'Return of the King': Tumi Molekane is back
Rapper Tumi Molekane marks a new era with the release of his first album in three years "Most of us want to live in a society that accepts people for who they are; where you can be who you want to be; where you can express yourself," said rapper Tumi Molekane during an interview clip posted on YouTube earlier this year.Such a society would be great - but in the one we live in, the acceptance of self-expression has its limits. The thing about Tumi, who has just released his third solo album, Return of the King, is that he pays little heed to those limits.story_article_left1The former front man of Tumi and the Volume is more concerned with making art that scares the recipient, that shakes them out of their comfort zones and shatters pre-conceived notions.To wit: he'll wear a T-shirt depicting the apartheid-era South African flag, as he did during his appearance at Oppikoppi in 2013. The video for In Defence of My Art has a shot of him holding two women on a leash. A screen shot from that scene inspired a stream of 140-character lashings on Twitter.Tumi's musical response came via Mr Nice Guy, a song dealing with "feminist Twitter's" concerns and accusations in just under two minutes. "White lie: I made a picture 'cause I hate sisters/ now, now/ I made a picture 'cause I paint shit I, write down," he raps.He doesn't deny that the image may have been offensive, but disagrees with the "henchmen" who came to the party to roast him: "I make art and half the time you make up/ your own double-faced connotations".Tumi doesn't mince his words. When asked for an opinion, he prefers honest, direct engagement rather than answers tailored to keep the peace. Rap star iFani caught feelings recently following Tumi's blunt comments about his music during an appearance on a television segment. But that's just how rap is, and Tumi understands this one fundamental of emceeing: you've got to bring your A-game every single time.And he's paid his dues. He recalls the time he started out in his professional rap career, around the turn of the millennium: "The hip-hop genre was incredibly diverse and very eclectic. We knew that there was definitely a space."Tumi has strong views about today's South African rap scene. "As much as the industry's big and people are like, 'yo, hip-hop has arrived!' I feel like it's less diverse. I say that carefully, because [Okmalum] Koolkat is different from Kid X; Cassper [Nyovest] is different from AKA. But, generally, the ideas are similar," he says."I'm not trying to one-dimensionalise people and be like 'yo, they just wanna turn up', but I'm saying that some of the reasons for liking all these artists are very similar. Today, it's not as eclectic as it was back then, but it's definitely arrived."block_quotes_start He's an untamed pacifist - skilled in war but given to peace. And none of his peers can out-rap him block_quotes_endHis new album's title, Return Of the King, is a nod to the last in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy. It came to him after watching a Viggo Mortensen movie marathon. He tentatively called the album Rob the Church some three years ago when he started making it, but half of the songs ended up getting deleted. Tumi thought the ideas sounded stale, that he'd made similar music before.His last solo outing was Whole Worlds in 2010. It's taken another World Cup, plus one year, for him to release the follow-up. In between, Tumi and the Volume unveiled their second studio album, Pick a Dream.Live at the Bassline, Tumi and the Volume's break-out 2002 recording, featured Paulo Chibanga on drums, Tiago C Paulo on guitars, Dave Bergman on bass, and Kyla-Rose Smith on violin. Trumpeter Marcus Wyatt stepped in to assist on one song, and Pebbles Gqunta added her commanding voice to two memorable cuts, 76 and People of the Light.The album introduced them to international audiences and set them on a 10-year global course, touring the world while enjoying niche acclaim at home. Pick a Dream was to be their last. Tumi delivered the news of their break-up via a tweet around Christmas time in 2012.The new record is a departure from the live or live-sounding feel that, despite the strong solo material he was producing all along, had come to define him. Throughout the Volume's 10 years together, he never was just Tumi, the poet-slash-emcee from South Africa. A "from the Volume" suffix trailed after him, essentially narrowing his output to the limits and possibilities of the live music he was making.So deleting the earlier Volume-ish songs was an act of departure for him. He wanted the album to mark a new era - hence Return of the King. Tumi had reigned supreme on his Volume throne; the break-up symbolised a de-throning of sorts.Tumi isn't a cut above the rest of his rapper peers; he's playing a completely different game. He runs multiple lanes and is hellbent on carving his own path. He's an untamed pacifist - skilled in war but given to peace. And none of his peers can out-rap him. He says as much on Usain Bolt, off Whole Worlds: "Ozone outta here, atmosphere is unknown/ we are not peers, I am in a different time zone."Yes, rappers are prone to hyperbole. But Tumi isn't kidding.Return Of The King is out now - you can download your copy via iTunes.