Back to the City 2018: lives up to the occasion, captures a moment + our fave performances

Image: FDBQ Music – Reason performs live at the Back to the City Festival 2018 at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg on 27 April 2018

YoungstaCPT, AKA, Riky Rick and Reason make Back to the City 2018 an occasion to remember — and so does seeing Okmalumkoolkat

I had a few people ask me this question: is Back to the City even still a thing? There’s two answers to that question. The first is, if you have to ask, it was never for you in the first place. The second answer is pretty obvious to everyone else who doesn’t fall into that category.

When I attended Back to the City last year, the inclusion of acts like Zola brought things full circle for me. It felt like, okay, here’s a festival that understands and celebrates hip hop culture in the ways that it’s able to capture it holistically. It still knows how to do that.

Watch the performances from Back to the City 2017

This year’s headliners included Riky Rick, YoungstaCPT, Reason, Okmalumkoolkat, Stoogie T and Shane Eagle, among others. A very contemporary draw card list though one could argue that someone like Stoogie exists in a dual space where he represents both the new and the old school. And so along with all the other acts that took on the main stage – Big Zulu, Priddy Ugly, ShabZi Madallion – this year’s festival felt very much like a narrowing in on the times.

But then there’s was PRO (formerly ProKid). I won’t say it would’ve changed your life – he oft times looked at though he was relying heavily on his backtrack and crowd nostalgia to get him by – but that moment means something for modern-day hip hop culture. You’ve got to honour the greats who’ve gone before to appreciate those that are with us now.

Listen to our Back to the City 2018 playlist via Apple Music

This is why it was important that the festival announced the launch of a hip hop museum. Attending shows and festivals is part of my job and, I can tell you, you’d be hard-pressed to find an audience as captive as the Back to the City crowd. That’s why something like a hip hop museum, which is expected to be located at Mary Fitzgerald Square is so important: these kids live this culture through and through, and they deserve to have somewhere to learn more about it.

With that said, here’s a rundown of the best of what we saw Friday (27 Apr.) night at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown.

1. YoungstaCPT

When you’re invited to play outside of home, you better bring your A-game with you. YoungstaCPT is the textbook example on just how to do that. The West Coast rapper brought everything he had Friday (27 Apr.) night and then some. Halfway through his performance, he took things back to where they all started: freestyles. After asking the crowd hold up whatever they had – which included ganja, a R100 note, shoes, a person, and a cap among other things – mans shut it down with an impromptu “JHB My Broer” remix of The Game’s “How We Do.”

2. Riky Rick

Riky Rick’s Back to the City 2018 performance is especially important now because the very day after, the King Kotini announced his indefinite retirement from live performance citing being “not in the right place mentally.” It’s strange considering he ate up the stage and anyone who was there will confirm as much. Whatever he’s going through, we hope he gets through it and we’ll hold on to this performance until then.

3. Big Zulu

If you’ve never heard of this guy, you’ll want to find him on whatever streaming platform you’re subscribed to and add him right now. Big Zulu reminds you of why you fell in love with rap in the first place: rappers are poets who know how to bend, chop and screw words and grammar to convey the simplest ideas in the most creative ways. If for nothing else, this dude deserves hall of fame recognition.


4. Shane Eagle

Shane Eagle strikes you as an easy going guy but he hits the stage and all of a sudden he’s in beast mode. He was hungry and the Back to the City crowd responded accordingly. “Let It Flow” is his MO and when you’re caught in the firing line of his flow, you have no other option but to comply.

5. Priddy Ugly

Last year, Priddy Ugly brought out YoungstaCPT for a surprise performance of “Come to My Kasi.” This year, all he needed was himself. It may not be immediately apparent, but the Back to the City stage is pretty large. You need the kind of “I wish a nigga would” braggadocio to fill a stage like that — and that’s what Priddy’s got.

6. Stoogie T with surprise guest act, AKA

I spoke at the top of this article about how important Stoogie T is for the culture. From his Tumi and the Volume days, the success with Motif Records and his new identity at Stoogie T, Tumi Molekane’s place is the hall of fame of South African hip hop is secure. So he did the complete unexpected on Friday (27 Apr.) night by bringing out AKA. You only need to look at the riot that caused in the crowd to understand just how special this moment was.

7. Okmalumkoolkat

So, it’s important that we have this conversation and we’re going to do it now. News media is in crisis: how do we deal with convicted (and alleged) abusers in the age of #MeToo? Should we ban them for good? She we delete all their music? Remove all the articles ever written about them? Discourage fans from listening to them or attending their shows?

Okmalumkoolkat’s Back to the City 2018 performance is, as you can see, pretty high up on this list — and that’s coz it was very good. I jumped on Twitter post his performance and the questions were there: why was he allowed to perform? I attended Afropunk last year and the resistance to his rumoured appearance was palpable. So how do we hold our artists accountable?It’s easy enough to say he served his time but his victim gets to live her entire life with that memory.

Here’s what I do know: Okmalumkoolkat is here and we need to co-habitat with him, in this country and in this industry, and that’s not going to change. It’s not like he’s going to switch careers and disappear from the heat of the spotlight. But perhaps we can require of him to be the example for other men going forward, to consistently call out abusive behaviour when he sees it and to actively commit to never falling back into it himself.

All we have right now is this performance, which was a very good performance. If you or a rep on your team is reading this, Okamalumkoolkat, know that I intend on reaching out soon and I hope you’ll be okay to have a constructive conversation.

8. Reason

This dude has been performed at Back to the City for as many years as it has been around: that’s twelve. And for his twelve performance in a row, he hadn’t lost it at all. His focus was in the right place and he did a good job of handling the crowd. There was also a special moment during “Top Seven” where he gave a shout to his girl, LootLove who has right there on the stage cheering her man on.

9. PRO

If you’re going to have a conversation about local hip hop, you’ve got to take a moment to acknowledge PRO. If he had left that stage having not performed, “Wozobona,” I would not have been impressed at all. The message of that song is precisely what marks his importance and all why you should see this. It would have been nice to see less backtrack rapping and more energy though.

10. ShabZi Madillion

You’ll have a hard time finding a rapper who hustles as hard as this guy does. Keeping in that spirit, he made the most of his Back to the City 2018 performance.

Well, what do you think?