Tonight, in front of a capacity live audience on Jimmy Kimmel Live, a middle-aged South African rapper wearing only boxer shorts and pencil moustache was flailing through semi-synchronized dance moves with a petite blond in custom-made footy pajamas, while a hooded DJ in a fright mask loomed over the pair like a cartoon ghoul, howling in delight as he unleashed his demon-spawn on an audience of innocent bystanders. Keep in mind that this was not cable or satellite specialty programming I had tuned into, no sir, this was Disney-owned, family-oriented, all-American ABC, home of Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Wife Swap! They wouldn’t let just any half-brained hip-hop wannabes parade around on their precious airtime. How did this nonsense slip by the big Mouse upstairs?
I peeled my retinas off of the foreign freakazoids bouncing around the stage like rejects from some nightmarish acid-carnival and remembered that I had specifically tuned in to witness the infamous Die Antwoord perform in their native Afrikaans flesh. The posse, made up of lead singer Ninja, his spunky sidekick Yo-Landi Visser, and the enigmatic DJ Hi-Tek, inked a major-label deal with Interscope subsidiary Cherrytree Records and have been creeping into the heart of America one late-night television show or festival appearance at a time, garnering a celebrity fan base that counts everyone from MIA to Dave Grohl among it’s ranks. The reason for this particular television appearance in front of nearly two million nightly Kimmel viewers was to perform “Enter The Ninja,” arguably the most popular track from their debut album, $O$, a record which saw it’s official label release just this month despite being almost entirely comprised of tracks from their free mixtape which first appeared on the group’s website in 2009.
Let me take a moment to acknowledge the fact that I generally detest “novelty” acts and I’ve criticized a number of wanna-be rap mooks in the past, from the laughably ludicrous Insane Clown Posse to the jerks behind “I’m On A Boat” who ruined my bar-hopping experience for four minutes every night for six months. What makes these foreign hooligans any different, you ask? After a number of conversations, debates, polls, surveys, petitions and unethical animal testings regarding Die Antword, I have determined that I just don‘t give a shit. Die Antwoord are clearly unconventional, they’re clearly self-aware, and they clearly enjoy the attention they are receiving for acting like hallucinogenic spider-monkeys from Neptune, so they probably couldn’t care less what I think anyway. This argument has been exhausted time and time again regarding alter-ego bearing forefathers like David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, and that nutcase Joaquin Phoenix, and although the latter may have turned out to be a hoax, if Die Antwoord are a joke it’s one I’m happy to be in on because they’re sure to have the last laugh.
But wasn’t this supposed to be an album review?
The newly re-vamped $O$ serves as great introduction to an incredibly strange group that are going to need all the help they can get crossing over into the mainstream, despite their obvious talent. Someone clearly clued the enigmatic DJ-Tek’s how to turn his granny’s PC computer up to 11, as his unorthodox club beats on the carry-over tracks from the album’s original release receive a beneficial audio makeover, boosting the bass and polishing Ninja’s razor-sharp delivery making it all the more lethal. The three new tracks shine as well, delivering the same futuristic nastiness they perfected with their demos and proving that the group did not lose their revoltingly-eccentric attitude in the major label contract disputes.
Kicking off with a bang, the stomping “In Your Face” assaults the listener with a slamming minimalist beat and a taunting hook that effectively calls out any detractors who may speak ill of their art. Tracks like “Fish Paste” and “$copie” highlight Ninja’s impressive lyrical prowess and Yo-Landi’s snarky sass, and the rave-worthy “Beat Boy” may earn the honor of most jaw-dropping track, a droning beat looped behind words that sound like the script of a Stanley Kubrick-directed porno. One perusal of the fully translated lyrics which Die Antwoord recently posted on their website gives a taste of the disturbing sexuality that exudes from the album:
The old surgeon says ‘Can you see this?
A beautiful woman with a brand new penis.’
You clap the surgeon, flip him right round,
Bend him over, lift his white gown.
Grab the surgeons milky buttcheeks
Rape the surgeon, break the surgeon.
Absorb your penis into your tummy,
You’re a woman again complete with a vagina.
Hip-hop has no shortage of explicitly vulgar artists, but it’s Die Antwoord’s perverse reality that they have created around themselves that makes $O$ so unique. “She Makes Me a Killer,“ the last new track to make the cut is no exception, a nearly eight-minute story song in which Ninja depicts a series of failed romantic conquests including an attempted threesome with a virgin and his DJ. Everyone knows that sex sells, but Die Antwoord’s product is a bit past it’s due date, revealing verse after verse of sexuality gone sour. The album caps off with the evil-tinged party anthem “Doos Dronk,” one of two tracks sung almost completely in their native tongue, and the only one that recalls drunken pirates lugging kegs to a Nazi Rally. There were also a few particularly great tracks that got dropped from the official release (“Wat Pomp,” “I Don‘t Need You,” “Dagga Puff,” the list goes on…), but the fact that these incredibly other-worldly songs are seeing a major-label release at all is a feat in itself and I‘ll always support a sacrifice for the greater good.
Regardless of whether or not you think Die Antwoord are joking or the most legitimate musical act of their generation, they’re absolutely enthralling to watch and their showmanship is undeniable. The greatest obstacle facing the group is unfortunately not a factor within their control, but simply the proven fickleness of the general music-consuming audience. Die Antwoord’s songs are not radio-friendly in duration or lyrical content, their appearance is gruesome at times, and unfortunately there still exists a small segment of the American public who aren’t fluent in Afrikaans. But a more interesting group has not graced music in a very long time, and I would not mind living in a world where we’d all be forced to listen to Kanye interrupt the Grammys to complain about how Die Antwoord were winning all his deserved awards. Regardless of what constitutes “real,” $O$ is the record I want to spin when I’m having a good time, which is the best review I can give an album. I suppose I need to go back and listen to “I’m On A Boat” again, maybe I’m just missing something.
By Alex Mosie