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Disc of the Week: Die Antwoord, South Africa's hip-hop satirists

Frame grab from a Die Antwoord video

Quick to the point; to the point, no faking – Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby

First they gave us the answer, and now they give us the question. If Alex Trebek would be proud, many others are left puzzled by the bizarre electro hip-hop antics of Die Antwoord, the South African satirists and darndest things.

Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for The Answer) is the Cape Town creation of Waddy Jones, a curious hip-hop chameleon in the spirit of Norman (Fatboy Slim) Cook. Jones's persona is of a nastier Vanilla Ice. His cohorts are the brutish beat-maker DJ Hi-Tek and Yo-Landi Vi$$er, the potty-mouthed, shark-eyed, imp-alien Yolita.

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With its debut album, $0$, the shock attack began. Die Antwoord was presented as a savage rap outfit from deepest and dirtiest South Africa. It didn't take long before the press began to suspect fakery. New Musical Express branded the band and its "zef" genre as South Africa's "biggest non-existent scene." The argument was on as to whether Die Antwoord was brilliant or awful. (Nothing in between, please, because what would be the point?)

The biggest change over the past two years is that Die Antwoord split from its major label, Interscope, over creative control, possibly having to do with the lyric filth.

Ten$ion, streaming here, is similar in most ways to $0$, though perhaps more playful and self-aware in its blingy Ali-G business. "I feel sorry for people who need to ask us: Is it real?" Ninja told the New York Times recently. And so, on with the show.

A folk-music sample grandly ushers in the lead track Never Le Nkemise 1, setting up the whiplash of Ninja, who channels the forgotten dance band EMF when he changes "I'm unbelievable" to "I'm indestructible, gangsta number-one." With the thick synths and a Billy Corgan sneer, the sound is vintage Smashing Pumpkins.

Yo-Landi stars in I Fink You Freaky, a shuttering electro-dance track featuring her breathy mew and an oft-repeated line, "I fink you freaky, and I like you a lot."

Ninja raps a bit, urging us to jump. Jump, Ninja? You first, man, we're right behind you.

Hey Sexy is a wild mix of drones, intersecting voices, Afrikaans rap and "whoop, whoop, whoop." The first Major League Baseball player who uses this romp as their walk-up-to-the-plate music is my hero for life.

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Pop culture references happen: Tiffany's I Think We're Alone Now appears, and on the playful Fatty Boom Boom, which bemoans the derivative state of hip hop, there are ironic allusions to Eminem's Slim Shady persona ( My Name Is) and Vanilla Ice ("I do not want to stop, collaborate or listen").

DJ Hi-Tek Rulez is subtle as a prison rape, and seems to concern the same. It's quite ugly. So What, which parodies the brooding Drake-types, recalls the silliness of the jailbreak musical number from Austin Powers in Goldmember.

By the thumping, galloping, album-ending reprise Never Le Nkemise 2, you're wondering what the question was, never mind the answer. Ninja proclaims that Die Antwoord has its own system and its own rules. "We keep it gangsta," he vows in mock seriousness. We don't believe it – not from him, and not from the supposed real thing. And maybe that's the point.


  • Die Antwoord
  • Zef

Die Antwoord plays Toronto's Phoenix Theatre, Feb. 14; and Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom, Feb. 19.


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POP/JAZZ: Kisses on the Bottom

  • Paul McCartney
  • Universal
  • Three stars

The strangest thing about this nod to swing-era nostalgia isn't that Sir Paul sounds so at home with the songs – the Beatles, after all, used to cover Besame Mucho – but that he takes such a low-energy approach. Even with Diana Krall's quartet swinging gracefully behind him, he croons It's Only a Paper Moon and Bye Bye Blackbird as if trying to soothe cranky babies. But give him a good, bluesy melody, like the Eric Clapton-adorned Get Yourself Another Fool, and his voice perks up nicely, while the lovely My Valentine (one of two originals here) comes off like classic McCartney, all gooey sentiment and bittersweet melody. J.D. Considine


Sharon Van Etten


Three and a half stars

"Everything changes," she announces, "in time." The song is Serpents, as much a rock song – a hazier Christine McVie – as we've heard yet from the sultry-voiced Sharon Van Etten, a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter to be reckoned with. On this, her third album, Van Etten teams with the National's Aaron Dessner, who arranges a low glow of sound, perfect for material about being in the dark of a relationship. There are guest vocalists, but the slow-building All I Can features Van Etten doubling her own voice on lines about mistakes and the sighs of the past. We Are Fine, which comes next, is thinking that wishes. Is it desperation? A turning point? We're not sure. Van Etten's affecting craft is on the upswing though, and it is something to behold. Brad Wheeler

JAZZ: Digging Me, Digging You

  • Amy Cervini
  • Anzic
  • Four stars

If you aren't already familiar with the work of "jazz pixie" Blossom Dearie, the sharp wit and sly swing of the songs Toronto native Amy Cervini compiled for this tribute make a strong case for fandom. Dearie, who died at 84 in 2009, had impeccable taste in tunes, and Cervini's sampling runs the gamut from the languorous balladry of Once Upon a Summertime to the boppish drolleries of My Attorney Bernie. Even better, she delivers each with deft authority, easily capturing the effortless swing of Dearie's delivery while making ample use of her own richly coloured tone. Definitely a disc to dig. J.D.C.

ROCK: A Different Kind of Truth

  • Van Halen
  • Universal
  • Three and a half stars

There are Van Halen fans who have been hungering for the return of David Lee Roth since Sammy Hagar took over in 1986, and no small number of them have been complaining online that Tattoo and other tunes from A Different Kind of Truth – the band's first recordings with Roth since an abortive 1996 reunion – recycle ideas from 1977 demos. Whatever. That resident genius Edward Van Halen can rekindle the old fire while maintaining the melodic strengths of the Hagar era is nothing short of miraculous, and those hoping for something as life-changing as the band's debut should go back to wishing they were 18 again. J.D.C.

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