At first listen, Die Antwoord sounds like manic rap with unintelligible lyrics, but the group has a method to their madness. They are not only musicians and lyricists, but they have established a subculture, Zef, with their music, image, and heritage. There is no other way to describe their style except as mesmerizing.
The South African group is comprised of Ninja, Yolandi Vi$$er, and backed by DJ Hi-Tek. Ninja and Yolandi had known each other for a while when growing up, but they didn’t form the rap-rave group until 2008 in Cape Town, South Africa. Both members are of Afrikaans descent, the Dutch population that immigrated to South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries, so Die Antwoord is Afrikaans for The Answer. Ninja had been involved in the rap and hip-hop scene for a while before he formed Die Antwoord, and he characterizes this time as experimenting and looking for a project worth dedicating his time to. This period of experimentation lead to Die Antwoord—“The answer” to his search.
You can try to define Die Antwoord’s music, but it is definitely one of a kind. They are a combination of rap, hip-hop, electronic, rock, and pop. Between Yolandi’s high-pitched vocals, Ninjas rap lyrics, and DJ Hi-Tek’s electronic hypnotizing beats, the use of “rap-rave” is an attempt to categorize their sound. In reality trying to confine it in one or two genres doesn’t do Die Antwoord creative justice. The group released their first album, $O$, in 2008 as a free download online. This album included the single "Enter the Ninja", which they also produced a music video for. The video reached millions of views. As a result of both their album’s and video’s success, they signed with Interscope Records in 2010 and toured around the world playing at big music festivals like Coachella in California.
In 2011, after some disputes with Interscope about creative freedom rights, Die Antwoord decided to create their own independent music label called Zef Recordz. According to their online diary Die Antwoord said in reference to Interscope, “’But this time, they also tried to get involved with our music, to try and make us sound like everyone else out there at the moment. So we said: 'U know what, rather hang on to your money, buy yourself something nice...we gonna do our own thing. Bye bye’” They released their next album, Ten$ion, in January of 2012 through their newly established label. The most popular singles off this album are "I Fink U Freeky", "Baby’s on Fire", and Fatty Boom Boom.
The creation of Zef Records is one example showing how Die Antwoord is not in the music industry for the fame and money. They do it because they love their music, their movement, and their fans. In an interview with Spin Ninja said, “People are unconscious, and you have to use your art as a shock machine to wake them up. You have to be futuristic and carry on. You gotta be a good guide to help people get away from dull experience.” They like to do things differently and in their own way, and this way definitely shocks people.
Part of Die Antwoord’s originality comes from their image and following, which revolves around the style of Zef. Originally the term Zef was a derogatory word for the working-class white population in South Africa, but it has been transformed into a mentality and subculture similar to the culture of the hip-hop movement in the US. Additionally, Die Antwoord incorporates their South African heritage into their music in an exceptional way. They not only include lyrics from African languages, but they film their music videos in parts of South Africa and also collaborate with other African musicians and artists—exposing listeners to unique lyrics, images, and overall vibe.
The group just released their third album Donker Mag on June 3, 2014, with just as much originality as ever to satisfy fans and push the envelope of what is considered conventional art. A lot of artists claim to do their own thing, but Die Antwoord is not just different; They are bizarre. Bizarre in a good way. Their music and image is jarring, and it is definitely not compatible with everyone’s tastes. At the same time, this is what makes them Die Antwoord. You can’t say Die Antwoord is like any other musician out there right now, which in my opinion means they’re doing something right.
If nothing else, listen to Die Antwoord and appreciate their ability to pioneer their own sound and subculture that works to define what Die Antwoord is, instead of making music that conforms to what already exists.
By Gabi Schwartz