Dope Saint Jude is a queer South African rapper who’s been cutting through the industry with her socially woke lyrics and genre fluid sound. Part hip-hop, part R&B, with sprinkles of Riot Grrrl punk dusted on top, Dope Saint Jude’s latest EP ‘Resilient’ is fresh out the oven and has been baked to perfection.
From performing as a drag king to rapping about LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality – Dope Saint Jude has found a unique voice within a culture that has previously been adverse to such matters. An intersectional artist with a message of self-love and empowerment, ‘Resilient’ is filled with a life-affirming and defiant spirit – just like the woman behind it. We caught up with the woman behind the prose to learn more about the new EP, her South African upbringing and the upcoming tour.
As we settle down on a crisp, sunny day in a quaint cafe in Hackney Wick, we start the conversation off by discussing her movements these past few months. Basing herself in Cape Town and London, her music has taken her much afield – with Dope Saint Jude performing on tours all across Europe and America. Although Cape Town is increasingly seeing the rise of interesting new artists (Tipcee, Alice Phoebe Lou, Ryki), it is impressive just how quickly she is gaining cult status across such far flung lands.
Sharing our thoughts on London we exchange recommendations for Hackney, and then the conversation eventually turns to Cape Town wherein my knowledge is far more hazy. Having never visited before, I ask Dope Saint Jude what it was like growing up there – “Cape Town is quite a cosmopolitan city but there is a lot of inequality because of the apartheid system”, she pauses before continuing, “I grew up in what is called a coloured area where the mixed race people in South Africa were put in the apartheid system”. Luckily, she explains to me that her parents were able to send her to a good school which exposed her to all sorts of interesting people with different backgrounds.
Whilst Dope Saint Jude is frank about the realities of her home city, you can also sense that she has a real love for the place. “I think people think of Cape Town as very resolute. People have this perception that when they think of South Africa they think of Africa – they don’t realise a lot of the places are pretty developed and pretty cosmopolitan… we have coffee shops, wifi, galleries – it’s lit” she laughs.
Considering the city’s troubled history the fact that Dope Saint Jude has established herself as an advocate for marginalised groups is seriously admirable. From her lyric ‘Fuck all the girls in school who thought they were cool ‘cos they had straight hair/ Who is a fool now’ (Inside) to ‘I’m a grrrl just like like like like like like like like…’, which emphasises that the definition of girlhood is open ended – Dope is unwavering in her commitment to empowering minorities. However, Dope Saint Jude tells me that this hasn’t always been the case – “South Africa has a really fucked up history so growing up I felt uncomfortable due to the colour of my skin. Then finding out as I got older that I was queer… all that made me feel really disempowered”. This is an interesting revelation, as the woman I’m chatting to exudes confidence both in herself and for what she stands for, so I find it hard to imagine Dope Saint Jude ever feeling otherwise (although completely understandable, given the circumstances). After sharing this thought with Dope Saint Jude she laughs before telling me that one day she was like “just fuck it” and chose to channel these negative experiences into making her rather than breaking her.
Saint Jude is the Patron Saint of hopeless causes.
It was from this moment that Dope started to splinter her talents into a wide range of artistic endeavours – some of which wouldn’t initially spring to mind. “Cape Town has a huge drag queen culture, and I was pretty involved in all the queer organisations on campus so when someone was like ‘why are there no drag kings?’ I thought this was my opportunity”. Basing her Drag King persona off Lil Wayne, it was Dope’s first adventure into the performative sphere. Whilst this experience taught her many things (such as the ability to rap every single Lil Wayne lyric, for one), she increasingly found herself frustrated with her character. “There isn’t much to do – with drag queen performance it’s really fabulous and extravagance but with drag king you can only push it so much”. Intrigued by this, I ask her to explain what she means, “performing as a guy is pretty one-dimensional… there is only so much you can do that is interesting” she shrugs. From this frustration, Dope started to create her own rap lyrics in order to elevate her drag persona higher. However, this ending up turning into something completely new. As she gradually began to write more of her own rap, Dope eventually turned her hand at producing and before long, a whole new persona was created: Dope Saint Jude.
