Stylist Luke Doman doing his thing

“It’s not like we’re trying to be kwaito artists or whatever. People just tried to box us and make sense out of the chaos that we released because Dlala was a really chaotic song. My raps were basically trap raps, the percussions that came in were kwaito percussions and the horn section was like something out of a punk song in the ’80s. Everything was crazy but people have this thing of trying to, in chaos, find patterns in order to box something. If they want to call us anything, it should be post-kwaito. We are genre-less.”

On the first page of Esinako Ndabani and Sihle Mthembu’s pivotal collection of essays about the music of kwaito, Born To Kwaito, Ndabani dissects the politicization of kwaito with brief reference to former president Thabo Mbeki’s infamous statement that the genre was merely a “distraction from real issues”. Although there are arguments to be made on both sides of that statement (arguments that Ndabeni examines thoroughly in the book’s opening chapter), one could also argue that the term kwaito itself currently serves as another “distraction” in today’s marketing-savvy music industry that, locally, is besotted with the arrival of a new wave of kwaito artists such as Mx Blouse, Darkie Fiction and Bougie Pantsula – the distraction from the innovations of young artists trying to break the mould of the genre. 

Stylist Luke Doman’s props

It’s a distraction that Stiff Pap – the formidable sonic unison of producer Jakinda (Mshindi Boya) and rapper AyemaProbllem (Ayema Qampi) – must find themselves wrestling with. What started as a collaborative experiment between two UCT students who were mutual admirers of each other’s work, soon became a powerhouse amalgamation of elements including trap, gqom, hip hop, kwaito and contemporary electronic, that led to the birth of Stiff Pap’s distinctly South African sound. 

This sound has taken Jakinda and Ayema from the launch of their debut EP Based on a Qho Story (featuring their breakout hit Dlala) in 2017, to shattering lineup times on some of the prestigious stages and festivals in the country – including the illustrious Afropunk Festival in Johannesburg, after conquering the Battle of the Bands events in the lead-up to the festival. But despite the group’s growing accolades and eminence in originating an ultra-modern South African sound, Stiff Pap still find the media lumping them within the same categories as their contemporaries, without proper mention being given to their immensely innovative style that has played a significant part in generating this “wave” – particularly with regard to Jakinda’s production style, which has seen him credited on a lot of the tracks that have benchmarked this neo-kwaito wave (such as Darkie Fiction’s Selula and Mx Blouse’s Is’phukuphuku).

“I find it kind of weird because I don’t feel like anyone else was really like pushing that sound before us. I’m not saying that they’re not doing their thing but I think that a lot of articles neglect to mention that there’s a link to all these different artists that have been clumped together and are being seen as this new-wave kwaito sound. It’s not just like this wave of people that want to do kwaito – it’s me and Ayema talking to each other and saying that this is what we want, then me having these ideas and then other people asking us for them. I don’t have anything against them for doing that – that’s my sound and if people want to work with that sound then I’m cool.”

Despite the similarities that can be drawn with certain aspects of their more radio-friendly contemporaries, the core of Stiff Pap’s sound is rooted in the sheer rawness of the delivery of their songs, which takes cues from the likes of pre-mainstream gqom influences such as DJ Lag and Rudeboyz, as well as the more monstrous genre-mashing tracks of pre-MAGA-hat Kanye West. Rather than bouncing on radio waves, Stiff Pap tracks were made to bludgeon stages – something that Ayema is well aware of.

Photographer Oliver Kruger

“When you listen to our thing, it’s hard-hitting and it’s raw. You’re going to feel like you’re at a rock concert and you’re going to feel like this is chaos. Kwaito was literally like rock for black kids who couldn’t afford anything. That’s where Amapantsula came from; guys literally took their workman’s clothes and found ways to dress properly and how to fuck up the fashion scene. And that’s literally us, we’re just trying to take what we have and what we know and fuck the industry up and use it to the best advantage that we know.”

With a new EP in the works entitled Stiff Pap Radio, Jakinda and Ayema are looking to further envelop the industry and their listeners into the Stiff Pap universe with a more introspective take on the music, following on from the party-fuelled Based on a Qho Story, which continues to push the boundaries of what is expected of a young kwaito-influenced group.

“We’re so reluctant to call ourselves kwaito artists because we listen to the music that we’re making now and it’s so far removed from any initial idea of what kwaito is,” Jakinda says. “Even with the first EP, the basis was in kwaito but we were still trying to move away from the traditional idea of that and take that sound further on this new EP. There are still remnants of the previous sound but it’s so much more mature.”

Jakinda from STIFFPAP and Oliver Kruger

There is certainly an element of uncertainty that must come with pioneering a new wave within music and culture, but Stiff Pap’s relentless confidence in their craft has proven to be the key to their rampantly growing influence and success; it is a confidence that seems to be unshakable and at this rate, will remain unshaken. Stiff Pap is forever.

“We are very alternative so if people are going to get into our music, they’re going to need to believe in us which means that we need to believe in ourselves. So when we get on stage, I always tell Jakinda (and he knows this) that we are basically like Gods. We control the crowd and, whatever we want the crowd to do, the crowd is going to do. Because why? Because we believe in ourselves and we believe in our craft and the crowd respects that so much and the crowd is going to go with us whichever way.”

INSTAGRAM @stiffpap