A Caricature of Artistic Merit
“Come to the Dark Side…We have candy.”
This offer is the first utterance heard on Die Antwoord’s new album, Mount Ninji And Da Nice Time Kid – a bit that leads to an entire opening revolving around the group’s theatrically demonic obsession with candy and coffee. Though rappers Yolandi and Ninja truly ride the undercurrent of performance art on Mount Ninji, a stream upon which they have crafted their entire career, the candy and coffee they present quickly become stale.
For an ensemble that has perpetuated its own image as that of “art,” Die Antwoord seem to have surprisingly little to say. This is particularly true for an album that the group themselves referred to as “so epic and sometimes vulnerable and sometimes sweet and romantic and so brave and full of mystery and win.” While the members of Die Antwoord deliver a few intriguing musical and lyrical ideas, Mount Ninji is largely a reiteration of the South African ensemble’s prior efforts. Unlike much of their previous material, though, bold-faced attempts to carve out a niche – relying on the subversion of normalized innuendo or the juxtaposition of deranged lyric and innocuous melody – falter on the group’s new release.
The skits and concepts that structure the record have become hackneyed. DJ Hi-Tek reappears under the moniker “GOD” and pitch-shifts his speaking voice down over an octave – reminiscent, if not directly implicative, of Dr. TC from Tyler, The Creator’s Bastard and Goblin. The fleeting and unnecessary “Jonah Hill” finds Ninja comparing his genitalia to the titular celebrity and hears Yolandi debating the homosexual implications of his lyrics. Pre-pubescent emcee Lil’ Tommy Terror appears on both “Wings on My Penis” and “U Like Boobies,” a guest whose presence seems to serve little purpose aside from the momentary intrigue of hearing Die Antwoord’s signature vulgarities proclaimed by a child.
Truly, the impact of this “shock art” fades when one comes to terms with the fact that Mount Ninji, for the most part, reverts to the same exact “shock” presented in Donker Mag and Ten$Ion. On top of this, the songs themselves are often simply not memorable. The incestuous undertones and character-driven tantrums of “Daddy” aren’t enough to make up for a repetitive and melodically forgettable song. “Gucci Coochie,” for its passé nod to the house music of yesteryear, will never hold a candle to “I Fink U Freeky.” The group seems to pay homage to Mims and Yung Joc with the minimalism of “Fat Faded Fuck” and “Stoopid Rich.” However, these cuts mirror the music of 2007 in simplicity, but not in craft.
With DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill (under the pseudonym “The Black Goat”) providing a helping hand, though, the production of Mount Ninji is often top notch and, occasionally, the team creates a truly interesting track. Take, for instance, “Street Lights,” which sees Ninja reveal a more authentic side of his voice over a hauntingly sparse melody. “Alien” finds another moment in which the group diverges from their typical routine, and the result, which is delivered over a lush, mbira-driven instrumental, is quite effective.
Unfortunately, such intriguing moments are pushed to the back end of the record. While these songs do provide moments of hope for Mount Ninji, they cannot entirely outweigh the banality of the sex jokes and faux-Satanism that precede them.