Three weeks ago, on October 14, Jo Anne Petersen AKA Miss Contro’Versy, a Capetonian-bred emcee with an international acclaim passed away at the age of 34. She had suffered a two-year long battle with cancer. While the name may not be immediately recognisable by many of the younger generation, she was a figure who was embedded deep in the core of the Kaapse hip hop movement. In her short career she was a renowned mc/poet, journalist, events co-ordinator, radio show host and TV presenter. In 2010, after being diagnosed with cancer the previous year, she returned home from New York and became the force behind an all-female group, SiStar Cypher, whose purpose was the empowerment of women through hip hop.
DJ Real Rozanno, a long-time friend and collaborator will tell you how Versy submerged herself passionately into the culture from the word go. According to him, one of the lessons which can be learned by her legacy is the sheer resolution with which she strived to reach her goals, emphatically shunning the 9-5 grind eventuality of “growing up” to remain a major player in the hip hop culture, whether it paid or not.
In ’97 Versy was writing for underground publication, Mob Shop Magazine, a hip hop rag put together by heads with illustrations done by local graffiti artists like Falko and Gogga. Later, in 2005, she became a contributor to one of Africa’s largest online hip hop magazines, Africasgateway.com. She would also move on to becoming a TV presenter on MK for a show called Hip Hop and then Woelag, showcasing hip hop culture and souped up rides which took her to see the famous West Coast Customs.
Like many local pioneers, such as Isaac Mutant and Rozanno, Versy’s introduction to the hip hop scene began at a young age at the legendary club, The Base. Later she became inspired by the 90s conscious party raps with a feminist inclination, (think Queen Latifa and Left Eye), which would shape her career. “She did party lyrics, she did it consciously, she did it with passion and energy, you walked away you were entertained, you were uplifted by it and you had a gedagte, you know, somehow you were opened up to something else,” explains Natasha Tafari, a member of SiStar Cypher.
As an MC she got on the map in countries such as America, the UK and Germany. Around 2006/7 she relocated to New York where she immersed herself into the scene performing shows at venues such as the Karma Lounge in Brooklyn, still repping her Kaapse roots by spitting rhymes in English and Afrikaaps. Notably, she was the first Mzansi-raised performer to appear on the venerable Lyricist Lounge stage. In this time she made close ties with Chip Fu of Fu Schnickens and John Robinson (Li’l Sci from Scienz of Life), who produced tracks for her as well.
Versy also brought her skills back home to create platforms for other up and coming artists. Drawing from her experiences abroad, she played an essential role in orchestrating stage productions such as Under the Poet Tree in 2004 and Hip Hop Connected which ran annually for a few years from 2005.
Versy’s passion and dedication to hip hop is undoubtedly evident in the final track she recorded called “Miracles”. 5% Nation consciousness-touting rapper, Wise Intelligent from the old school New Jersey outfit, Poor Righteous Teachers, originally wrote the song as a tribute to Versy and sent it to her asking if she would feature on it. At this point her health had deteriorated to the point of being bed-ridden. She accepted. A mic stand was placed next to her bed and what we are blessed with is a song of positivity with the same intensity as always.
“She’s left legacies behind and she’s only 34. That’s what makes superstars… the inspiration that she leaves behind. There’s dry eyes, because people are in a mode. We wanna do something,” attests Natasha Tafari. After the funeral, on October 22, a celebration of Miss Contro’Versy’s life was held at the Platinum Lounge in Shortmarket Street, formerly The Base. The place where Jo Anne Petersen would forge her own identity as the electric-blue rocking afro-chic Contro’Versy. Rest in peace.