Back to the city is a Johannesburg institution, a hip hop festival celebrating urban music and street culture in one of the world’s most notorious cities. The humble beginnings of back to the city, run parallel to the story of hip hop in SA, and intersect with the revival of the inner city. The festival began as an educational summit for artists offering knowledge exchange and workshops from established artists within the industry. The first year had approximately 3500 attendees.
This Freedom Day, Back To the City saw some 25000 attendees and celebrated a decade in the game of pioneering inner city festivals and putting hip hop at centre stage regardless of the reservations or obstacles experienced. This year saw AKA and Riky Rick drop out of the show and there were instances where the sound on the main stage was plagued by problems with microphones and such but the show went on and the crowd was in the presence of the nation’s most loved lyricists including Kwesta whose Ngud’ had thousands and thousands of people with their hands up and bodies gyrating. While Reason’s Yipikayay remix was a stellar collaboration with a gang of rappers going in on PH’s bombastic, playful beat and Reason himself reflecting on his own journey with Back to the City, having performed at the festival each year since it’s inception.
The main stage was surprised by a performance from Nasty C. The teenager has the game in frenzy, and his performance was composed and crisp highlighting his wordplay and execution, revealing a talent beyond his 19 years. The festival itself offered so much entertainment for hip hop fans and likers of music; the Sprite stage and the Powerplay stage hosted band and dance battles respectively, with performers competing for cash prizes of up 30 stacks. It is beautiful to see the urban performing arts appreciated and rewarded, a sure sign of a growing entertainment industry.
I saw some amazing things at Back To the City, from stumbling upon beautiful vocals and instrumentals from Melo B Jones’ band Regina, to young dancers sharing their talent and passion with youthful vigour and confidence. Not forgetting the wonderful energy backstage; the competitive nature of hip hop sometimes overshadows that the industry is a community of creatives, and in terms of urban music and culture they all descended on Mary Fitzgerald Square to perform on hip hop’s biggest stage and enjoy the 10 years of the continent’s biggest hip hop festival. A momentous and enriching occasion.
Checkout some street style snaps from the event below.