Backpackers don’t get it confused, coz niggas is icy, it ain’t got nothing to do with the music.
Typically, if one were to be quizzed on which emcee dropped that line in a song, the most probable answer would be Lloyd Banks, The Game or a Fabolous, because of their fondness of ice-cold diamonds over their fingers and around their necks hanging like chandeliers. But that’s a line spat by J. Dilla in his track Make Em Envy.
Such is the deliberate and genuine contradiction of this genius producer, who will forever be known as a master sampler who gave our generation unimaginable sounds of Hip Hop, Soul and Jazz. The mention of his name will instantly have you thinking of classic albums such as Like Water For Chocolate by Common, Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun and Slum Village’s Fantastic vol.2. Because of the purity and good moral standing of the music he made, people were quick to assume that if he wasn’t behind his MPC chopping beats, he was on the street alongside the Black Panther party preaching Black Nationalism and saluting every black man as his brother. But that wasn’t the case with the man whose real name was James Yancey.
“People put him in a category of what they think he’s like, but they don’t realise he was about his links. Dilla was always telling Madlib ‘man you gotta get your chain, I know a place that’ll do it…” said Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf in documentary.
We often forget that before artists come into their own, they are normal beings that live in an environment that influences how they see and engage with the world. Dilla grew up in the cold streets of Detroit, Michigan around regular niggas you’d find in the hood, who are normally seen as vanity slaves for their appreciation of the finer things in life.
Dilla met T3 and Baatin in high school and they formed what would be known as Slum Village. After releasing their debut album, Fantastic Vol.1 in 1997, the group was hailed as the new Tribe Called Quest – the torch bearers of conscious Hip Hop and all things soulful and Pan African. The comparison bothered Dilla, because Slum’s lyrics weren’t anything adjacent to the stuff Tribe rapped about.
“It was kinda fucked up because people put us in that category. I mean, you gotta listen to the lyrics of the shit. Niggas was talking about getting head from bitches. It was like a nigga from Native Tongues never woulda said that shit. I don’t know how to say it. It’s kinda fucked up because the audience we were trying to give to were actually people we hung around. Me, myself, I hung around regular ass Detroit cats. Not that backpack shit that people kept putting out there like that. I mean, I ain’t never carried no goddamn backpack. But like I said, I understand to a certain point. I guess that’s how the beats came off on some smooth type of shit,” Dilla once said in an interview.
The quote highlights Dilla’s realness to himself and who he is. Being compared to Tribe and the likes of De La Soul, he could’ve easily switched up and ditched the Detroit fella he grew up as, but he never did that. Instead, he chose to vent out his ignant nigga shit through his alter ego, Nigga Man. “…definitely an alter ego, he called him Nigga Man. He’ll start talking about the Range, the Dilla ‘A’ with the fifth wheel on the back…” said August Greene’s Karriem Riggins in the Still Shinning documentary. Dilla’s hood element came out when he stepped in the booth and when he wasn’t creating beats.
It is known that he’s by far the best producer of our time, but his persona is often shelved away as something that wasn’t truly J.Dillaesque. So as you bump your head to some of his most charming beats on this Dilla Month, just get to know the man behind the beat.
Explaining his reason for having lyrics in the sleeve of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’ Island Records founder Chris Blackwell said in a documentary “This music, which at this point in time was novelty music, I really wanted to get across that this is not just novelty, what these words are saying, are words which have a universal appeal, they are not just Jamaican, they’re not throw away words. This man’s a poet really.”
Burnin’ was the group’s second album under Blackwell’s Island Records and at the time, Reggae wasn’t a popular style of music outside of Jamaica. The way the album was presented, its art and printed lyrics, made the marginalised genre more marketable to the rest of the world. Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are immortal musical giants, but Marley is a pop icon that wrote most of the trio’s music. By 1974 the group had disbanded, which saw Marley go solo but supported by new band members under the same name.