I questioned whether Dope Saint Jude is a stage name, but to my surprise she informs me that Saint Jude is actually her real name. “Saint Jude is the Patron Saint of hopeless causes” she laughs before explaining, “my parents named me that because my mum always wanted a girl but instead had four boys”. Whilst the ‘hopeless cause’ meaning behind ‘Saint Jude’ plays no reflection to her own endeavours, it is a playful antidote that puts truth in the idiom that good things come to those who wait. I proceed to ask about why she chose ‘Dope’, and Catherine (her real name) chuckles before telling me “to be cool”.
We move onto the new EP which coincidentally was released just hours before we met. Having had a flavour with her ‘Riot Grrr’ single that dropped earlier this year, I was looking forward to hearing the rest of the EP. However before I got a chance to do so I wanted to get a brief prelude. I start off by asking Dope why she called called the EP ‘Resilient’ – “I thought it was an appropriate name because when I was younger my mum use to tell me ‘Catherine you are resilient’ and I didn’t really think I was… being resilient means being able to get over tough situations really quickly and I didn’t think I could do that”. However, this was something Dope unfortunately had to prove to herself she could.
The day after Dope released her first EP ‘Reimagine’, her mother unexpectedly passed away from a heart aneurysm. With no prior health problems, this was a complete shock that threw Dope off kilter. “When I released my first EP I was ready to take over the world, but after that happened I had to take the next two years to really come to terms with it”, she pauses before continuing, “I’m not that close to my dad or my brothers so I really lost someone close to me… this was a major setback and it forced me to learn how to get over a tough situation. I wanted to celebrate this quality that I realised I had, so that’s why I called the EP Resilient”.
We talk about our experiences with death and grief further, with Dope imparting her inspiring perspective and the ways in which she dealt with such a catastrophic event. “When it happens, it is the most natural thing ever – it’s such a part of life you can’t run away from it”, she tells me, “they say that death puts a hole in your heart that never closes, you just have to learn how to grow around it”. Having spent the past two years learning how to do so, Dope is now back and ready to pick things up where she left them.
It feels wrong to ask Dope how she would describe her music considering how peppered it is with life experience and varying musical influences, so instead I ask Dope what she wants her music to represent. “I want it to be authentic” she replies quick off the mark, emphasising just how certain she is of this quality, “I’m an old fashioned artist and I want to make music that is true to me… I want to make music that reflects the time we are in now”. I ask Dope how her style is received in South Africa, and whether it translates well. “The industry in South Africa is pretty mainstream – there isn’t really a space for alternative artists just yet” Dope explains “a lot of music in Africa is turn up music and I get why people want to listen to aspirational music – they want distance from their problems”, she pauses before continuing “the stuff that I’m talking about is actual shit that people are going through”.
Have you ever listened to music on a bus and looked out the window and thought this is my life? I want to make that soundtrack.
On listening to the EP, the tone is uplifting whilst also being frank. From Inside’s inspiring call to always see your own inner beauty and tonot adhere to white beauty standards, to Liddy’s woozy beat that will hypnotises your hips into swaying to its vibey ‘This shit is liddy like it’s New Years Eve’ chorus, the EP covers important matters whilst also honing in on a fresh sound that’s seriously easy to listen to.
In addition to her beautifully crafted EP, Dope Saint Jude is also releasing a zine in ode to Riot Grrrl – a 1980s punk and feminist movement that Dope draws heavily on for inspiration in her music. Filled with art and words from artists that Dope felt embodied the feel of her music, the profits from the zine will go to funding six students in South Africa and can be purchased at each of her shows on her upcoming tour.
Be sure to keep a look out for her ‘Resilient’ Tour with dates being released soon. In the meantime, check out Dope Saint Jude’s new EP ‘Resilient’.