In 2009, Die Antwoord exploded on the scene with a self-released, download-only album called $O$ and a handful of videos capturing the white South African hip-hop collective, which is routinely offensive and sometimes baffling but undeniably compelling. Music blogs went nuts and the group became an Internet sensation.
Some speculated this was all a joke—that the group’s leader, Ninja, was nothing but a South African Ali G—but there wasn’t any stopping it, particularly once Die Antwoord hit the U.S. and the group began playing mind-bending shows in small clubs and at large festivals.
But the 2010 physical release of $O$ was a watered-down version of the original and by the time the group released its second album, Ten$Ion, this year, it seemed the joke wasn’t funny anymore; Die Antwoord was written off.
Pitchfork—one of the group’s earliest proponents—gave the album a 4.2, writing, “For a band so obsessed with its own self-consciously humorous image, Ten$ion in part fails because it feels so strangely humorless.” But if you go into Ten$ion not expecting laughs, the results are different.
Over 13 tracks, Ninja and his partner, irresistible half-pint female rapper Yolandi Visser, ride a steady stream of solid, complex beats, dropping customarily dated hip-hop references (Ninja: “No I don’t want to stop, collaborate, and listen”) and repeatedly boasting that Neill Blomkamp is going to make them stars.
It’s difficult to understand why this was so roundly rejected, but one explanation may be that Die Antwoord isn’t a group anyone goes to just for the music. With its strange, brilliant videos, it’s more of an audio-visual experience. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly this summer, Ninja suggested this himself, saying, “We feel like it’s a waste for us to make a song with no video.”