By Daniel A. Shyti

Their aesthetic is unmistakable: bedecked with gold chains, smeared in filth from head to toe, and covered with mice, insects, or anything else that might make you want to turn away.  When you see Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer”) for the first time, it is obvious that this is not rap culture as we know it in the west.  Their trashy-but-flashy culture is known as “Zef” in their native South Africa.

The bar was set high in 2010, when their music videos exploded across the internet.  “Enter the Ninja” became an instant sensation, in which Yolandi Vi$$er’s pixie-esque chorus bookends Ninja’s (Watkin Tudor Jones) sublimely personal rhymes.  They followed this with the controversial “Evil Boy,” riddled with phallic imagery and protesting a cultural circumcision ritual.  Despite their tongue-in-cheek presence, Die Antwoord quickly established itself as a force to be taken seriously.

On February 7, the group officially dropped its second full-length album, TEN$ION.  Following a dispute with Interscope, Die Antwoord decided to release the album on their own label to avoid the pressure of a major record company being involved in the production of their music.

TEN$ION represents another step forward for Die Antwoord, regardless of whatever administrative issues they may be facing.  The enigmatic DJ Hi-Tek (who chooses to remain unidentified) produces bigger beats than ever to supplement their new self-described “rap/rave” angle.  Their club-ready single “I Fink U Freeky” features an over-the-top synth hook reminiscent of Mortal Kombat.  However, after an awkward lull of a couple actual songs pockmarked by skits and interludes, you’ll likely find yourself in a post-rave kandy sugar crash.  But round three brings redemption: Yolandi pulls no punches on “Baby’s On Fire,” with a flow that would satiate any hip-hop fanatic.  Again, this track couldn’t be more danceable if it came with its own smoke machine.

Another forgettable track segues into that other single of theirs, “Fok Julle Naaiers” (translates essentially to “fuck all y’all”).  This one serves as nothing short of a showdown between Die Antwoord and the rest of the world, and it’s not looking too good for everyone else.  Another haunting, droning chorus from Yolandi paves the way for a menacing fury of nut flexing; the kind that only Ninja can deliver over a slow-paced beat that makes you look over your shoulder.

But wait, did we just listen to an entire Die Antwoord album without any controversy?  Of course not, because “Fok Julle Naaiers” plays out into a menacing final verse from DJ Hi-Tek himself, which borrows its content from Mike Tyson’s infamous response to a heckler who suggested that Tyson deserves a straightjacket.  Ninja, however, released an internet video explaining that the homophobic slurs used in this hate-filled mantra are acceptable, because Hi-Tek himself his homosexual.  He also believes that “maybe you guys in the USA can learn a little thing or two from your brothers and sisters here in the dark depths of Africa,” because he claims that discrimination based on race and sexual preference are mostly a thing of the past in South African culture.

While the album may have a few seams from start to finish, the gems make up for its less imaginative tracks.  Like most rappers, Ninja and Yolandi spend most of their verses telling you how tough they are or how great they are at rapping, but their ability to present their lifestyle with a sense of fashion and nuance makes TEN$ION worth more than a few listens.  Ultimately, Die Antwoord refused to compromise with the evolution of their sound, which is more than most artists can say about their own attempts and following up a behemoth international debut.