Dive Into Amapiano With These 15 Essential Tracks
Jan 25, 2023
7 min read
From true pioneers to early adopters, amapiano has produced a myriad of highly talented and inventive stars. Since its nationwide acceptance in South Africa around 2018, the producers have spawned multitudes of hits, eventually bringing international attention to the sound. The genre has leaped from local clubs and pubs to global stages and festivals, bringing along with its dances, lingo, fashion, and lifestyle.
A decade into its existence, Amapiano has become a bona fide juggernaut and phenom. We look back at the 15 songs that have defined, shaped, and elevated the genre in the past few years.
1. Kabza De Small (feat. Leehleza) - Umshove
Amapiano began as a purely instrumental sound, “Umshove” was one of the first few tracks in the genre to have vocals. As a township-bred style, it reflects its surroundings; there was a time when amapiano was enamored with sexual innuendos via its lyrics and chants before it got refined to its current soundscape. Many South Africans discovered the genre and Kabza De Small via this track.
2. De Mthuda x Njelic - Shesha
In 2019, this track was inescapable. On “Shesha,” Njelic gently pleads with his lover to hurry and shower quickly so that they can go party! A relatable and true crossover hit, this song was popular spanning age groups and demographics. Producer and pioneer De Mthuda and Njelic have gone on to churn out multiple hits, individually and together.
3. Kwiish SA - Iskhathi (Gong Gong)
There was a point when amapiano was referred to as “Gong Gong,” a way to refer to its customary log drum. The name is inarguably linked to the prominence and impact of this song. What started out as a tribute to DJ Clock by co-producers BRG and C’buda M became an anthem. Kwiish SA even put out a vocal mix of the banging instrumental track for more mainstream appeal.
4. Samthing Soweto (feat. Sha Sha, DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small) - Akulaleki
Acclaimed musician Samthing Soweto, through his works in 2019, fathered a singing style that inspired a slew of Amapiano vocalists who followed after his initial run. “Akulaleki” became an instant hit with fans, and topped the streaming charts. “It’s a love song that connects love and partying, and the country loves that,” the musician told Apple Music.
5. Sha Sha (feat. DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small) - Tender Love
Due to her sultry vocals, velvety melodies, and proximity to Kabza, Sha Sha was once hailed as the Queen of Amapiano. After serving as a guest feature on plenty of genre-elevating hits, she came to the fore as a lead artist on “Tender Love.” The song was the first single off her debut EP Blossom, which earned her a BET award for Viewers’ Choice: Best New International Act in 2020.
6. Kabza De Small x DJ Maphorisa (feat. Samthing Soweto & MFR Souls) - Amantombazane
The partnering up of Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa has countlessly proven to be extraordinarily fruitful, not only for themselves but for amapiano as a whole. The duo, who dubbed themselves the Scorpion Kings, first linked in 2019 after Maphorisa booked Kabza for a few shows he was hosting in Soweto. The Samthing Soweto-assisted and MFR Souls co-produced “Amantombazane” was one of the first major hits that came out of their creative union.
7. MFR Souls (feat. Sha Sha, DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small) - Love You Tonight
Take the inventive prowess of MFR Souls and pair it with the tried-and-tested trio of vocalist Sha Sha, DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small, and you get the certified thumper that’s “Love You Tonight.” The sensual and romantic song perfectly blends Maphorisa and Sha Sha’s velvety vocals with the soulful production of MFR Souls and Kabza De Small. “Love You Tonight” was released as a single, taken off the duo’s major record label debut, The Beginning.
8. Semi Tee (feat. Miano and Kammu Dee) - Labantwana Ama Uber
Before TikTok dance challenges became trendy within amapiano, there was “Labantwana Ama Uber” with its accompanying dance routine. The cryptic song spread like wildfire and was a topic of discussion for months. The reincarnation of kwaito-rooted lyrics within amapiano was made popular by this track.
9. Kabza De Small & DJ Maphorisa (feat. Aymos, Samthing Soweto, Myztro & Mas Musiq) - Emcimbini
It almost feels unfair to have so many Scorpion Kings songs on this list, but the truth is, they rightfully deserve to be included more than once because of the work they’ve put in. “Emcibini” was released in early 2020, just before the pandemic impacted the world. This song is often a reminder of the time, as many people feel that it could’ve become even bigger if it wasn’t for the lockdowns and travel restrictions.
10. Focalistic (feat. Vigro Deep)- Ke Star
During the peak of the lockdown in 2020, rapper Focalistic and producer Vigro Deep linked up to work on some music. From that studio session, two bangers rose, “Ke Star” and “Blue Monday.” The former shook the game and became a Southern African hit before spreading to many corners of the continent. A remix with Davido would give the song new life and take it globetrotting.
11. Busta 929 x Mpura (feat. Mr JazziQ, Zuma, Lady Du & Reece Madlisa) - Umsebenzi Wethu
2020 was a remarkable year for the Mr JazziQ-helmed independent label Black is Brown Entertainment. A host of singles and projects came out then, “Umsebenzi Wethu” epitomized the energy and vibe of that period within the stable and ‘piano as a whole. On the hard-hitting track backdropped by a Busta 929 production, Mpura, Lady Du, Reece Madlisa, and Zuma trade vocals as they detail how their work will speak for itself.
12. Felo Le Tee & Myztro - 66
Brittle whistles and thumping percussion are the order of the day on this one! Add a simple dance sequence, and you have a cross-continental hit. The song helped launch Felo Le Tee into the wider mainstream and cement him as an esteemed and sought-after producer within the dynamic scene. Since then, he has been behind countless other chart-topping songs.
13. Young Stunna (feat. Kabza De Small & DJ Maphorisa) - Adiwele
Young Stunna is emblematic of the new generation and hitmaking amapiano vocalists. Switching from hip-hop to amapiano, like many others, through a series of outstanding features, Stunna etched his name with “Adiwele.” The manifestation-fuelled track even brought attention to charismatic DJ, Uncle Waffles, who first gained popularity after a clip of her set dancing to the song went viral.
14. Ch’cco x Mellow & Sleazy - Nkao Tempela
The statement “every day a star is born” summarizes and contextualizes the rate at which new artists emerge within amapiano. “Nkao Tempela” established Ch’cco as the genre’s next star. While it initially got mixed reviews, “Nkao Tempela” would go on to platinum status and was one of the first songs that brought Mellow & Sleazy’s Bacardi house-influenced style into the spotlight.
5. Mas Musiq (feat. Aymos & Young Stunna) - Sengizwile
The producer-vocalist combo that is Mas Musiq and Aymos has shown beyond doubt to be formidable. Since they started working together in 2019, they’ve gone on to contribute immensely to each other’s solo work. “Sengizwile” is a faultless exhibit of their complimentary artist expression. They invited Young Stunna, who delivered a show-stealing verse on the sing-along number. It’s a slow burner that’s a testament to amapiano’s timelessness.