Back To The City marks 10 years of hip-hop freedom in Johannesburg

South Africa celebrates Freedom Day every year on 27 April to mark the day in 1994 when the country’s first democratic elections took place.

Gigi Lamayne and Kwesta will rock Back To The City in Johannesburg on 27 April.
Gigi Lamayne and Kwesta will rock Back To The City in Johannesburg on 27 April.

For the past decade, this special day has also been marked by a celebration of hip-hop in Johannesburg’s inner city, Back To The City. The annual event has tracked the steady rise of hip-hop in South Africa from the margins of the music industry and into the mainstream.

On Wednesday 27 April, South African hip-hop fans will once again gather at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown for the tenth annual Back To The City festival.

This year’s concert offers a massive line-up featuring many of the best hip-hop artists in South Africa, including Reason, HHP, Pro, Amu, Proverb, Kwesta, L-Tido, Stilo Magolide, Siya Shezi, Chad Da Don, newcomers Emtee and Fifi Cooper (who together cleaned up at the recent Metro FM Awards), as well as other members of South Africa’s growing contingent of talented female rappers in the form of Gigi Lamayne and Nadia Nakai.

Headlining will be American hip-hop acts Skyzoo, J-Live, Elzhi and duo Camp Lo.

Besides these and numerous other performing artists, there will also live bands such as Dookoom, Motsatsing and the Rays, Guru Logic, Transkei Republic, The Lovestains and others, while many of the city’s leading hip-hop DJs will also be in the mix, including Major League DJz, Dimplez, Tha Cutt, Kenzhero, Raiko and ID.

There are a few notable omissions from the line-up, including AKA and Riky Rick, the two rappers who came out on top at the SA Hip-Hop Awards in December last year. 

AKA recently withdrew from the event, lashing out in a lengthy social media message at the organisers’ preferential treatment towards the American headliners and their failure to make a suitably "big deal" about his own involvement. AKA, who last performed at the festival in 2011‚ effectively refuses (quite rightfully) to play second fiddle to American acts. "I consider myself an international act. I have the tours, awards, following and most importantly the live show and music to prove it. With all due respect Elzhi, J-Live, Skyzoo and Camp Lo, I will not allow an artist like myself to be reduced to a minor detail," he wrote, adding: "This highlights the need for artists like myself to take matters into their own hands when it comes to the production value and promotion of their shows."

The organisers of Back To The City responded with a statement complaining about AKA’s unexpected cancellation, albeit acknowledging his concerns. "Back To The City has always been the preacher of unity and constant progression. Hence inviting international artists to help us reflect the growth that South African hip-hop has experienced since the early 90s: today the culture stretches beyond borders. As far as Back To The City festival is concerned, there have never been opening acts nor closing acts; hip-hop as whole has been the main act. Our plans in terms of highlighting South African hip-hop talent remain unchanged."

Also pulling out of the event was rapper Riky Rick, who was initially booked but had to withdraw as he will be performing in Europe, at least according to a recent Twitter post.

Tickets are on sale for between R150 and R350 at selected Edgars, Legit, Jet and PostNet branches, or online via the festival website. Watch highlights from last year's event in the video below.



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