Die Antwoord Ten$ion(Zef Recordz) Buy it from Insound
What do you do when the joke's over? In the case of South African satirical rap group/shock artists/walking internet memes/"zef" pioneers the only way to go is the really (really) weird. Witness the video to Ten$ion's lead single (and grammar/spell check nightmare) I Fink U Freeky, a hideous, yet oddly exciting, melange of writhing beds of rats, deformities and children in blackface and elephant masks.
Although, the other big innovation that strikes when listening to Ten$ion is that they've actually got some tunes this time; other than Rich Bitch - the most catchy bit of dead-eyed glamour this side of Lana Del Rey (yes, she's started invading other reviews now) - their debut was hardly the most entertaining of listens. In fact it was mostly flat-out unlistenable.
But now the music's bold enough to live up to the band's image, just about, even if it isn't often tasteful exactly: there's something thrilling about frontman Watkin Tudor-Jones yelling "Jump motherfucker jump" over and over during I Fink U Freeky, but there's also something more than a bit House of Pain about it too (more overt, and unexpected references to guilty pleasure pop come in the form of interpolations of I Think We're Alone Now and, jaw-droppingly, Ice Ice Baby); while opener Never Le Nkemise 1 (African folk sample aside) sounds like the work of Skrillex and the immense Baby's on Fire is really only a short jump away from Vengaboys territory. If you stop to think about it.
Not that this is an album that really encourages you to do that. After all, Tudor-Jones is still insisting on being referred to by his comically crap pseudonym Ninja, dropping the word "zef" wherever possible (one can't really imagine the English equivalent of a slumming-it middle class act yelling "chav" over and over again being anywhere near as charming) and his flow is still all over the place. Presumably though this is intentional as his occasional flashes of gonzo motormouth delivery show that he is capable of upping his game when he wants to. Still, if it wasn't all done with tongue firmly in cheek (as the Vanilla Ice reference confirms), then his assertion that "Now all these rappers sound exactly the same/ It's like one big inbred fuck-fest/ No, I do not want to stop, collaborate or listen" would definitely come across as hypocritical.
Once again, the real appeal lies in the presence of Yo-Landi Vi$$er, his diminutive, alien-styled, helium voiced co-vocalist, who remains a brilliantly unique creation. She even manages to make the line "I think you freaky and I like you a lot" sound like a genuinely alluring chat-up line (*sighs* I wish that somebody would try and use that one on me) and a track called Fatty Boom Boom seem unassailably cool. Wisely, she's been pushed front and centre this time around.
As that last track title would suggest, Ten$ion openly sets out to offend, and even though it (presumably) is all in the name of satire, some of it still leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth. Women are inevitably referred to as "bitches", other than in the queasy molestation "skit" Uncle Jimmy and, given South Africa's recent past, throwing the word "nigger" around with quite so much abandon is probably not the best of ideas. Perhaps most offensive though, if you didn't happen to know that the group's producer DJ Hi-Tek happens to be gay (and frankly, why would you), is DJ Hi-Tek Rules; a brief interlude, rather like the moments on the first few Public Enemy albums where Terminator X was allowed to run riot, consisting mostly of the words "DJ Hi-Tek will fuck you in the ass" and "I'll fuck you 'til you love me faggot". (Curiously this is immediately followed by the cut-up trance of Never Le Nkemise 2, which would go down a storm in any self-respecting gay club). To be honest that's probably barely even scratching the surface, but as half of the vocals are in Afrikaans it's a bit hard to get worked up about them (although, having misread one of their track titles I was a bit concerned as to who Julie Naaiers was and what she had done to incur their wrath).
Although again, Die Antwoord really aren't encouraging you to think about this stuff too hard. Instead just try and take it in the spirit it's intended - as the biggest, brashest cartoon this side of Eminem's early albums. It might be a long way from clean, but it's mostly good, dumb fun.8 February, 2012 - 01:38 — Mark Davison