To tell the story of South African hip hop, I needed to talk to Lee Kasumba. She's a DJ, writer and all round authority on the rap scene there. I caught up with Kasumba at Johannesburg's airport, which like everything in South Africa, is undergoing transition, so is a little chaotic.
I'd just arrived from New York. Lee was on her way out of town en route to Norway to speak at a conference on youth and HIV. We set up shop at an airport restaurant. I asked Lee to begin at the beginning.
"The rise of hip hop in south Africa. Well basically I think the earliest would be with Prophets of Da City to my remembrance you know, because during Nelson Mandela's inauguration they performed that song "Excellent, the first black President."
This was the song that put hip hop on the map in South Africa. It was 1994. Before then, hip hop had been an underground movement whose fans were mainly poor, mixed-race kids living in squatter camps outside Cape Town. But Prophets of Da City changed all that.
"They had Nelson Mandela on their video and they sampled him in the song. So Prophets of Da City probably the first and they were very actively involved in the fight against apartheid. That was like way back then, you know."
It was probably the first time most black South Africans had heard hip hop. But not Lee Kasumba.
"What happened is my dad, he used to travel a lot, particularly to England because we had family there, and he's bring us all the music. Like, we never said "we want to listen to hip hop" I just remember my dad always bringing us the stuff you know. And then my mother like took the cassettes away and my dad re-bought it. And he's like, what are you doing with all this rap business. I'm like it's you daddy, it's you."
Like her father, Lee was born in Uganda. And she sometimes felt the sting of discrimination in South Africa. That's partly why she was drawn to the international style of hip hop. She began DJing at a Johannesburg radio station.
"I was part of a show, which is part of history, Harambe, which is Swahili for "let's pull together." The whole idea behind Harambe was that we were creating a platform for the hip hop culture that was already on the streets, not just in South Africa but across the continent. And then somebody did a song called Harambe whuch became, like, huge."
Hip Hop Pantsula is one of Lee Kasumba's favourites. "Harambe" pays tribute to older South Africans, who fought to end apartheid. It brought more attention to the genre in South Africa.
"And then the the South African music awards put in a best rap category, I don't know how credible that is, but they did put in a best rap category, and then you have TV shows coming out. You know a lot of the stuff was a bit cheesy but it was like we all had this passion, and me being from another African country and obviously with these issues if xenophobia, the way that I felt that I fitted in the most was through hip hop, so I though yo, let me use something that I understand."
Like Lee Kasumba, and like a lot of people involved in South African rap, Hip Hop Pantsula is an outsider. He grew up in rural South Africa, far from Johannesburg, where all the music deals are made. He raps not just in English, but also in his native Tswana, and his songs sometimes draw on much older styles.
It's music like this that answers the criticism leveled against South African hip hop, that its practitioners put on fake American accents, and end up sounding like pale imitations of Tupac or JZ. For the real South African music of today, those critics say, you should listen to Kwaito.
Kwaito is way bigger than hip hop in South Africa. Its biggest performers are household names here. The rhythms derive from house music that's then slowed down, with lyrics delivered in a street slang that borrows from most of the country's 11 languages.
Kwaito mainly steers clear of politics. The songs are more likely to be about getting rich or getting it on. Which makes kwaito closer to American hip hop than to South African hip hop.
Its only in the 13 years since the end of apartheid that most South Africans have had the chance to express themselves freely. No wonder there are claims and counter-claims about authenticity. But as far as Lee Kasumba's concerned, the rivalry between kwaito and hip hop is a major case of "whatever."
"For me, like I hate getting into the kwaito and hip hop debate because it always happens. I think the competition is put because people try to make people try to compete against one another, as opposed to just this is what you do, this is what I do , that's fine. You know there are moments when you can't tell the difference, where someone will jump on a hip hop beat or whatever, but that's music, that's how it is."
And how it is in South Africa right now is good says Lee. Set aside the stories of poverty and violent crime for a moment she says, just long enough to appreciate what is working about the place, rebuilding, new opportunities, a new optimism among the young. Remember how many times Africa has been written off before she says.
"You know like a few years ago you would have asked me, and I would have been "I can't wait to leave the continent and I'm gone" you know? Now you can't pay me enough to not live here. I've just fallen so in love and a lot of young people are feeling the same way. It's cool to speak in your own language, to mix it up, it's cool's to go and hang out in different townships, that's the in thing. So I cannot not believe in African hip hop, because that would mean I don't believe in what's going on in the continent because it's all unified you know?"
As Lee Kasumba leaves to catch her flight to Norway, she hands me a bag full of more than a dozen CDs. Just the tip of the iceberg she says.