There was a time when one would be accused of wanting to be an American simply for being a South African hip hop fan and it is an attempted insult I will never forget. I was reminded of this while attending the first day of the annual Cotton Fest held in memory of recently deceased rapper Riky Rick over the weekend.
At the risk of sounding like the same critics, I was a fan of hip hop long before it was cool to love both the music genre and the culture that came with it. Not because I was trying to be cool, but because it is the music I was socialised to listen to thanks to the taste of those around me throughout my childhood years.
Coming from the world I came from, it felt indescribably odd to be accused of wanting to be an American by the kids I went to school with for simply liking music and the style of dressing associated with this particular genre.
Nevertheless, my love for hip hop never faded and over the years, it grew stronger as my understanding of rap music and hip hop as a culture grew. I rejoiced at the early attempts by various collectives of organisers to host events aimed at catering to fans of the genre as it took more of a foothold in South Africa.
These are events like Strictly Hip Hop, Masters of Rhythm, Maftown Heights and Back To The City. If there were any similar events prior to this, I was probably too young to even know what they were.
Although these events weren’t necessarily made for teenagers at the time, my friends, peers and I pulled off miracles to attend those events en masse dressed in – at the time – what we thought were the coolest threads (clothes). The most we got to experience was watching dance crews battle it out to the hottest songs of the day, with a performance here or there from acts like Skwatta Camp, Entity or Jozi (rap groups were a thing at the time, as were dance crews).
Seeing the youth of today do their own version of this, this past weekend was an entirely heart-warming experience, most notably because they were the reason Riky Rick even dared to pull off such a major event in the first place.
Taking place at The Station in Newtown, Cotton Fest sought to do more than just cater to hip hop fans. Unlike the events of yesteryear, Cotton Fest catered to most things affiliated with the culture surrounding hip hop – creating more of an experiential event for the attendees who were drawn to the venue by the music.
The first thing Cotton Fest is known for lies in it’s name; the cotton due to its founder’s affinity for fashion and attendees were required to show up in their best drip (clothing) and there were valiant attempts at honouring Riky’s love for fashion and style in a large number of the outfits on display.
The next thing the festival was and still is known for is giving a stage to young acts and putting them alongside the biggest acts of the day and with three stages, every artist and the fans that love them, got their time in the sun, so to speak.
Despite being associated with hip hop, Cotton Fest was mindful of just how much people love Amapiano music and the Jagermesiter stage was where they could go to ding their lungs out to the songs they love.
While Cotton Fest was certainly not the first local or hip hop event to provide the experience of a music festival, it is one of the only events that is still able to do so at the scale it does.
Just the line-up alone – a whopping 150 acts spread out over two days and three stages – was a feat worth marvelling at.
Lastly, I don’t know if it is because of the magnitude of the loss that comes with the end of such a beloved life or if these things were always bound to happen, but the moments that happened at the concert – like AKA and Da Les’ reunion – that are still being talked about long after the end of the event by people who weren’t even there, are proof that his legacy is in safe hands.
It also proves just how many lives Riky Rick touched and hopefully, fans of the genre will show up for those that he left behind as they continue to run the race holding the baton that he passed to them.