To the young at heart, Hip Hop is a culture of showing off, crime, sex, money, cars and drugs. But to industry late-comer Dimpho ‘Gifa’ Motlhabi, rap music means something different.
His is a story of struggle, perseverance and hope, far removed from rounded the ‘swagger’, ‘flossing’ and ‘bling-bling’. Motlhabi’s is a story to break down perceptions and boundaries.
Motlhabi who entered the hip hop industry having matured in life is different from the ‘now generation’ which gets into this industry too early and for the wrong reasons.
He has lived an impoverished life, forced to hit the streets to ‘hassle’ but steered clear of crime and drugs. To him hip hop is not only a genre of poetic lyrics and bouncy beats, but should tell a story of life. He said hip hop is celebrating winning a battle against life.
“To me hip hop is a fuse of a life of poor background….then working hard and finally being in the spotlight. In the spotlight is where you celebrate by telling people your story through hip hop,” said Motlhabi, in his very first interview.
The 35-year old rapper said though a late comer, he is not new to hip hop music. He said waiting longer gave him chance to learn a lot about hip hop and life in general so that he can have a story to tell.
Gifa(His stage name) said this is unlike youngsters of today, who just emerge from nowhere, want to shine on just a small portion of the limelight. He said most youth artists copy the US Pop life of dressing up, sex and drugs. He said after doing all these things, the youngster does not have any story to tell in the music.
Born in Borolong, 20 kilometres from Fransistown, Gifa’s ‘hassling road’ started at the second city. He lived in the most dangerous places of Francistown, Somerset, Kgaphamadi and Bluetown. These places are known for crime and drug abuse, things which can derail a young man. Despite all the challenges, his love for music contained and restrained him.
Gifa upgraded his ‘hassling’ by moving to Gaborone’s Old Naledi and Mogoditshane . Composing songs, working with his hands and following hip hop was what Gifa did to avoid the wrong crowd and misdemeanours of the city.
Along the way, he moved to South Africa, which helped his music despite lack of funding. He stayed in Soweto, Phefeni, where most of his first songs were composed and produced at Pecival Studios.
His “My Six Life” song chronicles six stages in life. It portrays a rapper who is experienced both in hip hop and in life. Gifa said this song describes and narrates his life timeline up to now. He said he has now achieved and won the race of life, as he has always wanted to be mature and start celebrating life.
Gifa’s favourite artist is the late rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur. He gets his inspiration from the US rapper who died tragically in 1997 from a gunshot.
“I liked his music and like what he used to say in his music. It was inspiring and many things which he said were prophetic….his words and the message that he brought to people,” said Gifa.
However, Tupac is not his role model. Gifa said Tupac was not a good example as an artist with all the controversial bad boy lifestyle that he lived. He said what happened to Tupac and other rappers of those days whose careers ended tragically, taught him that hip hop is not what is in the movies and videos.
Though admitting it will not be easy for him to stay away from fame, Gifa said he is not in the music for ladies, fame and fortune. He said he sees the music as a business which can change many lives.
“One might not have millions, but have talent to sell the whole country. The best asset in an artist should be his talent and should be showcased to people,” said the rapper.
His role model and mentor is Nelson Mandela. Gifa even made a song called ‘Nelson Mandela.’ He said just like Mandela, he has forgiven life, and has moved on to celebrate it with his music. Mandela has taught him perseverance, humility and forgiveness.
Gifa defines his music as a fusion of old school hardcore rap and African rhythm. He said the African rhythm is the signature of his music as he is a proud African who does not lose his roots. Gifa said his music caters for all generations.
His latest song is the single, “Life-time value”, coming end of September. The song has Setswana traditional dance music fused with hip hop. The message of the song is about how valuable a human life is and that all humans are equal.
Gifa will release a 14 track album next year. The album is delayed because he is waiting to compile collaborations with different artist around Africa.
Gifa is recorded by Pecival Studios together with the local studio, Sims recording label. He has his own stable called Gifa productions.