This article provides an overview of hip hop music in Botswana, explaining its socio-economic origins, its early stages of development and its rise in popularity in the early 2000s, as well as the development of the motswako sub-genre and the future prospects for hip hop in the country.

Botswana rapper Stagga. Photo: True Africa

According to a 2014 study by the De Beers group, the discovery of diamonds shortly after Botswana gained independence in 1966 has contributed to its economy becoming one of the fastest-growing and most stable in the world. The study further shows that the economic transformation that the diamond industry brought about resulted in the growth of Botswana’s middle class, especially from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, creating a generation that was increasingly exposed to and influenced by products and ideas from Western countries such as the US.

Hip hop was introduced to Botswana in the early 1980s but blossomed in the 1990s when children from well-to-do families embraced the fashion, music and lifestyle of the US. Rap battles became a permanent feature at Maru-a-Pula and Gaborone Secondary schools, and the genre was solidified by the work of influential artists such as Ndala Baitsile, known as DJ Sid, and David Molosiwa, then known as Dave-Ski but now called DJ Skizo.

DJ Sid is credited for starting the influential hip hop group P-Side, which dominated the local hip hop arena and paved the way for the emergence of the next generation of popular artists, namely Scar, HT and Zeus

The emergence of hip hop in Botswana also owes a great deal to the efforts of radio DJs such as Thabo ‘Shakes the Mix’ Matthews. His show Rap Blast – which aired on Radio Botswana 2 (RB2) in the early 1990s – did much to promote the genre in its early years. Similarly, another duo, comprising David Balsher (Draztik) and Salim Mosidinyane, is credited with promoting the Botswana hip hop music industry via radio shows, while at the same time establishing themselves as hip hop artists through their group Cashless Society.

Although this wave of interest allowed a new breed of hip hop emcees such as Pongo Rista, 3rd Mind and Wizards of the Desert to emerge on the popular entertainment scene, perhaps due to its middle-class origins, the genre battled against the perception that it was a product for the elite – and was sidelined by recording labels, event promoters and club owners throughout the 1990s.

Kwaito, instead, was seen as the genre for the masses, enjoying massive airplay and rave reviews, while even the release of notable hip hop albums such as 3rd Mind’s Player for Lifedidn’t translate to greater albums sales, threatening to put a premature end to the development of the genre.

Botswana hip hop in the 2000s   

With the turn of the millennium, the fortunes of the genre improved significantly, with new acts such as Tha Orakle, Apollo Diablo, Zeus, Scar and Stagga gaining widespread recognition. The genre quickly overtook kwaito in terms of popularity, with DJ Sid and Prez Beatz producing the popular P-Side Compilation, which featured notable emcees such as Mista Doe, Nomadic/Mr T, Scar and Desma/Ice Queen.

Interestingly, radio again played an important role in popularising the genre, with shows like Draztik’s Strictly Hip Hop Live on RB2 and Yarona FM’s Sprite Rap Activity commanding a notable following.

This surge in popularity allowed Botswana hip hop to penetrate the southern African region, exemplified by Mista Doe winning the Best Southern African Artist Channel O Award in 2006 (for Hot to Death) and Nomadic/Mr T’s Soul Aqua gaining wide critical plaudits.

Post-2010: The evolution of motswako hip hop

Over the years, Botswana’s hip hop artists have tried to localise the genre by fusing English with vernacular languages, leading to the creation of motswako hip hop. Rapping in local vernacular makes the music accessible to most Batswana and allows the music to reflect the language and culture of the region[14], with motswako artists infusing rhymes with metaphors in multiple languages.

Zeus[15] has been the face of motswako hip hop in recent years. Born Game Bantsi, Zeus is an internationally celebrated Botswana artist who continues to make strides in the music industry[15]. The star, and former Big Brother Africa participant, has been nominated multiple times by the US-based Africa Muzik Magazine Awards (AFRIMMA). As he told Sunday World in 2013, “Motswako is a genre because we are Tswanas [and] we automatically become a big community. We are just young boys promoting Tswana culture and we are driven by language. I am about Africanism, my sound has a lot to do with being authentic. I want young Africans to embrace being who they are through my music.”

The post-2010 hip hop boom in Botswana has also seen the emergence of prominent female rappers. The country’s most decorated is Sasa Klaas who is known for her energetic stage presence and the hits ‘HADSAN’ and ‘Mma Mongwato’. Sasa Klaas has performed at the DStv iRock Festival in South Africa and co-hosts the Highly Inappropriate With Phat Joe TV show (2018).

Future of the genre

Judging by recent attendance figures at festivals and shows, airplay and social media interest, the future of Botswana hip hop looks bright. The annual Motswako Invasion, a festival that promotes local hip hop, has been growing over the years[20]. Meanwhile, rapper Kast filled Botswana’s National Stadium with 20 000 people for a show in May 2017.

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