MATTERS OF OBSESSION

South African rapper Rouge on the power of collaboration

By Lusanda Luthuli 18 February 2021
Caption
Rouge, photograph by Yann BK (Courtesy of the artist)

With the release of two new singles, Rouge partnered with young artists and found ‘her’ sound.

“There’s nothing wrong with working with the new wave, it doesn’t lower your standard — in terms of where you are with your popularity and celebrity status. If anything, it grows and (expands) our hip-hop industry.” 

Inspired by Young Money’s 2009 smash hit, Bedrock, rapper Deko Barbara-Jessica Wedi, aka Rouge, decided to follow a similar concept for the remix of her 2019 single, Popular; the song also features fellow local rapper Mthembeni Ndevu, better known as Emtee. 

Similar to how AKA propelled Rouge onto the national scene and gave her broader exposure when she was featured on the “Baddest” remix, she now returns the gesture by featuring a new wave of young and talented artists on her two new singles, “Popular (remix)” and “Gearbox”, released end of January 2021. 

Although Costa Titch, at his young age, is already a recognisable figure in the mainstream scene, his presence and vocals, along with Durban-born rapper Blxckie, former dancer Tumi Tladi – who’s worked with Rouge on a remix of his single “Basadi” – easy flowing rapper Hanna, and new age trap artist Phantom Steeze – who released his debut project “Trapsula” on 4 December last year – come together in a powerful flow of lyrics and sounds in “Popular (remix)”.  

Popular Remix: A stream of talented artists 

Rouge explains that she’s a big fan of the people she worked with on the “Popular” remix and her hope was to give local hip-hop audiences as much exposure as possible to different artists.

“All the people featured on the song are people I genuinely enjoy listening to myself,” she says, adding that “Costa was an obvious choice, he’s been spearheading this ‘new wave’ conversation right now. I adore him, I get tongue-tied when I see him, that’s how mesmerised I am by what he’s doing and his performance. 

“I feel he has so much to offer this industry and I really wanted to jump on his wave, because I know he’s going to be doing some really awesome stuff and I want to be able to say that I had him as part of something that I was doing,” she adds. Rouge refers to Tumi Tladi’s resilience in the industry as something to celebrate: “Tumi has been pushing, he just didn’t stop and now people are finally getting wind of him. I’m going to be making more music with him because I feel our relationship is authentic.” 

Rouge also credits both musicians for the way they naturally bounced off each other, working in sync to get the sounds right; this is something that is not always the case as artists — especially in our times — often work separately on sounds and lyrics, unlike for example, the late American rapper MF DOOM and producer Madlib on their underground hip-hop duo album “Madvillainy”.

“That’s something so creative that doesn’t really happen anymore in the hip-hop space — they took the time to craft it and make it something interesting and creative and that’s why I know they’re going to be here [in the limelight] for a very long time,” she says. 

The only other woman included in “Popular” remix, Rouge talks about 21-year old Hanna as a talented lyricist and emphasises the power that lies in women working together. “I think she can go head-to-head with a lot of people and she’s still so young and she has so much to offer. And just to show that women can work with each other and not be forced into it.” 

And yet, although collaboration is at the core of Popular Remix and Rouge’s work, the artist notes that she feels that established musicians are still too often reluctant to work with up-and-coming rappers and artists; which is, in her opinion, something that might have made the popular section of hip-hop in the country stagnate slightly. 

“Hip-hop suffered so much because it came with this ego, as egotistical as our genre is… it got to the point where the music wasn’t interesting anymore. The sounds were exactly the same. That’s the beauty of collaboration, it gives songs a new life, a new feel and because the mainstreams (established artists) weren’t trying to work with new artists, it became stagnant.” 

On this though, she also gives credit to South African rapper Riky Rick and revered hip-hop and house producer DJ Maphorisa for driving change and constantly engaging in collaborations with younger, emerging talents; in fact, Riky Rick partnered with Costa Titch in 2019 and Franck Casino in 2016. 


“They are the ones who constantly introduce us to new people, to new rappers, to new vocalists,” she says. 

Collaborations in hip-hop are nothing new, though, and as Rouge mentions, they often bring up new sounds simply because they expand the scope of creativity. In 2011, Jay-Z and Kanye West worked together on West’s album, “Watch The Throne”; locally, rapper AKA has had some prominent features in his discography, including a collaborative album with Anatii in 2017 titled, “Be careful what you wish for”, which had a slow tempo at times, elements of Afropop like on the song ‘Camps Bay’, as well as reminiscences of dancehall and some more religious-inspired songs. It’s a feel-good album, with AKA’s recognisable punchlines and Anatii’s unusual but also futuristic electronic sound.

Gearbox

Along with “Popular Remix”, Rouge also released the single “Gearbox”, this time collaborating with Cape Town lyricist Youngsta CPT and Afrikaans veteran rapper Jack Parow — a surprise addition that yet feels so apt for the song; the pulsating beat with heavy bass goes well with the tempo of Youngsta and Parow’s verses. 

In the multilingual hit, Youngsta starts off with his usual fast-paced flow while Parrow focuses on the chorus and the last verse. 

On Youngsta, she says: “I love (him), I’m still going to do a lot of songs with him… It’s always so nice going bar-for-bar with people like that — I feel like it makes me a better writer and artist,” she says, adding that, “Everyone knew what to expect from Youngsta, but I wanted to bring someone [Parrow] where people didn’t know what to expect. People didn’t know how he’d elevate the sound and that’s why I had Jack Parrow. He brought a different language, culture and perspective to the song.” 

The Pretoria-born and bred rapper has shown a lot of growth since her 2016 breakout single, Mbongo Zaka; now, she is working on a new project, where she wants to showcase her very own sound, which she calls “a more grown-up version” of the rapper we’ve enjoyed over the last four years — something that resonates not only with the people that listen to her music, but with herself as well.

Rapper Rouge​ – New Era Sessions wins ​BEST FEMALE award during the 6th annual SA Hip Hop Awards 2017 (SAHHA2017) at Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City on December 13, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu)
MC and rapper, Rouge during the 24th annual South African Music Awards (SAMA 24) ceremony at Sun City on June 02, 2018 in Rustenburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu)

“I couldn’t figure out what sound resonates with me and with people and I honestly feel like I’ve figured that out and I’m finally starting to figure out my fan-bases. Like who are the people that are listening to my music everyday, who are the people that are reposting and who are the ones that are engaging with me,” she says. DM/ML

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