“Creative energy is sexual,” muses Ninja, one-half of the id-gone-haywire South African rap-rave duo Die Antwoord. “I heard this thing from a kung-fu Zen master: the epitome of vitality is when a 4-year-old boy has an erection but he doesn’t know what sex is… that’s kind of like our style.
Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer”) is comprised of the masked DJ Hi-Tek and two halves of an outrageous couple—Ninja (born Watkin Tudor Jones), who sports gold-capped teeth, homemade tattoos, and a flat-top chop, along with his companion Yo-Landi Vi$$er (born Yolandi Visser), whose extraordinary hairstyle resembles an ultra-blond undercut-mullet hybrid.
The group’s music combines the mile-a-minute, expletive-laden rap flow of Ninja with the squeaky-filthy schoolgirl hooks of Yo-Landi—song titles include “Evil Boy” and “U Make a Ninja Wanna Fuck”—and incorporates elements of South African gangster culture, as well as a style known as “Zef”: a derogatory term of sorts describing poor people from the streets who act fancy by souping up their cars or rocking gold.
Ninja met Yo-Landi a decade ago, and they began work on a rap group five years ago, before finally unveiling Die Antwoord in 2008. The following year, they released their debut album, O$, for free on their website. In early 2010, their wild music videos for “Zef Side” and “Enter the Ninja” hit YouTube—the latter causing their site to crash. They were suddenly the toast of the music industry, being courted by record companies, including Interscope, which flew the band to Los Angeles and offered them a $1 million contract. They accepted, and re-released their debut in 2010 on Interscope shingle Cherrytree Records to critical acclaim.
“Interscope seemed like they were crazy—Dr. Dre, [Marilyn] Manson, all those guys,” says Ninja. “They seemed like they were edgy and shit and wouldn’t fuck with our music. Before we signed with them, we wanted to do the music video for ‘Evil Boy’ so we tested them, and were like, ‘I’m going to be rapping from my penis, and it’s going to be real long,’ and they were just like, ‘Yeah, whatever!’”
For their second album, however, things didn’t go as smoothly. Like their then-labelmate Lana Del Rey, Interscope attempted to intervene in the recording of their sophomore effort, molding them to their liking and toning down their zany elements in favor of a more radio-friendly sound.
“I nearly got three or four girls pregnant on the dancefloor. Then, I needed to pee but the queue for the toilet was real long, so I peed in this wine glass…”
“They were like, ‘This is OK but we need something more pop, more ‘reach-out,’” says Ninja. “That was the opposite of Die Antwoord and we were really upset that they wanted to take us in this lame direction.” He pauses, adding, “It was sexy in the beginning and then it was like, ‘Ugh… I’m bored. I need a divorce.’”
The rappers left Interscope in November 2011, forming their own label—Zef Recordz—to release their highly anticipated follow-up album, Ten$ion, which was released Jan. 29, and sees the group at their raunchiest and most uncompromising.
While Lana Del Rey has come under fire in certain circles for being transformed from cutesy Lizzy Grant into a self-described “gangster Nancy Sinatra,” there has been a great deal of intrigue surrounding the “true” identities of real-life couple Ninja and Yo-Landi, who live together with their young daughter, Sixteen Jones (she is a “goody-goody” who “thinks it’s lame to swear,” according to Ninja). When asked about their new personas, Ninja remains defiant.
“It’s not a persona,” he says. “I used to mess with personas and then Yo-landi was like, ‘Why don’t you fuck with you and just do personal stuff.’ With Die Antwoord, we decided to just rap about ourselves, South Africa, and the situation around South Africa.” He adds, “We started just exploiting ourselves.”
Their unique style soon attracted the attention of Hollywood, with Ninja being offered a role in fellow countryman Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming sci-fi film Elysium, alongside Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, and Yo-Landi being courted for arguably the most coveted Hollywood role in years: goth-hacker Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
“[Hollywood superagent] Ari Emanuel—the real Ari Gold from Entourage—phoned my house and my daughter had never answered the phone before, and all of a sudden she picked up the phone and she was like, ‘Daddy…,’ recalls Ninja. “He then spoke to Yo-landi and he said that that David Fincher guy wanted her to be in that movie.”
She turned him down flat. Ninja also declined his part.
“At that time, we didn’t want to be in a movie because then you’d be like, ‘Oh, that chick from the movie is also in a rap band,’” explains Ninja. “If you’re in a movie, you can’t be a musician afterward—like Keanu Reeves tried to start a rock band once and they just threw tomatoes at him.”
The duo are collaborating with their hero Blomkamp, who directed the South African sci-fi film District 9, on a smaller project they can’t really discuss, merely saying that the filmmaker wrote a script with Ninja and Yo-Landi starring as themselves in an “alternative situation.”
They’ve also become style muses for acclaimed fashion designer Alexander Wang, appearing as the subject of his spring 2012 campaign.
“He gave us all these white T-shirts and asked us to paint all over them,” explains Ninja. “Alex took us partying to this club, and it was the best night of my life. I nearly got three or four girls pregnant on the dancefloor. Then, I needed to pee but the queue for the toilet was real long, so I peed in this wine glass and put it on the table.”
As far as their future is concerned, in addition to the project with Blomkamp, the duo would love to shoot a music video with a pair of South African actors playing them—Charlize Theron as Yo-Landi and Sharlto Copley (District 9) as Ninja. They’ve also been signed to a toy label called Good Smile Company, and plan on releasing a line of “Evil Boy” toys inspired by their music video—depicting menacing little boys sporting gigantic erections. Oh, and Ninja would love nothing more than to collaborate with one of his music idols: Celine Dion.
During a bizarre interview with The New York Times , “they played Celine Dion at the end,” says Ninja. “That’s like the shit I get down to… the sexiest. When I hit the floor to a Celine Dion track, you’ll see the awesomest moves in the known universe.”