In My Heart, which was recently released on Kingoloti Records, introduced the wider world to Jazz P, Swaziland’s First Lady of Hip Hop. Jazz P was always going to be a singer-songwriter. That was never in doubt. She’s been writing songs since the age of five. Brought up on a diet Jill Scott, Erkah Badu and Mariah Carey, Jazz P grew to love reggae and ragga. Soon the music of Burning Spear, Buju Banton, Sizzla and Yellow Maan was influencing Jazz P. All these influences can be heard on In My Heart, which have resulted in critics comparing Jazz P to former Fugee, Lauryn Hill. However, Jazz P’s career hasn’t been plain sailing. She puts her success down to persistence and determination over her thirteen year career.

The story of Jazz P begins in Swaziland, in southern Africa. Jazz P was born Phepile, where the local dialect is Siswati. Fittingly, Phepile translates as survived or safe in Siswati. Jazz P, as she’d become, is a musical survivor, who has music in her blood. After all, how many five years old write songs? Not many. Jazz P did. Her early influences were Jill Scott, Erkah Badu and Mariah Carey. Then she grew into reggae and ragga. Burning Spear, Buju Banton, Sizzla and Yellow Maan all became favorites of Jazz P. As she listened to these artists, Jazz P hoped that one day, she’d make a career out of music. She did, eventually.

For the first ten years of her career, Jazz P spent them in Swaziland. During that period, times were tough. It would’ve been easy for Jazz P to turn her back on music. She didn’t. Her determination and persistence paid off. For ten long years, Jazz P travelled throughout Swaziland playing at some of the country’s biggest events. This included appearing at the annual Bushfire Festival in 2007, where she collaborated with Zimbabwe’s hip hop and reggae innovator Outspoken-A. Then there was a collaboration with Zimbabwean regga artist Lady Thana, during the country’s history month. Jazz P even appeared before the Zimbabwean King and President. All the time her reputation was growing. Not only that, she was honing and refining her stagecraft and songs. Then when she moved to Mozambique, her career took off.

Since 2010, Jazz P has lived in Mozambique. This has coincided with an upturn in Swaziland’s First Lady of Hip Hop’s fortunes. At last, discerning music lovers and connoisseurs of hip hop discovered one of music’s best kept secrets. Soon plaudits and praise came Jazz P’s way. No wonder. 

On her arrival in Mozambique, Swaziland’s First Lady of Hip Hop put together an all-star band, The Next Generation. They had to be an equal to Jazz P, one of southern Africa’s finest MCs. It was a case of ying and yang. The Next Generation were able to seamlessly fuse musical genres. Nu-Soul Afro-beat, Afro-jazz, reggae, regga and hip hop. This is apparent on In My Heart, Jazz P’s latest E.P.

Featuring eight songs, two of which are bonus tracks, In My Heart, which Da Page produced, is a cerebral, thoughtful album. All of the songs are written by Jazz P, who contemplates life and love, and subjects which range from femininity to spirituality. In doing so, musical genres and influences melt into one. Everything from blues, jazz, Nu-Soul Afro-beat, Afro-jazz, reggae, regga and hip hop are fused by Jazz P and her all-star band The Next Generation.

Intro-Prayer featuring Black Scream and Nelson Tivane opens In My Heart. There’s a real warm Nu-Soul sound to the arrangement. Melodic keyboard and crispy beats accompany Jazz P’s heartfelt, spiritual vocal. Influenced by everyone from Jill Scott, Erkah Badu, Macy Gray and Lauren Hill. Soon it’s all change. She embarks on impassioned rap. Washes of keyboards, crispy beats, percussion and harmonies accompany Jazz P. Then, the baton passes and an equally impassioned rap from Nelson Tivane follows. As it drops out harmonies soar above the arrangement, playing the final part in this glorious fusion of hip hop, Nu-Soul and jazz.

As Sweet Melody unfolds, Jazz P warns: “be ready.” No wonder. She seamlessly fuses hip hop, Nu-Soul, ambient and jazz. Again, you could be listening to any number of Nu-Soul divas in their prime. They’re the past. Jazz P is the future. Her rap is equal parts passion and power, plus frustration and desperation. Harmonies answer her call, their melancholy soulfulness the perfect foil to Jazz P passion and emotion. Melodic and melancholy, it’s also heartfelt and emotive and cerebral.

