By Tasneem Jacobs
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 9 of VARSITY.
South African hip hop is historically vibrant and eclectic, and this is embodied in no small part by multi-talented rapper and producer, Dope Saint Jude. Born Catherine Saint Jude Pretorius, she was raised in the coloured community of Elsie’s River in Cape Town. Her upbringing in the notorious Cape Flats has influenced both her music and her political views. When asked how she chooses to identify, Dope Saint Jude says, “I identify as black politically and in the Biko sense, but I also understand that in a South African context I have to acknowledge a certain amount of privilege because of my mixed heritage. It’s a discussion that I’m continually having with myself.” Her music is a clear reflection of this conversation, encapsulating themes of coloured identity, feminism, and queerness amidst powerful production. This has garnered the rapper a niche but devoted following online, which is set to multiply after the release of her second EP, Resilient.
What began as a drag-king act based on Lil Wayne became Dope Saint Jude’s first foray into the world of performance artistry. Feeling that her character had eventually become too one dimensional, she transitioned into rapping and self-taught music production. She subsequently began experimenting with her sound and posting tracks online. Lauryn Hill and Tupac are amongst her influences, as is the underground 90s feminist movement, Riot Grrrl. “I just liked the rebellious nature of hip hop, and I find it to be quite punk too. Also, rhythmically it worked – it felt right.” Dope Saint Jude’s music is an expression of her own reality, but the importance of hip hop as a political tool is not lost on her either. “Even artists like Migos making Bad and Boujee, the fact that it’s reaching the top charts and it’s young black people celebrating black joy, that in itself is inherently political”, she explains. Aside from rapping solely about social consciousness, she believes that “hip hop is political without the content necessarily having to be.” Rap is a genre often littered with homophobia and misogyny. As a queer woman of colour, Dope Saint Jude is aware of the difficulties of navigating these pitfalls while still maintaining the joy. “I just try to create a different type of hip hop, and a different type of music. Those things exist, but it can’t be the only story that’s told”, expresses the rapper.
The premiere of her new single Grrrl Like has positioned Dope Saint Jude at the forefront of queer, feminist rap music. The track, which she calls “explosive”, dropped in September on Beats 1 Radio. It is an ode to reveling in your own power. Speaking to DJ Ebro on his show, Dope Saint Jude said, “it’s all about doing things for yourself and being whoever you want to be. I feel like the track embodies more than what I believe in; it’s a movement that is starting in Cape Town, in South Africa, and in Africa where young women are doing things for themselves.” Reception since its release has been overwhelmingly positive, highlighting more than ever the craving for representative music. The track is also particularly significant given that it marks a sonic change from her previous projects. Recorded in London, it is a transition into professional production. This has imbued her sound with an altogether more polished finish. What hasn’t changed, however, is the purpose behind her music. “I haven’t compromised my message”, declares Dope Saint Jude.
Her message is largely one of unapologetic self-expression and empowerment. She remembers struggling to make friends during childhood, but has through her music discovered a community of like-minded individuals who resonate with the content of her raps. She draws equal inspiration from them in turn. The accompanying visuals for Grrrl Like feature a multitude of black and brown women from Cape Town, many of whom also identify as queer. Exposure of these identities is vital to Dope Saint Jude. She is committed to using both her sound and her stage as a platform to represent them, noting “the more I become a serious artist, the more I’m engaging with big brands. I think it’s important to shape those experiences on your terms and be very clear about what it is you want.” Despite being at the beginning of her career, this mentality is quickly becoming the status quo for her in every respect. Still, she has her sights set on more than just rapping. She lists acting, book writing, and even possibly producing a feminist porn flick as eventual career goals. While that last one might come as a shock to some, this is exactly what sets Dope Saint Jude apart from her contemporaries. Her refreshing ability to overturn expectations through bold and unfaltering authenticity has allowed her to stake her claim at the forefront of South African hip hop.
Watch the video for Grrrl Like below: