Photography by Tandekile Mkize

It Ain’t Saif Out There

Durban-born, Cape Town-based Saif is set to release their debut EP ‘Streets Ain’t Saif’ this March. The 5-track release, produced by Bronx-based producer El Blanco Niño, sees the poet, activist and rapper share their journey and experiences, sparked in part by their time in New York. “I’d been getting antagonistic attacks from people. I wouldn’t even call it homophobic because I don’t think there’s really a fear, there’s more of a fascination and an antagonism towards that fascination. In New York, there were different relations to my head than in South Africa. A lot of people in South Africa say in African culture women are bald all the time, they’re not gonna think you’re trans or queer, just a bald woman. But in America, it has a lot of specific connotations. If you’re dressing in a specific way and your head is shaved people will call you a fag or gay. I was so tired of the protest generation feeling like we’re people of marginalised identities. If you’re so fascinated and interested in us, why don’t you come play? So it’s a bit of satire, poking jokes & telling my backstory.”

First being exposed to gangster rap through their mother, who would play the likes of N.W.A., Tupac and Public Enemy and point out the poetry in the lyrics, Saif was drawn to writing poetry from a young age. “I think I started making rhymes in the bathtub, freestyling some things. When I got into primary school and actually learned how to write poetry I was doing it a bit more seriously than other kids.” Rap followed soon after, with Saif creating their first tracks with a cell phone and YouTube. “I think I must’ve been in the 6th Grade when I started spitting bars and be like yo, check this bar. Before that I’d get onto YouTube, type in different types of beats, like an Erykah Badu type beat or whatever, have my cellphone recorder and just make my own thing.”

Attracted to the fact that hip hop is such a cultural movement and the fact that there are many parallels between American gangster rap and coloured gangster culture, Saif explains that this connection comes from a personal place. “With my family background and the decisions that some of my family members had to make I began to understand street poetry and gangsta rap a lot. It influenced me to understand the subcultures of hip hop from fashion to music to dance and the evolving nature of hip hop.”

With the EP featuring a variety of sounds, ranging from old school boom bap to trap, Saif’s aim is not to be boxed into any specific sound and to create enjoyable music. “I wanted to show people that this is the shit that you can also listen to in the clubs. We’re always looking for people that are non-problematic trap artists. We’re looking for people you wanna love but people are saying really messed up stuff. But you’re dancing ‘cause it’s lit. You’re ignoring the lyrics. ‘Fuck being woke, I’m here to party tonight.’ I’m here to give people woke shit they don’t feel as detrimented and deteriorated by. Sometimes it gets too deep to the point that people aren’t listening. I wanted it to be simple, sing along, relatable, and danceable.”

Talking about topics that range from keeping true to one’s roots on the opening track “Sushi and Wasabi” to the cross-continental digital connections we form on “New Age Nomads”, to the dangers encountered while growing up on “Pack a knife”, dealing with ignorance while out with the crew on “Glam Gang” and their journey in discovering their identity on “Vageta” the EP deals with real issues without feeling heavy. “You want to speak about your journey and parts of your identity in a way that’s enjoyable and fly to you. You don’t need it to be a replication of what everyone else is doing,” explains Saif.

Having previously toured US campuses via networks they established during their studies at UCT, Saif aims to return to the US to tour their debut EP in the latter half of the year, with a European tour also on the cards.

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