If South African hip-hop isn’t yet on your radar, might we suggest Dope Saint Jude as a starting point. Hailing from Cape Town, Catherine Saint Jude Pretorious is a queer rapper using her music to discuss gender, sexuality, and ingrained expectations. Equally influenced by Tupac and the Riot Grrrl movement, Dope Saint Jude’s unique sound brings together elements of UK and US rap, South African rhythms and even the occasional classical music sample.
No stranger to pushing boundaries and questioning norms - Saint Jude's former drag king persona was based on Lil Wayne, and her Instagram feed is full of photos of her international gender-bending queer friends. She’s quickly gaining a cult following across the globe, performing in the US and in Europe, and recently mentored 30 aspiring musicians at this year's Nando’s Music Exchange in London in July. We caught up with the rising rap star to discuss queer culture and its role in hip-hop, her Reimagine EP, and what’s next for Dope Saint Jude.
For those that have no clue, can you tell us a bit about what the South African hip-hop scene is like?
The South African hip-hop scene is vibrant and full of diversity. In the mainstream, one has artists like AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Nasty C, whose music is a combination of local and American influences. There are smaller artists pushing a different and more experimental sound, but this is often done overseas, as it is quite difficult for niche artists to make a living in South Africa.
Tell us a bit about making Reimagine. What were some of the things you were thinking about while creating it?
I wanted to make something completely honest. I focused quite heavily on sounds and influences that are from my childhood or that I associate with my parents. I made this EP while living at home with my mother for the first time in about 8 years. Funny enough, my mom passed away two days after it's release. So unbeknownst to me, I was really producing a tribute to my mother.
You also self-produced the project, was that ultimately a more difficult or sensible choice?
Looking back, I wouldn't change it, because I learnt a lot from the process. I will say that I recognize that I am not the strongest producer, however, I am happy I produced this project, because it's a different kind of personal.
You also have a background performing as a drag king. How did you first get into that?
I have been involved in the Cape Town queer scene since the age of 16. I grew up watching drag queens perform, for the most part, it's a very big part of the Cape Town culture. One day I realized there were no drag kings, which intrigued me enough to want to start it. I created a character and had lots of fun with it.
I understand your character was based on Lil Wayne. How exactly did that inspiration strike?
Weezy was really popping around the time I started the drag act, and with my locs, it was an obvious choice.
What are your thoughts on the mainstream hip-hop community’s treatment of queer culture?
I believe it's changing. There are still those that completely disregard or even despise queerness, but for the most part in mainstream hip-hop, the tone seems to be changing. Artists like Tyler, The Creator, JAY-Z, Mykki Blanco, A$AP Rocky and Princess Nokia, are changing the way people feel about queerness in hip-hop.
Do you think based on recent work from artists like Tyler, The Creator that this situation is improving?
Yes, to an extent. I wouldn't credit him entirely, his relationship with queerness has always been a bit unsteady, but I must give him props for opening up people's minds and forcing them to think differently.
How did you come up with the name "Dope Saint Jude"?
My second name is "Saint Jude" who is the patron saint of hopeless or lost causes. I decided to have my tongue in my cheek by naming myself "DOPE" Saint Jude.
What three words would you use to describe your flow?
Evolving, unpredictable and deliberate.
What do you think is one of the biggest problems facing humanity right now? What, if anything, are you trying to do to change that?
In my opinion, a lack of empathy and compassion is the greatest challenge to humanity right now. With more empathy and compassion, we could solve the refugee crisis, we could stop depleting Africa and other developing nations of their final resources and we can see each other as actual humans, instead of reverting to the default response of intolerance and hate.
What’s next for Dope Saint Jude?
I recently visited London for the Nando’s Music Exchange where I mentored students from South Africa, Australia and London. The experience inspired me - I feel explosively creative and am starting work on my new project. I have only released one EP, so I look forward to the next leg of my journey.
Listen to her Reimagine EP in full below.
For more of our interviews, check out our recent Q&A with A$AP Twelvyy, where he dives into his long-awaited debut album '12' right here.