By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most unusual international hip-hop acts to emerge from the global underground, otherworldly South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord brings it’s kinetic live show to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Saturday with support from established rapper Gucci Mane.
The tandem of vocalists Ninja (aka Watkin Tudor Jones) and Yolandi Visser came together as Die Antwoord in 2008, but already had an extensive history as part of the South African music scene. Jones had a long career in South African hip hop dating back to his first big group the Everlasting Green (who were banned from South African airwaves for their 1995 pro-pot anthem “Puff the Magik”) prior to fronting live hip-hop band Max Normal.
That group was achieving solid commercial success with regular festival appearances when Jones suddenly pulled the plug on it and recorded his first solo album, Memoirs of a Clone. He would follow with a more conceptual approach to music, founding the collective Constructus Corporation and releasing the ambitious 2002 concept album/graphic novel The Ziggurat. He would then re-emerge with a more arty, multi-media focused version of Max Normal called MaxNormal.TV which featured members dressed in three-piece suits as Jones delivered motivational raps often accompanied by PowerPoint presentations operated by collaborator Visser. He also released a second solo effort, The Fantastic Kill, in 2005.
All of these activities would culminate in the emergence of Die Antwoord (Afrikans for “The Answer) in 2008. Steeped in the trashy, post-modern visual aesthetic of South Africa’s counter-culture “Zef” movement — described by Visser in a nutshell as “you’re poor, but you’re fancy” — the group initially released it’s debut album $O$ as a free download on its website. Massive global viewing of the video for the single “Enter the Ninja” and “Evil Boy” (produced by noted beatsmith Diplo who had similarly helped usher M.I.A. to global fame with her hit “Paper Planes”) led to a deal with Interscope Records and a debut U.S. performance at Coachella in 2010 in front of 40,000 people.
Onstage, on album covers and in the group’s surreal videos, Ninja and Visser are known for the outlandish, almost alien appearance — the their first three releases feature Visser in various states of undress and, in one case, apparently about to eat a human heart. The duo would part ways with Interscope before releasing their second album Ten$ion in 2012, claiming that the label was trying to get them to water down their frenzied hip-hop meets rave-punk sound.
The would continue to tour relentlessly, expanding their following with their high-intensity, visually striking live shows while branching out into other avenues. In 2014, the pair appeared in South African director Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction film Chappie, playing metafictional versions of themselves and serving as the gangster guardians to the movie’s titular robot.
Despite their growing popularity as a featured festival attraction, Die Antwoord has announced that it’s forthcoming album The Book of Zef will be it’s last, having marked the completion of a planned five-album cycle. According to social media posts, the group will disband after the album is released in September. Fresh from a set at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival, the group comes south for what could be the duo’s final San Francisco live appearance. Die Antwoord will be joined by prolific Atlanta rapper and “trap” pioneer Gucci Mane, best known for his hit songs “Icy,” “Met Gala” and the Drake collaboration “Both.”
Die Antwoord with Gucci Mane
Saturday, Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m. $49.50
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium