Die Antwoord – TEN$ION

After all the no-holds-barred, eye-popping Zef energy of Die Antwoord’s debut album $O$, it was difficult to imagine how the pair could ever possibly top tracks like Enter the Ninja and Rich Bitch. But even with the bar set what seemed impossibly-high, Ninja and Yo-Landi have miraculously managed to come back with a second album even more memorable in TEN$ION.

Though right from the first track, Never Le Nkemise 1, it’s obvious that pair haven’t just regurgitated the sound that brought them onto the world stage two years ago. While it’s difficult to affix the word ‘mature’ to anything of the Die Antwoord canon, the opening strains of a chorus of men solemnly chanting in an African language is a definite departure from what we’ve come to expect of the duo.

In an interview with Spin previewing the album, Ninja and Yo-Landi explained that the chorus is sung in a little known South African criminal language, created during the apartheid-era to prevent guards from listening in on prisoner’s conversation. From there, the track descends into a heavy, brostep beat as Ninja barges in with the cry of “I’m indestructible” – the pair told Spin “We wanted it to sound apocalyptic or like warfare, to represent the mood in South Africa at the moment”. Evidently then, TEN$ION makes good on Ninja’s claim of being ““fucking political.

But that’s not to say Die Antwoord have turned serious on us. From there, the album moves onto the fun second single I Fink You Freeky, a high energy, techno track – and between the fast beat and command to “jump, motherfucker, jump”, it’s one destined to do best live. Hey Sexy, a massive, stadium-esque tune, delivers the same humorously self-referential lyrical material we’ve come to expect from the pair, but with a grungier sound to any of their earlier work. So What? is an anthemic ode to Ninja and Yo-Landi’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, which with lines like “Ninja likes a girl who lets him stick his penis up the bum” reassures that Die Antwoord’s tongue is still placed firmly in their cheek.

A fast-paced, techno beat dominates on Baby’s On Fire, which while catchy, has a chorus packed with less personality than the rest of the album – and given personality is one of Die Antwoord’s most endearing qualities, that’s a bit of a disappointment. But any wish for more personality is quickly granted when Ninja busts in with lines like “I rap so good ‘cause my dick’s so big” on the undeniably catchy U Make a Ninja Wanna Fuck, a track as frank as its title. U Make a Ninja Wanna Fuck, like the beatbox-driven Fatty Boom Boom, also serves to highlight what talented and fast-tongued rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi are – even if the delightfully heavy Afrikaans accent does, at times, prove hard to decipher.

Nestled curiously towards the end of the record is the lead single, which is also one of the album’s best tracks. Fok Julle Naaiers typifies the progression Die Antwoord have made on TEN$ION: it’s far darker and less gimmicky material, with an absolute shit-load of menacing attitude. DJ Hi-Tek’s deliberately controversial verse (with the memorable chant of “I’ll fuck you til you love me, faggot”) stands separately as its own track and following that interlude, the album closes with outro Never Le Nkemise 2.

But of course, the burning question with a second album is always whether it progresses from the first. Without a doubt, TEN$ION is a far more concerted release than $O$ and proves that Die Antwoord are no one-trick-pony.

Excluding the various skits and interludes, TEN$ION is just nine songs long – a massive scale back from $O$ ’s sprawling 18 tracks. Unsurprisingly then, TEN$ION works much better as a whole and where the album tracks on $O$ almost felt like filler, every track on TEN$ION earns its inclusion.

However, part of the cost of Die Antwoord’s progression with TEN$ION is that the album perhaps lacks totally off-the-wall inclusions in the vein of Rich Bitch. That having said, it’s those infamous, ever-viral clips that have always taken Die Antwoord’s tracks to their self-proclaimed next level, so forthcoming videos may well add to the fun of future singles.

It remains to be seen whether TEN$ION will win over those who don’t ‘get’ Die Antwoord, but it’s certainly a testament to why the group have won themselves such a devoted cult following. It’s confronting and often deliberately bad-taste nature forms part of the charm of the album, and was well worth splitting from Interscope to retain.

TEN$ION succeeds because it’s a fresh take on rap: fun, catchy, clever, endearingly self-deprecating and culturally incisive. As Ninja highlights with the question on Fatty Boom boom, “What happened to all the cool rappers from back in the day?/ Now days all these rappers sound exactly the same”, Die Antwoord are a breath of fresh air in a genre that is too often dulled by commercialism. Zeflings, rejoice:TEN$ION isn’t just a good album, it’s a fokken’ great one.

TEN$ION is out on February 7 through Zef Recordz.