HIP ZEF-I: They call their music “zef,” a slang term referring to the culture surrounding the gangster-ridden Cape Flats, a mix of English and Afrikaans, black and white, urban and destitute.
Die Antwoord have hit the sweet spot. A year and a half after they made their presence known and went from zero to instant worldwide Internet sensation, head-scratching curiosity has curdled into full-blown mania. As their world tour brings them to Royale tonight (July 22) with Sleigh Bells, they are poised to obliterate the minds of unsuspecting Yanks with their truly peculiar, self-styled, next-level South African rap rave.
"Die antwoord" is Afrikaans for "the answer." But at this point, the question is whether this crew will morph into a real-life sensation or flame out like so many Internet memes once the initial guffaws and ROFLs fade away.
Die Antwoord would seem, on the surface, a tough sell to a world audience. Their Cape Town swagger is a strange mix of dated and foreign musical and cultural references, with a bizarre rap delivery that is half English and half Afrikaans. Leader Ninja is a tall lanky fellow who carries Die Antwoord's tunes with ball-swinging bravado. The Flavor Flav to his Chuck D is Yo-Landi Vi$$er, a pint-sized hype chick whose eerie voice and smutty lyrical bent add a certain WTF element to the band's already-bizarre façade.
They call their music "zef," a slang term referring to the culture surrounding the gangster-ridden Cape Flats, a mix of English and Afrikaans, black and white, urban and destitute. Ninja himself sums it up at the beginning of their breakthrough single/video "Enter the Ninja": "I represent South African culture. Blacks, whites, colored, English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu. I'm like all these different things . . . fucked into one." Ninja and Yo-Landi don't spin tales so much as make elaborate allegories out of Cape Flats life, each song's ringtone rave spilling over with sex, violence, and strange allusions and out-of-date references. If this is all starting to sound like a train-wreck collision of appropriated styles and tacky music — well, on some level it is.
But it's become an Internet rubbernecking explosion. In the middle breakdown of "Enter the Ninja," Ninja proclaims, "Look at me now/All up in the Interweb/Worldwide!" As it turns out, this wasn't an idle boast — the February 2009 YouTube debut of the two-minute "Zef Side" film (which introduced the band and zef culture with snippets of Die Antwoord performing "Beat Boy," an epic tale of sex and surrealism that needs to be heard to be believed) coincided with the release, for free, of their $O$ album on their Web site. Still, it was the YouTube posting of "Enter the Ninja," on January 14 of this year, that took Die Antwoord global. Within days, message boards and music-related Web sites were abuzz with this strange group who'd appeared out of nowhere. Millions of views and downloads later, the hype explosion resulted in a major-label signing and a world tour.