A reflection on the 2023 ZimHipHop Awards: A Review of sorts

It has been yet another amazing year for Zimbabwean-HipHop! One that saw it solidify the dominance that was established in 2022. It was a year of new artists getting their moment, new anthems and new classic albums. As always the year in Zimbabwean-HipHop culminates in the ZimHipHop Awards. The awards ceremony celebrates the genre every December, with this year being especially important in the genre.

Not only for the moment that we're in where the genre dominates the airwaves and wins Song of the Year at the National Arts & Merits Awards (NAMAs) but because globally, HipHop celebrated 50 years of existence this year. What started with DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy at a back-to-school party in 1973, in the Bronx (New York, USA) has grown into a global movement. 

ZimHipHop Awards Review

The 13th edition of the ZimHipHop Awards like other award shows across the world, took time to honour the journey the genre has taken. Although in celebrating the genre's own local roots it fell short. Of course, the establishment of hip-hop in Zimbabwe didn't have a distinct moment, and the genre is 30-something years in age locally, which makes celebrating a particular period of existence and the focus becomes the art that was made in the nomination period.

HipHop in Zimbabwe began in the 90s, with groups like A Piece of Ebony, Midnight Magic and Zimbabwe Legit. It wasn't ZimHipHop in the form we recognize the genre now but those early innovators laid the groundwork that would lead to Urban Grooves and then ZimHipHop the distinctively Zimbabwean. 

In a funny change of fortunes, Zimbabwean HipHop artists of the current era have achieved local dominance but are castigated for lacking international reach the artists of old had a sound that crossed borders but yet did not reach the level of success locally that the current generation of local HipHop artistes is experiencing.

The 2023 ZimHipHop Awards had the feeling of being a pinnacle moment in the genre. Not least because we were nominated as a platform and I also had my first-ever nomination (I added this line purely as a humble brag). It felt like the genre was at a moment that deserved a fitting celebration and yet somehow the awards feel like they fell flat. 

The host for the night was Noble Stylz and the ZimHipHop legend truly made the event his own (In not the best of ways). In some moments I'm sure he thought he was King Kandoro shooting a comedy special. I mean some of it was funny, but equally enough some of it left me asking what in the name of HipHop is Noble talking about?

The awards started with very little contention about the winners, well for the most part. Leon Mwana WaJose won the Best Gospel Award. YaadUniverse was awarded Best Journalist (Happy for them but it should've been me). Club Danger was named the Best Brand Supporting HipHop and Mlue Jay won Best Diaspora (A much-deserved honour). 

Best Radio DJ was awarded to Capitalk's DJ Sqkatta, while Best Club DJ went to DJ Iroq.

There was a general agreement with each winner announced and even after the fact there's been little dispute with the first half of the award winners that got announced. Best Collaboration going to OCD for Amaihwe was greeted with the theatre's loudest noise yet.

The Planet Dodger Online Media Award went to The263Post (Happy for Denzel and the crew but it should've been Greedy South) and Selekta Base was named the Best Promoter. Shabeen rap then got its ZimHipHop Awards moment as Dough Major & Dingo Duke were named the Best HipHop Group. Now people have been bringing up The New Bhundu Boys as the only deserving winners in this category, and I would say that would only be right if you haven't been paying attention to the ZimHipHop space.

What Dough Major & Dingo Duke did on "From Shebeenia with Love" was something special. They might've not dominated the airwaves but then these aren't the Star FM Awards. The artistry the duo displayed goes beyond airplay, and in simply looking at the music they were as good as The New Bhundu Boys.

This year's Pogues ZimHipHop Awards Cypher was a tale of two parts and two cities. Bulawayo was represented by Chirandu, Curtis Dee Rovar, Syko Tek, Sheelah T(IEA), K Brizzy, Brucella and The Shoemaker. While Harare had VI The Law, RayKaz, Yadis, MVPANI and Truth. Now I would like to make a comparison of the two cyphers, but Harare had RayKaz and that made it an unfair fight.

Now without a doubt, everyone who dropped bars was exceptional and I hate to pick favourites but K Brizzy, VI The Law, RayKaz, and Yadis had verses cut from a different cloth. 