Scatted, ethereal and cascading harmonies open Love Me 4 Me. They float above the arrangement while Jazz P lays down a confident, feisty rap. As her rap drops out, handclaps, Fender Rhodes and thunderous drums combine. My only criticism I have are the drums. They need reigned in. They’re constantly clipping and risk overpowering the rest of the arrangement. Apart from that, the fusion of harmonies, handclaps and keyboards compliments which is one of Jazz P’s best performances.

Oh Jah, which features Ras Skunk is another genre melting track. Everything from reggae, hip hop and Nu-Soul melts into one. As for Jazz P, she struts her way though the track. She’s accompanied by harmonies. They’re the perfect foil for her rap. Feeding off each other, they drive each other to greater heights of soulfulness. Surpassing everything that’s gone before, it’s no wonder comparisons are being made to Lauryn Hill.

Supreme Love is one of Jazz P’s spiritual tracks. Against a backdrop of retro synths, booming and crashing drums, Jazz P gives thanks to Krishna. Behind her, a melodic, meandering arrangement unfolds. As vintage synths beep and squeak, tender harmonies provide the perfect accompaniment for Jazz P. Again the drums could do with reigning in slightly. Apart from that, the best way to describe this track is a spiritual, soulful and innovative genre-melting track.

Let Me Do sees the return of Ras Skunk. There’s a real retro sound to the track. It’s as if it’s been inspired by hip hop’s glory days. With the warm, crackly sound of worn vinyl, Jazz P unleashes a feisty rap. This she does against a myriad of keyboards, samples and crisp beats. Anger and frustration fills Jazz P’s voice. Using inspiration from hip hop’s past, she creates an impassioned homage to the genre’s innovators and trendsetters.

Soaring, dramatic vocals and harmonies unite as Uganda-Swazi-Moz reveals its secrets. A choppy, reggae influenced arrangement unfolds. Skanking along, the rhythm section provide the pounding beat, while stabs of keyboards add to the authentic reggae influence. Jazz P and the other vocalists reassure us that: “everything’s gonna be alright.” Their voice are joyous, reassuring and akin to aural sunshine, as the track brings back memories of distant sunny days.

Closing In My Heart is a bonus track, Luv Me 4 Me. It’s quite unlike the earlier version. Indeed, I much prefer this version. The reason for that is the understated arrangement. Jazz P’s vocal gives way to tender, ethereal harmonies. They feed off each other, ensuring that In My Heart closes with a beautiful, acapella track that forever remain In My Heart.

So that’s the story of In The Heart, Jazz P’s debut E.P which was recently released on Kingoloti Records. Having spent some time absorbing In The Heart, I can see why people are so excited about Jazz P. There’s no denying that she’s a seriously talented singer, songwriter and MC. Swaziland’s First Lady of Hip Hop has a big future ahead of her. The thirteen years she’s spent honing her songs and stagecraft has been time well spent. Plaudits and praise have come her way. So much so, that’s she performed before Kings and Presidents. However, Jazz P is at an important part of her career.

That’s no exaggeration. As I see Jazz P’s future, she’s two options. The first is to stay in Mozambique and build her career from there. Maybe Kingoloti Records could license her music to bigger labels, in different territories worldwide? That might work. The only problem is that a larger label would want complete control. So what’s the other option?

Her other option is to try to strike a deal with either one of the bigger independent labels or even, a major label. With a major behind her, maybe Jazz P could follow in the footsteps of Jill Scott, Erkah Badu and Lauryn Hill, who she’s been compared to. With a major label behind her, Jazz P could become an unstoppable force. Especially if she hooks up with the right label and producer.The big question is, can he help take Jazz P become go from  Swaziland’s First Lady of Hip Hop to the First Lady of Hip Hop? 

There’s no denying that she’s a seriously talented singer, songwriter and MC. In My Heart is proof of this. With its fusion of blues, jazz, Nu-Soul Afro-beat, Afro-jazz, reggae, regga and hip hop is a multilayered, multi-textured cerebral, thoughtful album. During the eight tracks on In My Heart, Jazz P, contemplates life and love, and subjects ranging from femininity to spirituality. This is no ordinary hip hop album. No way. In My Heart is an introduction to Swaziland’s First Lady of Hip Hop. Jazz P, who if she gets the breaks, could end up the First Lady of Hip Hop. 


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