Bob Marley had a lovable character and made music that effortlessly connected with people. Thanks to the music he left us with, generations keep falling in love with the man from Trenchtown, Kingston Jamaica. As today would’ve been Marley’s 74th birthday, we remember him through his words, be it written in lyrics or those uttered in conversation. Words which epitomize his character; for what’s a man without his word…
“FREE SPEECH CARRIES WITH IT SOME FREEDOM TO LISTEN”
“MY MUSIC WILL GO ON FOREVER. MAYBE IT’S A FOOL WHO SAY THAT, BUT WHEN ME KNOW FACTS ME CAN SAY FACTS. MY MUSIC WILL GO ON FOREVER.”
“NO ONE BUT OURSELVES CAN FREE OUR MINDS.”
“DON’T WORRY, ABOUT A THING, EVERY LITTLE THING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT”
“I HAVE A BMW. BUT ONLY BECAUSE BMW STANDS FOR BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS, AND NOT BECAUSE I NEED AN EXPENSIVE CAR”
“MY MUSIC FIGHTS AGAINST THE SYSTEM THAT TEACHES TO LIVE AND DIE”
“ONE THING ABOUT MUSIC-WHEN IT HITS YOU, YOU FEEL NO PAIN”
“THE GOOD TIMES TODAY, ARE THE SAD THOUGHTS OF TOMORROW”
“HERB IS THE HEALING OF A NATION, ALCOHOL IS THE DESTRUCTION”
“THE BIGGEST COWARD OF A MAN IS TO AWAKEN THE LOVE OF A WOMAN WITHOUT INTENTION OF LOVING HER”
“I played 0 to 100. Check the lyrics. As they’re telling me to play music without cursing, I’m literally hearing Drake cursing his ass off on the speakers. Was an embarrassing moment”
That’s the awkward moment prominent turntablist Akio Kawahito found himself in, on Saturday evening playing at Lauryn Hill’s after party. The DJ who is popularly known as DJ ID, was playing at Ms. Hill’s private gig, after she and Nas gave eager South African fans performances to remember. But things got a tad uncomfortable for the Kool Out Creative Director when he was asked to change a Drake song he was playing, that had one too many curse words for Ms.Hill’s liking.
“I didn’t really have a set planned, but I had a direction in mind. It was going to be a mix of Hip Hop, Afrobeats, Dancehall, and Reggae. After I got scolded for playing tracks with cursing, I got pretty shook because I was already nervous playing for Lauryn so I switched to Kwaito for a bit because I figured I’ll play some music she won’t understand,” said Kawahito.
Fuck bein’ on some chill shit
We go 0 to 100 nigga, real quick
They be on that rap to pay the bill shit
And I don’t feel that shit, not even a little bit
Oh Lord, know yourself, know your worth, nigga
My actions been louder than my words, nigga
How you so high, but still so down to Earth, nigga
Niggas wanna do it, we can do it on they turf, nigga
Oh Lord, I’m the rookie and the vet
Shoutout to the bitches out here holdin’ down the set ….are some of Drake’s lyrics from 0 to 100.
Hill was in the country this past weekend as part of her Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary tour that has seen her perform in various parts of the world, celebrating her 1998 classic album. But from the day it was announced last year, that she would come to Mzansi, a lot of people were skeptical of her punctuality, or lack of. She also been marred by reports of cancelling and postponing some of her Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill Anniversary legs, but delivered on Saturday night.
“I think as much as people love seeing a come up, they also love watching a star fall. There was definitely a lot of negativity and uncertainty on social media. I won’t lie, even I questioned it and I was in direct contact with her team. In the other hand she handled it like a true professional. Production ran more or less on schedule and she absolutely smashed it,” says Kawahito.
Despite being scolded during his mix, Akio left the venue having impressed the superstar who praised him. “All I wanted to do was to impress her so I was hella nervous. My sole role was to play music that she could vibe to so while the people were important, they were secondary to me trying to please her.”
IT was Kenyan author and philosopher John Mbiti who said “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.” It’s Ubuntu. I couldn’t think of anything else, as I heard the story behind the making of Cameroonian artist Blick Bassy’s music video, Ngwa.
“…it’s inspired by a Kenyan story and a South African freedom fighter, the whole album is about a Cameroonian guy…and somehow put all that in a pot and cook it and see what comes out. I think if there’s a future for African art that’s it,” said director Tebog ‘Tebza’ Malope speaking at Blik’s screening in Joburg. Hosted in a chic lower ground floor in Braamfontein, where African jazz oozes from speakers above us, under warm burgundy lights at the Untitled Basement, off kilter attendees converse in their huddles as they eagerly wait to see the video on a Thursday night.
