#MyJoburg interview with Osmic Menoe, founder of the Back to the City Festival

04 Oct 2023
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people that add something unique to Joburg's creative mix and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city. 

As the founder of Africa's biggest hip-hop and street culture festival, Back to the City, the South African Hip-hop Awards and the South African Hip-hop Museum in Newtown, Osmic Menoe has profoundly marked Joburg's cultural landscape. Menoe has harnessed the power of hip-hop to drive positive change among young people and advocates for progress and unity through music and art. With the upcoming annual Back to the City festival slated for Sat, Oct 7, we couldn't resist the opportunity to sit down with someone whose mission is to inspire the uninspired. 
The custodian of hip-hop in South Africa, Osmic Menoe. 

"Hip-hop culture in Joburg creates hope and makes you dream bigger."

What's the first song that drew you to hip-hop? 
It was not a song but a feeling. I felt [it] when I was in Grade 3, when I started writing my name in 'graffiti' on books and making sounds with my mouth, not knowing it was beatboxing, or taking to dance on the floor not knowing that it was break-dancing.

This year hip-hop in the U.S. celebrates 50 years of existence. What do you regard as hip-hop's greatest achievements?
I think its biggest achievement is showing that anything is possible when you seek to change your life for the better, especially if you're coming from a hopeless background. Hip-hop uses anything and everything that's discarded or forgotten. The culture also promotes entrepreneurship.

What prompted you to start Back to the City?
Passion and the will to try and uplift my peers to inspire others, and to also promote Freedom Day amongst the youth. (Ed's note: previous festivals were held on Freedom Day in April, but this year's Back to the City festival happens on Sat, Oct 7). 
High energy and of course hip-hop at the Back to the City festival. Photo: GAS Photography. 

There are so many elements to hip-hop culture. How would you define it? 
I would define it as a solution to your problems as a youth. I would call it a mouthpiece or 'ghetto news'; I would also call it a live public gallery done by those who seek to beautify their environment.

How would you define hip-hop culture in Joburg? 
I would call it 'hope'; I compare it to a culture that creates hope and makes you dream bigger.

"Why create a museum space for  Hip-hop? Because the future kids need to see what kids in the past did and how they did it." 

How has the hip-hop scene in Johannesburg evolved since the inception of Back to the City?
It has changed a lot to the point that big sponsors and the government now take the culture seriously, and I think the role of the festival was to [help] foster a hip-hop economy. 

Your new project is the Hip-hop Museum in Newtown. Tell us why you started it?
I felt it was important to preserve, educate, inspire and showcase the wonder that is hip-hop. For the longest time, our country never had a museum or space that talks about our alternative past. I felt it needed to be done and I wondered why nobody had done it.

Hip-hop is such a dynamic and performative culture. Why create a museum space for it?
Because the future kids need to see what kids in the past did and how they did it. It's also important to educate the present kids about certain issues they could be going through, like finding yourself in this crazy world.

How does hip-hop, which started as an underground phenomenon, maintain its edge?
I think the culture does what it wants to do and that keeps it edgy. We all don't have a template so we do what we feel.

What is your proudest Back to the City moment?
The fact that we are three years away from turning 20 years old. I have been doing this since I was 20, so I have done this every year for 17 years [so far]; it's a strange thing! 

What's the biggest challenge of championing the things you're passionate about? 
Money will always be a problem, especially if the project costs millions, but passion will have you doing stranger things.

What's the hardest lesson you've learnt along the way?
Your health and sanity must come first, and helping people is a tough job.

You're known for your cars, what's the ultimate ride? 
The ultimate ride that I'm saving for is a 1929 Duesenberg that costs $2 million. Basically, it's a dream car.
Menoe's ultimate ride is a 1929 Duesenberg; pictured is a Model J Berline. Photo: Hemmings Motor News. 

Describe the process of curating the line-up for Back to the City? 
It takes about four months to do the line-up and it's divided into heritage and international artists as well as women artists, and new artists and legends.

What motivated you to start the hip-hop awards? 
It's another thing I thought should have long been done because the culture was starting to make big strides. I had some money to assist so I just said, "Oh well, I'll do it!". Awards create value and pride and this also uplifts people within the culture.

What skills make someone a talent to look out for 
Hard-working, smart and willing to go the super-extra mile. 

Home is...
Peace of mind and a good space. 

Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why you choose it?
Newtown; the idea of it still makes me go back, it's a heritage precinct. 

What three things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?
The South African Hip-hop museum, Newtown and the Apartheid Museum to understand where we came from not so long ago.  [Speaking of museums, read our guide to the coolest museums in the cityWe can't wait for the Hip-hop museum to officially open so we can add it to the list.]

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
Anything from Bay Leaf in Fordsburg

If you could buy one Joburg building which would it be?
Museum Africa, for what it represents.
Museum Africa in Newtown was once the city's fruit and vegetable market. Photo: City of Johannesburg. 

If you were the Joburg mayor for one day (average tenure) what would you change?
I would add lots of colour and clean it, then place security all over. The rest will fall in place. Art will also heal. 

Favourite Joburg label, and why?
Butan for clothing. [The brand made an appearance in our September shopping blog, read more about their latest collection]

What makes someone a Joburger?
Passion and hustle. 

What do you love most about Joburg?
The hope the place gives you.

What do you least like about Joburg?
Eish, where do I start? We need to clean the city first and have people feel safe. 

Your number-one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Make friends, they will show you the real Joburg.

The perfect weekend in Joburg includes...
Maboneng, Soweto, Alexandra and checking out some of our big malls because they also have a vibe. [Read our a guide to all the unusual things you can do and see in malls.

Three words that describe this city
Passion, hustle and danger. 

Check out some of our previous #MyJoburg interviews for more insights into the city:

#MyJoburg with Trevor Stuurman, photographer and creative director
#MyJoburg interview with Lelowhatsgood, creative trailblazer and founder of the VNJ Ball.
#MyJoburg interview with Banele Khoza, artist and founder of BKhz Gallery. 
#MyJoburg with DJ and journalist Charles Leonard on his podcast 'This is Joburg'

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