The Best Social Impact Award was given to Voltz JT and while the criteria might be unclear, Voltz JT has been the leader of youth for some time now. His music hasn't only been commentary on our social fabric but he's utilised it to influence positive change. The rapper's track Same Drawer neGown also went on to win Best Video Director.

R Peels was awarded Best Personality and you have to agree that he's certainly a personality. Controversial? Maybe. Historical? Definitely. I can't seem to think of anyone more deserving among the nominees.

Now when I initially saw the list of performers on the night, I was happy that the stage was being given to ZimHipHop's future. Although a celebration of 50 years of hip-hop would've been a great moment to give the stage to the artists who've defined the genre of the years. However ignoring that, the artists who took to the stage felt like they were not up to the task. 

Bling4 had us on our feet, Asaph was class (As always he kept the memory of Cal_Vin alive) and Icey Ekxne & Slyme Foxx had us hyped but Kayflow was really the only act to write home about. His stage presence, stage production, composure and delivery were out of this world. The head honcho (Denzel Sambo) of the Planet Dodger Online Media winning platform The263Post, went as far as calling it a top 3 all-time ZimHipHop Awards performance and I concur. 

VI The Law (It wasn't a small feat seeing him nominated for Best Album, Best Song and Best Producer too) was given Best Underground, and although there's been little contention about this award I've just been left wondering again about the criteria. Because when you think about it, Malcom Mufunde got Best Album (alongside Synik for Treasure) and Best Verse (for The Culture) but still lost out in the underground category. Yet these are the categories where the art of rap won so I'm certainly not mad at the ZimHipHop Awards' mysterious ways.

Bagga was awarded Best Alternative, which has raised questions about what exactly alternative HipHop (and I can only say iHipHop imwe iya iya). Best Producer went to Nasper Incoming and as much as I love his work I felt like Nagbeatz maybe had a bit of an edge on him. I'll also be honest that maybe I'm just in love with Nagbeatz's story, 

Noluntu J received the Best Live Act Award (I'm making it a mission to see her live in the coming year) and Munetsi was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award, which had been a long time coming. Young Gemini was awarded Best Female, another one of those awards you couldn't argue with because no other woman had as good a year in rap. Kayflow got Best Newcomer and he certainly had a performance to back that up. 

After the year he's had, it was no surprise that Holy Ten was the biggest winner on the night. He walked away with Best Male, Best HipHop Hustle and the People's Choice Award (It easily could've been more). Bling4 won one of the big awards on the night the Best Song Award for Shiri Ngainaiwe, his collaboration with Voltz JT. This has been a point of contention, with more than a few people saying Delilah was more deserving and others insinuating that mbira is not hip-hop.

On this, I'm conflicted because although Shiri Ngainaiwe was certainly one of the standout rap records, Delilah was by far the more loved song (You can't say Mbira is not HipHop when arguably the greatest HipHop artist ever Nas was infusing mbira onto records 30 years ago on Illmatic). What I would say is it's high time the ZimHipHops did away with categories like Best HipHop Hustle which don't really celebrate the art. A Best Rap Record Award should be introduced to appreciate the art, while the Best Song Award is there to celebrate the song that resonated with the people the most.

Saintfloew was surprisingly not awarded and it turned out that the artiste had pulled out of the awards after nominations. Inconsequential in isolation but if you look at the past relationships of the awards with different artists (Tanto Wavie, Kikky Badass etc), you just wonder if they don't have a disconnect with the artists they're supposed to celebrate. I'm still even wondering why Probeatz wasn't nominated?

All in all the 2023 ZimHipHop Awards were understandably controversial in who they awarded, it's something that happens at every award show. However, the show itself left a lot to be desired. I don't think that can be how we celebrate the biggest genre in the country. We have to do more in putting together the performances, in setting up the stage, in how the hosts conduct themselves and we certainly have to sell more tickets. 

The awards have to be recognized as an important part of the ecosystem and ZimHipHop culture. It is quite easy to have them fade into obscurity, the Zimdancehall Awards showed us that.

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