As the urban hustler war-cry leads in, you can hear a familiar sound; multiple chants, footsteps, traffic and chatter. Only familiar if you’ve lived an ordinary life in Zimbabwe and had to go down-town close to vendors, low-price boutiques and any bus terminus.
The first stanza of 8L’s new offering iKarate opens in 4th Street in the City of Harare where he is trying to hustle some cheese till the authorities come to disrupt business. It is a far-cry about the “pamushika-shika” ongoing wars with the law. There has undoubtedly been much talk by hip-hop emcees this year (2015) about pamushika-shika. Mushikashika originally is a slang tag for illegal vending spots, also illegal transport ranks (a rank is a bus terminus in Zimbabwe). It now generally is a metaphor for business done with no legal authorization.
I do not find it fair to compare this type of hustle to criminal activity (though in Zim’pot Raka-Pata books it’s criminal). What I am denoting here is, pick-pocketing is not a mushika-shika type of hussle by mob standards. Stealing, fraud, bribery, rape, poll rigging and murder are the real illegal. When artistes state that they are hustling pamushikashika they mean to say that they have not robbed the people; they have only robbed the authority of the money it extorts for. They have certainly not debilitated the general population directly.
One would argue that taxes they are supposed to pay are meant to help the country progress but they’d have to swallow their words when they see cars driven and trip-expenses of those who have power over all those regulatory fees. For that reason, Hip-hop as a defiant art will always be sympathetic to these vendors. The long arm of the law will resist but iKarate.
Now the expression “iKarate” in this perspective is an allegory of how it’s a daily battle fighting the authorities. It is a very common expression used in Harare slang to illustrate that something is a tussle, just as in martial arts one has to tactfully fight off or evade the police. As we know the police usually want to take bribe and bring down the vendors who are trying to earn a means to an end.
If you want to know how relevant this song is to Zimbabwe just Google “Vendors in Zimbabwe” and read any recent news on the battles they are having with local authorities. Hip-hop has always been an avenue through which the undertone concerns of society are expressed and we have seen that voice return to Hip-hop especially between the 2014 and 2015 period. Artistes such as 8L, Sinbad90, BG, Sharky, Gze, Zarzu, Jnr Brown, Cutty Beatz, Abedi, Jungle Bango and Munetsi among others have successfully to communicate the ills of society and the issues that the mainstream will always overlook in support of those that control.
Of course 8L will still talk about Yellow Bones here and there (and you can find it here too) on his less conscious tip. Well being conscious doesn’t mean one cannot have a little fun. We know the rap-genius still keeps it #100.