Lyricism is now a lost art in Zimbabwe Hip-Hop

Does being a wordsmith matter in hip hop anymore, or is it all a lost art now? Celebrated emcee and lyricist Synik once bemoaned on his track? “Writer’s Return” 

Yo I forgot to write, in fact, I forgot how to/ Caught up in the mechanics of just making the crowd move/ And all it takes is a catchy repetitive hook An 808 kick and a few punchlines too.

This feeling isn’t exclusive to Synik alone but is felt across the hip-hop macrocosm. Hip-hop has gone through a surgical evolution which has made a lot of its purists wince in pain and annoyance. 

Hip-hop isn’t dead. Nor is there anything that is called “true hip hop” as much as most old heads would have to believe. Hip hop has just changed, whether for the good or the bad is up for debate. I’d argue that it is more diverse, with something for everyone. No doubt the nostalgia and recency bias plays a part when old heads talk about how the current class does not resonate with them as the old used to. What they seem to struggle to fathom is how the art of lyricism has waned in popular hip-hop acts these days. 

Zimbabwe Hip Hop Lyricism

The lyricism is no longer mandatory but more of a niche. Lyricism has always been the heart and core of rap music. One would argue that there is a difference between rap and hip-hop. RAP which some say is an acronym for Rhythm And Poetry mainly focuses on the intricacies of vocal and writing skills like flow, cadence, metaphor use, and as alluded lyricism. Hip-hop is the umbrella term for sound, which includes music and culture, which is the lifestyle, from fashion, dance, art, DJing, and more. 

Many instrumental albums were considered to be hip hop like J Dilla's "Doughnuts" or many of The Alchemist's projects, but there is never a rap instrumental album. So for someone to be called a "rapper," they need to have rhythm and poetry in their music. Using this logic if one doesn't have this in their raps then they are not a rapper but rather an artist. 

Contrary to popular as seen by recent trends, especially in Zimbabwe hip hop, singing over hip-hop beats doesn't make one a rapper. 2022 superstar Leo Maggoz, comes to mind as a striking example of an artist who sings over hip-hop beats but wouldn’t be regarded as a rapper in the purest sense. This misconception has been around for years now which has unfortunately led many of today’s hip-hop critics to conclude that the art of lyricism is dead. Most of the time they likely hear commercial hip hop records which are specifically tailored to be easier to digest for the listener. 

The term "POP RAP" had been making its rounds on the internet, probably since Drake made it popular and more recently Doja Cat. Lovers of the state hip-hop were in back in the day, find this quite problematic since they regard Hip-hop as a genre that was born out of rebellion, voice to power, and authenticity Hip-hop artists who sacrifice lyrical excellence or deep subject matter are often seen as “sellouts”. However, in an era where the lines between genres are constantly blurred as Spotify records hundreds of thousands of songs uploaded by the day, it becomes increasingly harder to distinguish the black and the grey. This trend has been seen in Zim hip hop as well, artists like ExQ, Takura and more recently RnB superstar Kae Chaps all had roots that came be traced back to hip hop but due to various factors, largely economical, they switched up their sound to reach out to a varied audience. 

While the music is thoroughly enjoyable, it misses the lyrical density that these artists are capable of delivering. This is the current state of the industry, from Zimbabwe to the rest of the world, artists usually need to have a radio hit that is appealing to the masses. For example, 2021’s Best Album winner at the Zim Hip Hop Awards, Risky Life by Holy Ten had a ton of radio hits with songs like Sahwira, Hanging nevaskana, and Time. While these tracks were hits on the radio and online, more lyrical songs like Youngest Achiever didn't get the same love and recognition despite being the most lyrical track on the album. Now imagine a whole album full of Young Achievers; it is unlikely that they will get any recognition in comparison to the more radio-friendly records. 

Another reason why lyrical rap is not as popular or as accessible is that most artists who go down this path sacrifice a lot on the production side of things. With lyrical records, the message usually comes first. It is extremely hard to induce topics like neo-colonialism or depression over thumping 808 and high hats. It's often special and rare when you get an artist that balances lyricism and sonics perfectly, one is usually sacrificed in favor of the other. Artists who do this are rare. To state the obvious lyricism is still alive, and if we are being totally honest it never left; a new neighbor just moved into the house. 

Hip Hop is getting its lines blurred by the day. The rise of subgenres makes it quite hard to define what true hip hop is but maybe it doesn’t need to. The insane rise of drill hip hop in Zimbabwe in the past months has been paving way for many artists to express themselves in ways that were not as mainstream before, like the forenamed Leo Maggoz, who uses Drill to convey his message. 

Tanto Wavie, another innovator within Zim hip hop brought forth his own genre called TrapSu, which is a beautiful and daring blend of hard-hitting 808s of the trap sounds to the funky and psychedelic sounds of traditional Sungura music. From the delivery and the vocal inflections to the subject matter itself, the influence of Yester year Sungura stars like System Tazvida and Paul Matavire is heavy. Room for clever wordplay or double entendres that are synonymous with rap music is sacrificed. His music is heavily carried by the production which means the writing is not too deep. 

Other artists like Suhn have adopted this approach, ditching his old Union 5 moniker and moving to a much easier-to-digest sound for the average listener.

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Lethabo Kundidzora

Just a kid who wishes he'd grown up in the 90's.


  1. Love this piece. It is well put together and shows that rap is still alive in Zim. You knowledge of the international and local hiphop scene is impeccable and unmatched. Keep delivering such dope content to the hiphop scene.

  2. Great article. Keep it up

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