Die Antwoord - Donker Mag
Interscope have banned Youtube in their offices for the forseeable future. I once sat in a marketing lecture where 50 of the brightest minds in my state spent 2 hours brainstorming the phenomenon known as 'viral'. When Die Antwoord released the insane Enter The Ninja in 2010, someone in a starched white suite put a fat-shaped hole in their door on their way to South Africa to sign these two (and DJ Hi-Tek). In 2014, they've managed the impossible again, with the batshit crazy video for Pitbull Terrier proving the art of the music video is far from dead. Viral isn't a formula, it's an organic, tangible beast that Die Antwoord have in spades.
Donker Mag hit's you in the neck, like all of their releases do. It comes flying in through the window, blending Death Grips intensity with the throb of Timbaland and a couple of emcees who are literally peerless in the Western world. In fact apart from Jack Parow, it's hard to identify anyone who reps the Zef with a similar level of dedication. To kick a massive label deal to the curb over autonomy concerns, after they'd played to 40,000 people at Coachella, is almost unfathomable to most. On So What (from their previous record, Ten$ion), Ninja and Yo-Landi trade bars about their relative poverty and it's removal in one fell swoop. 'Got a million fucking dollars in the bank', 'Not too shitty, fuck you Jimmy, I'm a never give it back'. Money is a real push pull topic for them.
You can forgive Ninja for all his shortcomings because his swagger and bravado is just so damn air tight it's impressive. On Zars he takes out a public service announcement to explain why he speaks with different accents to different people. It's the only concession or explanation we will recieve from him. This track bleeds in to the insane Raging Zef Boner, 'I'm an African, come girl you know whats up / This big motherfucking dick is whats up'. Fuck yeah! Clearly not the most attractive man in the world, as referenced constantly by Yolandi, he laces Donker Mag with so much blatant sexual imagery it's worthy of a spot next to Lil Wayne on the sex olympics podium. 'Panties hit me in the face like wicked / smells like fish, TASTES LIKE CHICKEN!'. He's a love ninja this one.
That's not a diss, and it has always been Ninja's personality that has carried him through whilst sharing mic space with one of the most gifted and technical female emcees since the late 90s. Yolandi was the weird girl in school, like Rooney Mara in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The girl who dresses weird, talks weird, acts crazy, and yet you are drawn to her through some animal magnetism trickery. Her sex appeal has only ever been accentuated, not exploited, by the duo, which is an incredibly tough line to tread. But when she can spit the way she does, it's not hard to see why she is more than just a sideshow. The way she utilises her angelic delivery is expertly cultivated. She can switch from the sweetest, meditative noises (Pitbull Terrier) to a beast snapping at your heels as you turn and run from her blood soaked teeth (I Don't Dwank). The way she double times on Cookie Thumper! puts Ninja to shame, 'Yo-Landi Visser got the hypest flow / start talking in tongues whenever I get stoned / Motherfucking minds get blown / Everytime I rap into the microphone'. The only crime on Donker Mag is why she doesn't appear more often. Ninja takes up the bulk of the leg work, and Yolandi provides hooks, bridges and asides, but if she spat more it would propel the record to a higher status.
The elephant in the room is the weird juxtaposition of a group rejecting major label dollars to remain independent and true to their homeland, yet one who refuses to rap extensively in their native tongue. Yolandi can quite regularly be coaxed in to Afrikaans, yet Ninja seems hesitant to use it. There is hardly any doubt that rapping exclusively in Afrikaans would diminish their international audience significantly. Yet English is spoken quite freely in South Africa and Cape Town, so it's a difficult conundrum to judge. You could be cynical and say that Ninja borrows the Zef culture (that, admittedly, he has now made internationally famous) and yet refuses to immerse himself fully in it, using it merely as a tool to explain his less than intricate lifestyle. This is short-sighted though, and it'd be extremely difficult to claim that Die Antwoord have sold out in any way, shape or form. Maybe I am in the minority, as someone who disseminates music as a hobby, when I say that more Afrikaans would be a plus rather than a minus. Either way, Donker Mag is accessible.
A lot of that accessibility comes from DJ Hi-Tek, who is severely underrated. His jungle-style 808 bang recalls Dr. Dre, yet he has all the pomp and ceremony of Just Blaze or Kanye, if without the brass and soul samples. Each track is a real jolting experience, and Ninja's outrageous boasts sit perfectly nestled in a sound that is, almost impossibly, bigger than him. The whole record just feels well put together. Raging Zef Boner get's an almost playful beat to counter his dangerous statements, and Shnurr's work on Pitbull Terrier is plain menacing. Then there is something like Cookie Thumper! which initially feels like a Southern minimalist DJ Mustard creation before the anthem is dialled up to 14 with a siren calling all and sundry to the dance floor to hear Yolandi pontificate.
For two emcees who claim drugs to be a daily indulgence, Donker Mag is so well put together you almost don't want to rip the shrink wrap off the CD. This is no novelty act. Ninja pours his heart and soul in to every single rhyme he conjures, and Yolandi is as shrewd as she is talented, able to manipulate her god given gift of a voice descended from a hollywood heaven, she can turn from a sweet pussy cat to an earless Tiger in seconds. It's a thumper though, make sure your grandma isn't nearby cause you're going to need to turn it up to 11.