Examining Die Antwoord’s new video “Evil Boy,” it seems more meaningful and efficient to list all the non-phallic imagery:
—There are some wolf suits. Perhaps they are rat suits; it is unclear.
—There is a claw on this guy’s left hand for a little while.
—There is a statue of a massive head on wheels.
—There is a robe made of white rats.
—There is a bosom with slitted eyes in lieu of nipples.
—There are some women dancing in gold costumes.
From there, it is fairly accurate to assume that everything else you see on screen is a penis. Without any actual nudity, of course. Sculptures, staffs, microphones (!), unsubtle pelvic bulges, graffiti—if nothing else, the motif is clear and consistent. I summed up the screen time and found that there were fewer than 55 seconds of footage that didn’t visually or lyrically invoke the male genitalia. (And the whole thing clocks in at a cool 4:21.)
That analysis should give you a pretty good sense of the Die Antwoord aesthetic. The South African rap trio consists of frontman Ninja, frontnymph Yo-Landi Vi$$er, and producer DJ Hi-Tek. Hailing from Cape Town, the group carved their name—which means “The Answer” in Afrikaans—on the Internet with their “Enter the Ninja” music video earlier this year.
When “Enter the Ninja” first dropped, I found it impossibly dense and overwhelming. It was so completely and utterly foreign to me and I was just sort of repulsed by it, all those grubby visuals and those odd rap cadences and that saccharine hook. I think it was because I didn’t understand what was going on. Die Antwoord draw heavily from Zef, which is a South African subculture with no real Western equivalent. Ninja once described Zef as “apocalyptic debris,” mashing up all kinds of trashy cultural curios into one cohesive style. “[Zef’s] not having money, but still fokken having style,” he told Mother Jones magazine. (If that description still makes no sense, just watch the videos.)
So as I watched “Enter the Ninja,” I was desperately trying to “get the joke,” seeking out a comfortable irony; I was hoping to interpret all this as some kind of a crass affectation. But it was futile. It was too much of a sensory overload. The video included wall-to-wall graffiti, jail cells, tattoos, ninja weaponry, various facial deformities, and some kind of inscrutable romantic subplot with a nubile postal worker. In retrospect, that video displayed a remarkable degree of restraint, compared to their most recent effort.
On “Evil Boy,” Die Antwoord pick up two new friends. For one, Diplo produced this track, which is evident once those fuzzy siren synths swoop in about 30 seconds deep. His presence on the track gave me something to work with, a friendly face in this totally unfamiliar South African musical world. The other new collaborator is Wanga, an aggressively tumescent teenage emcee from the Xhosa tribe.
In fact, “Evil Boy” is quite the polyglot production, a filthy stew of English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa. Die Antwoord taps into all the deep reservoirs of profanity, because the more languages you use, the more dirty words you get! And it’s a surprisingly effective technique. Apparently, the worst expletive in the Xhosa language is “umnqunduwakho;” Wanga busts it out on the first line of his verse. (In an almost too-perfect layer of kitsch, his whole verse has subtitles.) The group gets a lot of mileage out of this whole trilingual thing, because strangely enough, one never tires of hearing all that polysyllabic foreign profanity, even though the whole shtick would probably get pretty old if it were straight-up in English. (Though to be fair, English in a South African accent is an entirely different beast, with all of its seemingly volatile inflections and growling r’s.) Regardless of what language they’re speaking, the words in this song rarely sound like actual discrete words: Die Antwoord is just twangs and snarls and hisses.
Most of the snarling comes out of Ninja, and most of the hissing comes out of Yo-Landi. He’s all lean rap swagger; she’s all sing-song susurration. On this track, Ninja is predictably in your face and obnoxious, although it is hard to call someone unpredictable when he uses his own genitalia as a microphone. The real high point of the song is the Yo-Landi, whose voice is an airy wail. Dressed in a white robe, Yo-Landi resembles a hyper-sexualized poodle, if poodle fur were made out of live albino rats. Having cornered Diplo in her bed—in the video, he sports a Ninja-type flattop—she reels off a flurry of foreplay rhyme. And right in the middle of that verse, she busts out my personal favorite line: “Fuck a pen and pad / I write my raps with a Ouija board.” That seems to sum up the group fairly well.
Given all the rich earth tones and furry costumes, this video at times feels like “Where The Wild Things Are,” only if you were to cross that book with a tract on Freudian phallus fixation. There is so much going on in the video that it took me a while to figure out what “Evil Boy” was actually referring to. Turns out the eponymous Boy is one of those big statues in the background, and he looks sort of like a smiling Casper the Friendly Ghost clasping an erection as tall and wide as he.
Having watched “Evil Boy” countless times, I now take the group at face value. I’m no longer searching for a joke. Aside from admitting how damn catchy and well-produced the song is, I feel like I’ve come to terms with their whole aesthetic. They take the strata of irony that seem to have settled over modern music and slash them away with a (phallic) scalpel, exposing their pure and honest brand of filth. It’s almost refreshing, which is perhaps an odd adjective to use for something this unabashedly grimy. Die Antwoord feels vulgar and totally sincere in its vulgarity. There is no tongue-in-cheek to be found here. There are, however, many a boner-in-boxer.