Release Date: Feb 7, 2012
Record label: Zedtone
Genre(s): Electronic, Rap, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Alternative Rap, Underground Rap
On their 2010 debut, these South African weirdos occasionally struck a sly balance between Ninja's deranged rhymes, Yo-Landi Vi$$er's evil-sexpot coos and DJ Hi-Tek's slippery rave-rap beats. The novelty runs dry on Die Antwoord's second album, a marathon of overwrought beats and clunky horn-dog-rebel boasts. Ninja's idea of an anti-hip-hop rant involves quoting Vanilla Ice ("I do not want to stop, collaborate or listen," he whines on "Fatty Boom Boom"), and Yo-Landi brags, "Fuck you, Jimmy, I'm-a never give it back," of the million-dollar advance Die Antwoord reportedly got from their ex-boss, Interscope's Jimmy Iovine, who's on to sounder investments these days.
Die AntwoordTen$ion[Zef Recordz; 2012]By Ad Mehta; February 17, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetOn their sophomore effort Ten$ion, Die Antwoord thrust forward with an unprecedented heaviness. Cinematic strings draw ears in, whereupon a South African chant heralds listeners’ return to the Zef Side. Ninja declares “I’m indestructible” with an intonation and meter fit for the first line of an epic arena-rock chorus.
What do you do when the joke's over? In the case of South African satirical rap group/shock artists/walking internet memes/"zef" pioneers the only way to go is the really (really) weird. Witness the video to Ten$ion's lead single (and grammar/spell check nightmare) I Fink U Freeky, a hideous, yet oddly exciting, melange of writhing beds of rats, deformities and children in blackface and elephant masks. Although, the other big innovation that strikes when listening to Ten$ion is that they've actually got some tunes this time; other than Rich Bitch - the most catchy bit of dead-eyed glamour this side of Lana Del Rey (yes, she's started invading other reviews now) - their debut was hardly the most entertaining of listens.
When you are granted the privilege of gallivanting across the globe in your Dark Side of the Moon underpants -- flown to and fro at the record company's expense -- it must be a big fat shot of freak adrenaline that leaves an artist ecstatic over ambitious. This actually happened to the unsettlingly eccentric South African rave-rap crew called Die Antwoord, and that's with Diplo, Jimmy Kimmel, and Interscope all in the mix, although that last name has been jettisoned for this sophomore effort due to an argument over the leadoff single (the band wanted "Fok Julle Naaiers," where the DJ threatens to make love to the listener in the most unholy of places). With Interscope out of the picture, the aptly named, aptly misspelled TenSion arrives via the group's own Zef Records, which in America means they move distribution from one wing of Universal to another, so don't think this polished monster emerged from some South African record-printing rebel hut.
In 2010, this filthy-mouthed South African rap trio pulled a Lana Del Rey, garnering magazine covers and arguments over authenticity, when the video for their single "Enter the Ninja" went viral. There's no shock of the new this time and the cheap thrills of their fairground synths have palled now they represent the ubiquitous David Guetta-endorsed sound of commercial rap. But vocalists Ninja and Yolandi's double act still sounds weird and abrasive in the best possible way, his guttural, Afrikaans-accented rasp clashing compellingly with her helium-voiced flow, particularly on "So What?" and the needling "Hey Sexy".
I have to confess that until recently, I had no idea what a Die Antwoord was. But I learned. Oh, how I learned. I learned about them via YouTube, and I learned about them from message boards. I heard endless discussions of Ninja’s flow and Yo-Landi’s grating high-pitched whine. And here’s the ….
Ten$ion is not a bad name for a Die Antwoord album. The appeal of the Cape Town hip-hop duo (trio if you count their perpetually identity-shifting beatmaker DJ Hi-Tek) has stemmed from a sort of cultural dissonance, a subversive slant that the internet intelligentsia quickly couched in terms of “performance art” or even Dada. This particular tension boils down to a question of “realness” vs.
If you're unfamiliar, Die Antwoord operate on the principle of "zef," a philosophy of intentional ignorance and crassness. It's the latest in series of personas for rapper Ninja, né Watkin Tudor Jones, but even with that conceptual bent in mind, it's still hard to process Die Antwoord as an idea, especially on Ten$ion where they replace what made them sometimes intriguing and slightly subversive with tired and tropes and lazy lyrics. In some ways it's the worst of both worlds: We've seen and heard it all before, and now it's dumbed-down even further.
When the announcement arrived that South Africa’s rave-rap collective Die Antwoord were leaving Interscope Records, due to conflicts in creative control, it was an early indicator that their sophomore full-length, Ten$ion, would have all the same vulgarity, filth, and Zef-side as the trio’s successful debut, $o$. The move also reinforced Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er’s “Full Flex” mentality, but after multiple listens to the 36-minute Zef experiment, it seems the album could have benefited from some artistic restraint. Tracks like “I Fink You Freeky” and “Hey Sexy” each showcase DJ Hi-Tek’s electro-glitch production skills and Yo-Landi’s piercing vocal delivery, but they’re bogged down by rogue choruses and abrupt tempo changes.
Comedy rap act or conceptual art project? Whatever your opinion on rave-rappers Die Antwoord, their new album is a rare treat - South African pop music. But if a cultural insight into the country is intriguing enough, Ten$ion's depiction of modern South Africa is nothing less than thrilling. Though not explicitly, nor necessarily the intentions of its creators, it's hard to shake the image of a future dystopia.
Long weird, South African rave-hop duo Die Antwoord's gone weirder. So weird, in fact, that the tag team of Ninja and otherwise inconceivable Yo-Landi Vi$$er ran out on their freshly minted deal with Interscope Records so that they could weird out all they wanted on their independent label Zef Recordz. Meaning that the whack business on sophomore album Ten$ion unravels not exactly accessibly, nor does it maintain any innate sense of congruency.