip-hop, mutha­land crunk. He’s some­where in be­tween. That’s motswako … I liked rap, I liked RnB, I liked choral mu­sic. I could merge all these things to­gether.”

The ca­reer of Hip Hop Pantsula, who pre­ferred the name Jabba, started out in­aus­pi­ciously. As part of a teenage group called Ver­bal As­sas­sins, he had mod­elled him­self on No­to­ri­ous B.I.G., iden­ti­fy­ing with his size and his im­plau­si­ble ap­peal.

In­tro­duced to Chicco in the late 1990s, the group put out the al­bum Party, which sort of fiz­zled out, but set the stage for the emer­gence of Hip Hop Pantsula.

“My ad­vice was that the best thing to do is to rap in Setswana be­cause there were very few artists back then do­ing it,” says Chicco on the night of Jabba’s death. “He took my ad­vice and then things started hap­pen­ing for him.”

Vusi Leeuw, an A&R at EMI/CCP at the time, says he was in­tro­duced to Jabba by pro­ducer Isaac Mthethwa. Leeuw signed Jabba on the strength of their demo.

“There was some­thing dif­fer­ent that I heard,” says Leeuw. “There was Setswana and it was com­mer­cial. But it wasn’t un­til Harambe [his third al­bum] that South Africa picked up on Jabba.”

In the stu­dio, Jabba was known for his ef­fi­ciency and tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from wher­ever it came.

“Ini­tially, he would come to the stu­dio, lis­ten to the beat, come up with a hook and then he would con­tex­tu­alise the verses,” says pro­duc­tion as­so­ciate Thas­man. “He went to the States and, when he came back, he was like, ‘The game in the States is on some other level’. From then on, he felt like too much time spent on con­tex­tu­al­is­ing was time wasted.”

His new ap­proach to this ef­fect in­cluded re­act­ing emo­tion­ally to a new beat, as if try­ing to cap­ture its spirit. He would then spray it with an ar­ray of ad-libs “and then when he comes with full verses, you hear the ad-libs start­ing to make sense”.

Thas­man says a song that typ­i­fied this ap­proach is his lat­ter-day hit Bosso ke Mang.

As for how Jabba ad­justed to his de­clin­ing for­tunes in the in­dus­try, in­dus­try vet­eran Bradley Wil­liams says: “It’s hard for an artist com­ing from an era where mu­sic is cel­e­brated to [ad­just to] where it’s more like a brand­ing and celebrity thing.”

Although on the face of it Jabba may have been an­ti­thet­i­cal to the spirit be­hind trap mu­sic, he did par­take in it, such as on the Ron Epi­demic-pro­duced song Pop Mab­hodlela, fea­tur­ing Ta­mar­sha, which went on to be added to 2014’s Motswako High School. “Be­fore Pop Mab­hodlela, I was just that kid on Face­book up­load­ing beats,” says Ron. “But af­ter that, I started work­ing with Am­bi­tiouz En­ter­tain­ment be­cause of it.”

Gone at 38, Jabba leaves be­hind his son, wife, par­ents, two sis­ters and nephew.

Gone: HHP’s ap­proach to motswako pro­pelled him to the top of the move­ment. Photo: David Har­ri­son

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