On Wednesday, various corners of the African continent came to a standstill when it was announced Jabulani Tsambo had passed on. He was 38. He was Hip-Hop Pantsula or HHP to most. He was also Jabba to many.
Whatever you called him, one thing was certain: he was one of the greats.
It’s easy and almost expected for people to wax lyrical about artists once they are no longer alive. But in Jabba’s case, the praise is warranted.
Whether you look on social media or around his nearest and dearest, it’s clear he left an indelible mark on us.
In 1980, this Motswako giant was born in Mafikeng in North West. Wherever he went, he made sure people acknowledged “Maftown”. He was always rapping and making music in school.
Around 1998, his demo made its way to veteran record executive, Vusi Leeuw, and he signed him on with CCP Records based on a track that sampled Brenda Fassie’s Weekend Special.
The song was called How You Feel.
That version, as well as the more popular version produced by Gabi le Roux, appeared on his 1999 debut, Introduction.
Another noteworthy song on that album was ABC/123, which is where Leeuw heard the line “I’m the lyrical induna/Just call me a hip-hop pantsula”, and decided the rapper should change his alias from Jabba to Hip-Hop Pantsula before Introduction was released.
“Pantsula is a black youth culture that has a language of its own, with its own clothing style,” Leeuw said.
“Going back, I’d first heard Baphixile, who came before Jabba, when it wasn’t even called Motswako then and they were not understood by the market. Baphixile were signed to Sony, which had 80% kwaito artists on their roster.”
“People were impatient with them and thought they were trying to do kwaito, and I learnt that lesson so when I started working with Jabba, I knew we needed to have something that goes before the music to explain what it was.
“He wanted to call himself Jabba initially and I heard that line on the song and said let’s go with Hip-Hop Pantsula, because the style could be called hip-hop and pantsula.
“It was South African township culture meeting youth culture in American ghettos.”
After 1999, the artist kept re-inventing himself and pushing beyond the boxes that were set out for non-kwaito artists.
This year, he had decided to put out the Feels Good To Be Back EP under Jabba X – a different persona from HHP.
His forthcoming 10th album, Drum, was completed before the EP came out.