By Eddy Mihigo
Special Correspondent from Botswana
Gaborone, Botswana – On the 7th October 2023, Back To The City made history by celebrating the 50th birthday of Hip-Hop and the 40th anniversary of South African Hip-Hop at its residence venue, Mary Fitzgerald, right in front of Museum Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg. The festival was made even more memorable with Hennessy as its flagship sponsor, a partnership that has deep roots in the world of Hip-Hop.
Hennessy, along with Sprite, boasts the longest and most consistent relationship with the Hip-Hop community, making their support of Back To The City a perfect alignment.
Just like last year when the partnership between Hennessy and Back To The City began, the festival welcomed a star-studded lineup of South African Hip-Hop and street culture icons. L-Tido, Zingah, Yolophonik, JR, DJ Sabby, and more enjoyed the festival from the Hennessy VIP area, where the Hennessy Boombox Viewing Deck offered festivalgoers a chance to savor Hennessy cocktails with the best view of the stage. Inside the Boombox, the Interactive “Letter to Hip-Hop” allowed participants to pen their personal messages to Hip-Hop for inclusion in the South African Hip-Hop Museum.
Back To The City has always been known for its ability to strike a balance between old and new acts, but this year, with the 50th and 40th anniversary milestones, the lineup was particularly nostalgic. On the main stage, contemporary stars like Big Zulu, 25K, Maglera Doe Boy, Loatinover Pounds, Zulumecca, Loki, Touchline, and Gigi Lamayne shared the spotlight with yesteryear icons such as Optical Illusion, iFani, Tha Hymphatic Thabs, and Township Frequency.
The Hennessy Moment was a highlight, featuring performances by DJ Ready D, Stogie T, and A-Reece, along with a monumental rendition of Riky Rick’s ‘Amantombazane (Remix)’ by Maggz, Kwesta, Ginger Trill, Kid X, Nadia Nakai, and Okmalumkoolkat – aptly described as “the SA Hip-Hop All Stars” by Moozlie.
US acts The Beatnuts, J-Live, and Mobb Deep’s Havoc took festival goers back to the 90s and early 2000s with a string of hits and classics.
The festival’s lineup served as a timeline, commemorating the different eras of South African Hip-Hop, but not everyone was entirely pleased with the curation. Some Twitter thought leaders raised concerns about the time slots of certain performers and the prevalence of old-school artists.
Criticism aside, it’s worth noting that the main stage of any festival isn’t necessarily the place for innovation or introducing new talent. Back To The City’s Play stage, where cutting-edge and emerging acts like NotBenjamin, XXC Legacy, Static Flo, Lucasraps, SPeeKa, and more performed, provided a platform for up-and-coming artists to shine. Under the same stage, B-Boys and B-Girls showcased their moves in a competition judged by legends Mr. Vouks and some members of Prophets Of Da City. The annual 10K MC Challenge also found its home on that stage, where emerging lyricists battled it out for the ultimate prize, ultimately won by Mthizo from Soweto.
As usual, the festival featured a plethora of food and clothing stalls, and graffiti artists adorned the bridge’s pillars with colorful murals, paying homage to Hip-Hop legends like Riky Rick and DJ Kool Herc.
Back To The City is a day and night festival, and this year, some fans arrived late in the twilight hours, missing out on the early festivities. It’s crucial for fans to show up on time to fully immerse themselves in the festival’s activities and support the artists.
This year’s edition also introduced a Dancehall stage, offering a serene, picnic-like experience with deejays and selectors playing the best riddims.
In its 17th year, Back To The City remains a festival that brings all elements of Hip-Hop together, paying respect to both the old and new school. While this year’s edition may have felt less packed than previous ones, it was a testament to the evolving nature of Hip-Hop in South Africa. The absence of fallen heroes like AKA and Riky Rick was felt, reminding us of the enduring impact they had on the culture.
Back To The City continues to be a vital platform, ensuring that the heartbeat of Hip-Hop remains strong not only in South Africa but throughout the continent. We can’t wait to see what the next edition has in store for us.