Of course, it wasn't long before the façade of Die Antwoord was revealed to be, well, somewhat artificial. The "Zef Side" video shows Ninja describing himself as just a guy living with his parents. In real life, he's the fortysomething Watkin Tudor Jones, more commonly known as Waddy in the Cape Town rap scene, where for a decade and a half he has toiled under numerous aliases. In the mid '90s, he fronted the Original Evergreens, a major-label act that at the time was seen as South Africa's answer to Cypress Hill. After the Evergreens, his groups became more conceptual: first with Max Normal, then with the Constructus Corporation, and then with Max Normal.tv, a hip-hop group with a corporate structure who mixed live rap with the tropes of a motivational speaker (including live PowerPoint presentations).
In some ways, then, Die Antwoord are Waddy coming back to reality — his move toward a more gangster sound makes sense when you consider the violence that's marred his life. His father was murdered in a carjacking; his brother committed suicide. After the dissolution of Max Normal.tv, Waddy had an epiphany, hearing a banging beat thumping from a car barreling out of the flats. Soon after, he started hanging out with gangsters, got himself prison tattoos, and gave himself the cheesiest nom de guerre he could think of. Ninja and Die Antwoord were born.
Oh, and Yo-Landi is not only his rap sparring partner but also his wife and the mother of his daughter. To many, Die Antwoord's intentional obfuscation of their personal life and appropriation of Cape Town gangster culture seems almost Ali G–ish. But perhaps it's less of a culture-jacking and more about bridging white Afrikaner hardcore with "coloured" musical culture — a move that probably seems a lot bolder if you're from South Africa. As it is, the band's global audience can only stop and stare.
But that audience can also throw its hands in the air at Die Antwoord's stupendous live act. All those years in the trenches have made Ninja and Yo-Landi into a force to be reckoned with, capable of pummeling audiences with their boundless finger-in-a-light-socket energy and hyperkinetic flow. Anyone approaching a Die Antwoord gig expecting to see a joke band fake their way through a performance will be set straight by their full-on lyrical assault. They are, in a sense, making themselves real after a long period of Web stunting: $O$ will be released on Interscope in October, and Ninja and Yo-Landi already have a five-album plan. Yes, it could all fall flat if no one cares, or if everyone moves on to the next Internet sensation. But forget the speculation: this is the moment to savor the phenomenon of Die Antwoord, as they perhaps make the transition from curiosity to genuine global musical force.
DIE ANTWOORD + SLEIGH BELLS | Royale, 279 Tremont St, Boston | July 22 at 7 pm | $20 | 617.338.7699 or royaleboston.com