I first considered the news a hoax when I stumbled upon it on my twitter timeline. I was dismissive. But, the itch to dig further for confirmation lingered, praying that the news would turn out false. Like they say, hopes and wishes vapourise in the face of reality.
Jabulani Tsambo, known to many African hip hop fans as Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP for short) has passed on to glory at the young age of 38. Celebrated as an elder statesman within the South African hip-hop space, Jabba, as he was known, was credited for pioneering and elevating South African hip hop across the continent. He, along with some of his peers laid the very foundation on which the likes of AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Nasty C, Kwesta, Khuli Chana and Ricky Rick are thriving. He helped lay the blueprint for hip-hop culture by showing that, one can rap in his native tongue and still make it.
Anytime HHP’s name is mentioned, or I hear any of his songs or videos, my mind races back to 2012, during that year’s edition of Vodafone Ghana Music Award. HHP was one of the African performers that night. His presence was an opportunity for many hip hop fans to see him at close range. What transpired that night remains, till date, a scar on my mind. The reception was very crude: the crowd were absurdly aloof by his performance. Bluntly put, the Ghanaian audience gave no two fucks about his performance.
If you thought the reaction to Nasty C’s performance at the 2018 VGMA’s by the Ghanaian audience was awkward, then you could imagine how that of HHP went. As a hip hop fan, I was greatly livid watching proceedings on TV. Like some have rightly argued, his music wasn’t huge here in Ghana. Also, those who were in the auditorium that night were not in tuned with his brand of hip hop. But, all the same, a little display of support would not have been a bad look.
My first introduction to Hip Hop Pantsula’s music was in 2009. I was, around that time, curious about the rap scene across Africa, aside Ghana and Nigeria. ‘Music And Light’, off “Acceptance Speech” was my first encounter with HHP. His gruffy yet ‘small’ voice and how he reflected the hip hop culture in his outward looks made him an instant favourite. What drew me to Music And Light was the soothing soul and funk sample taken from the 1984 record by Imagination.
HHP would go on to work with South African artists in various ways. He’d later go on to work with the likes of M.I. Abaga on the inspiring song, “Superhuman”, off M.I’s “Illegal Music 2” album. He’d team up with Liquid Deep and Teargas on the modernn classic cut “Born For This”; and, Ghanaian rapper, M.anifest featured him on “Jigah”.
The cause of his death is suspected to be depression. According to reports, HHP had battled with depression for the past two years. It has also been reported that, he was preparing to release an album before this unfortunate incident.
Jabba came across as a rapper who was ready to help his fellow rappers – both young and old- to succeed. He was ready and willing to ‘give them game’, as is said in the corridors of hip hop. Even though he was a stalwart and a pioneer of hip hop in SA, he didn’t appear envious of the fortune and fame that acts like Cassper, AKA and others are enjoying. He’d rather share the spotlight with you than be an old, embittered rival.
His passing comes a few months after Pro Kid, another pioneering rapper died. The Mafikeng native didn’t not only wear his hip hop credentials on his huge frame. He also represented his city with.
A seasoned and respected rapper; a creditable A&R; a pioneer and innovator; an exciting figure to listen and watch. Jabba is no more. 2018 has been very forgiven to those within the art space. It has this far, taken away some of my favourite entertainers.