The song Ngwa is from Blick’s upcoming album, 1958 which comes out in March. 1958 is an ode to Cameroonian trade unionist and France adversary, Ruben Um Nyobè and the heroes of the Cameroonian Independence-all in the hope of reconnecting Cameroonians with their true history. Um Nyobè was butchered in 1958 by the French government and buried in concrete to remove any remnant of his legacy in the memory of Cameroonians.
“…making this project and telling Um Nyobè’s story, it was really important for me to come to Africa, to make it here and with people from here. People don’t know my country, they just know this one view coming from one storyteller, coming from a Western country. But here you have a beautiful storyteller, this is storytelling through this video. We have to show things by ourselves,” Blick shares his thought on the Ngwa video.
“He was a fighter, a visionary…he was someone who wanted to build people, not just for freedom but he wanted everyone to be equal. Um Nyobè was fighting for this. If you look at Cameroon today, we’re just living everything he was talking about-we have a lot of tribalism in Cameroon today, he spoke about this. So if we really wana go forward, we have to be connected to the roots-that’s why trees are beautiful, because with no roots there’s no tree.”
To visually tell this story, Blick roped in South African director Tebza, who borrowed from African narratives, to tell the story of these uncelebrated heroes. “I was reading Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o’s book called Matigari and the first chapter is about a Mau Mau soldier, in East Africa in Kenya who, in the first chapter has his AK47…somebody runs up the mountain to tell him ‘yo, we don’t have to train anymore, we’re free now. So come down’…” said Tebza explaining the inspiration.
After burying his rifle and descending from the mountain, the soldier grows a sense of disenchantment with this new world, as it seems he was sold a dream only for him to lay down his arms. “Same narrative with South Africa, same narrative with Cameroon. So when I started chatting with Blick about Um Nyobè, I realised there’s some sorta intersection between East, West and Southern Africa…”
The video was shot on the mountains of Lesotho, in wet and icy temperatures. “This was probably my hardest shoot ever. The horror stories behind this; we lost a day because of someone who was stuck at the boarder gate, we lost half a day because of the rain, had some trouble finding the horses because they ran often and just one thing after another,” says Tebza, who last year won the Best Music Video for Kwesta’s Spirit.
Renowned television and movie director Roli Nikiwe, who was present on the night, drove the crew to Lesotho and upon getting there, he offered to help by being the first AD, looking for locations and even assisting with the catering. “Africans always come together to complain about the enemy, the coloniser, but put two Africans together and there’s beauty. To watch the two of you guys, get together and put your heads together, make something work, for me was a beautiful example of what we could do as a continent,” said Nikiwe.
The video has beautiful wide shots that display the beauty of the African landscape. “…There’s rarely a close-up, because I just want you to see it. We’re talking about Africa that was taken from us, so let’s show it and see what was taken,” said the director.
The video ends off with Blick being stabbed with a spear by pursuing imperialists on open land “…The last bit is actually taken from Solomon Mahlangu’s statement before they hung him, ‘my blood will nourish the tree of freedom’…so in death, in Ruben Um Nyobè’s death, Solomon Mahlangu’s death, in the death of so many of our struggle heroes, they didn’t really die, they multiply, they became trees and they live on forever,” shared Tebza.
IT was Hugh Masekela’s time with Fela Kuti that this album came to be. The latter wasn’t part of Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz, but was the one who introduced Masekela to Ghanaian ensemble Hedzoleh Soundz.
Spending a number of years in America and parts of Europe, Masekela missed home but couldn’t come back to South Africa because he’d be arrested by the apartheid government for his politically-charged music and his work as an activist. But before coming down south in Botswana where he was just a border away from Mzansi, he spent some time in West and Central Africa. Like Miriam Makeba, he was warmly received in a number of African states one of those being Nigeria, where he spent a lot of time with King Fela whose career and nights at the iconic Afrika Shrine were at its peak.
Along the stupendous strands of marijuana the two shared at Kalakuta Republic, