Photos By Sydelle Willow Smith
Having your four top teeth removed for the sake of fashion may seem a little extreme to the squeamish, but in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town getting your chompers yanked out of your skull is on par with ear piercings. In this area, where many nonwhites were forcibly relocated during apartheid, It’s common for teens to have teeth removed so that they can buy flashy dentures, which are seen as status symbols and range from basic, street-cred-devoid porcelain to iced-out displays of gold and diamonds. The trend is widely known as the “passion gap”, and according to urban legend it started in a South African prison where high-ranking gang members would beat the teeth out of their “wyfies” (prison bitches) so that they could give better blowjobs.
Rapper Isaac Mutant was born and raised in the Cape Flats, so he seemed like a good person to ask about passion gaps. He wouldn’t tell me whether he himself had a gap but happily answered nearly all of my other questions.
VICE: How did this whole passion gap trend start?
Isaac Mutant: Ah, man, it was never a trend at all. Hell, the passion gap is a fucking way of life, my brah. It’s always been there as a part of coloured culture. When you say “coloured”, do you mean people who don’t fall into the classifications of black or white?
Yeah, coloured people are, like, between black and white. It’s kind of a political thing, but coloured people could be defined as all the fucking leftovers of South Africa. Doesn’t matter what their background is; coloured is just all the people in poverty who were forgotten about. Poverty is what linked us all together and also what forced us to deal with shit ourselves, so the passion gap came out of that as, like, a way of identifying yourself as part of coloured culture. Does anyone just get grills and pretend they’ve had their teeth taken out?
Fuck grills. The passion gap is part of coloured culture; all that grill stuff came afterward with people like Lil’ Wayne and all those American rappers. Fuck Lil’ Wayne, man. The passion gap’s got nothing to do with the hip hop thing. It was around long before hip hop ever came anywhere near South Africa. Where do people get their gaps done? Do they go to licensed dentists?
I mean, some uptight, snobby, larny [slang for “snob”] types will go to the dentist, but I personally don’t like to waste money. This is South Africa, man, so there’s always a brah with a brother who can sort it out. Of course, the cheapest way to do it is sip on a bottle of rum and just get them teeth beat out of your mouth by the brah with the hardest knuckles.