Born and raised in Botswana, now based in Joburg, Game ‘Zeus’ Bantsi is one of a new wave of rappers from the Motswako school. African Time is his third album and it’s jam-packed full of ideas, references, samples, collaborations and influences – all rolled up into one ambitious, cohesive project that defies the borders of individual nations or personal mindsets.
The tone and message of this album are laid out from the outset, with the opening three tracks ‘African Time’, ‘Ma Afrika’ and ‘Passport Stamps’. The latter boasts a chorus fit for any dancefloor from Maputo to Lagos, flavoured with distinctive Congolese guitars, as is the case on ‘Fast Five’. ‘Kwela Man’ brings it back home, featuring Kwela Tebza, the mighty Mahotella Queens and kwaito’s forgotten man Mzekezeke. Zeus ventures further afield on ‘Say Nuthin’, opening with some vintage Ethiopian grooves before morphing into a dancehall number courtesty of Berlin-based MC Black Dillinger. The reggae/dub influence lingers on ‘Yut Dem’, featuring the souful Nonku Phiri and written by former 340ml guitarist Tiago Correia-Paulo
With most lyrics in English or Setswana (with some Swahili and Portuguese), many of the tracks are packed full of samples from news reports, movies, speeches by political icons like Samora Machel, Malcolm X and Julius Nyerere. It’s a nod to the classic, conscious hip-hop of Public Enemy and others. ‘Dark Knight’ touches on South African current affairs – from Jackie Selebi and the ANC to Julius Malema and even Oscar Pistorius – while ‘Zeitgeist’ addresses women abuse and drugs over souful licks by harmonica fiend Adam Glasser.
This is relevant, intelligent hip-hop – not tales of bling and booze. Delivered with a clean flow, Zeus’s intelligent lyrics touch on universal African themes and a conscious message of pride and unity. As he writes in the liner notes: “This is bigger than an album for me. It’s a philosophy, an ideology, a history lesson, a lifestyle, a way of doing business. Africanism in a modern context; this is about our survival and beyond! (Wake up African youth!)”
While deeply rooted in the African context, the album also touches base with the American hip-hop that clearly inspired the rapper, right down to his accent. No shame in that – it simply expands Zeus’s realm to a wider global market. Bold and diverse, this is African hip-hop at its best!