Last year, just when people were going easy on masks, social distances and low-key hitting outdoor shows, I had planned to do a think piece on how I presumed burgeoning and almost ubiquitously played hip-hop rapper Holy Ten was annoyingly overrated.
The cultural white paper, I thought, would’ve fossicked through on how my shallow ass wasn’t a big fan of the rhyme slinger who was just two years away from teenagism. Mind you, the inspiration for such a piece was less buttressed on his artistic achievement, technical proficiency, and overall excellence, but largely on my love-hate affaire de with the culture. It was about a fear of him reaching the highest heights and then watching him become yet another washed-up star descending to the deepest surface of musical influence after a season or two.
Such a premonition was birthed from the notion that for the years that I have religiously vouched and helped interpret the hip-hop culture in Zimbabwe, I have overall felt a sense of betrayal at how the genre has constantly let its fans down for various reasons. While the stakes ain’t that high in Zim rap world, many fans (I for one) wish we could somehow encase our rap heroes in their greatness before attrition and celebrity insulation led them to disappoint us. In particular, the past decade has been chockful of dubious quotes and curious silence from rappers that muddies the listening experience for many — if they can listen at all. If celebrity has taught us one thing, it’s that time, like money, often exposes who you really are and that sometimes the higher you go – the success you achieve – is the lower you descend when you fall from listeners’ grace.
From MMT to Mr See, Karma, Peekay, Synik, Few Kings, Ishy X, Guluva Se7en, Briss Mbada, Ron Tingz, T1 Wema1, Zizi, Marcques, Takura, and Trey Yung, I’m persuaded that rap fans should deem themselves lucky if their favourite merely sounds dated or saw their lyrical lustre fade in the rap arena like Stunner, Maskiri and Mudiwa Hood. That’s just what happens with art sometimes.
While this piece would’ve been doubly long culling the peccadilloes of newer acts in hip-hop (R. Peels, Kikky Badass, MobXTheDon etc), the antics or frustrations of veteran acts sting more because they’re all too ensconced in our minds to discharge. And yet it’s harder to cut ties with an artist you love. It feels like a bigger slap in the face. Just as any other fan who grew up with the 90s, ‘00s-and-‘10s-era rappers, sometimes I comb through the music of my teenage and childhood years, reflect on good times with them, then end up saying, “It’s a shame he left for Dubai or stopped making music.”
The disappointment we feel toward our favourites is a pitfall of consumerism. So now we have to scrutinize the environment. It would be foolish of us to continue the cycle of hoisting artists as larger than life figures, knowing we’re going to drop them the second they strike a nerve and not be able to enjoy their music the same. Going forward, a healthier relationship with celebrity looks like simply appreciating their talent and keeping it at that.
With that being said, I’ve had a change of heart about how I feel about our hip-hop cultural drivers and I wonder if I have to apologise to the vets or to the newer acts (Denimwoods, Holy Ten, Mula Nation, Union 5, Calna, Lady Eef, Kae Chaps, The Shoemaker, Tonic The Manic, Saidi, Tanto Wavie etc) who I have shut off in recent years more than anybody else.
A wrong must be righted for I’d rather be right than wrong. Right? Right. I don’t know exactly where I rank the newer acts amongst my favourites, but I definitely don’t dislike or despise them. In fact, I actually really like them now, thanks to Mukudzei Chitsama.
How did we get here? Nobody’s supposed to be here. And yet, here I am.
Here’s how. I recently took the time to listen to Holy Ten’s Playlist Rema Hits project and I was mindblown. Like this emcee is cute. While I’m informed that he has been slinging for the past four years, let’s consider this project as his introduction (and a warning in this era of dull ‘vibezzzz’ and boring mumble bars) for progress’ sake. Hearing him go absolutely ballistic with his brand of bully bars on this body of work is a breath of fresh air.
A compilation of most of his 2020 popular songs that include Ndaremerwa and Kumba Kune Vanhu, he draws you immediately with his gruff and growling deep voice, bars and his sometimes-fast-sometimes-sporadic delivery create a perfect one-two punch of attention-snatching memorability that keeps one clamouring for his music. He comes around with a tone just as monstrous as his skill on the mic. Yet although the atmosphere is appropriately sinister like on the song Murda featuring Probeatz, the energy is off the charts.
With themes that span from rap’s usual ego-metries, family, love, social commentary, requiem and economic lapse rapped with the aggression and intensity that once defined hip-hop quickly becoming a lost art, this project proves that the Dungeon Dragon that is Holy Ten is still full of fire. He has the kind of natural charisma it takes to become a major star, and as is very evident in his lyrics, it’s a woo to his predecessors and peers altogether.
It’s not easy to stand out in Zim rap scene at the moment, but with such an unbelievable wealth of talent, he does it with such a grittiness that is real and thrilling, paired with a lyrical ability that put him a step ahead of the rest. With a little fear of apprehension, I can loudly say that with Playlist Rema Hits he has set a foundation solid enough to erect skyscrapers.
You can also check out his Risky Life freestyle, a harbinger of his upcoming album with the same title.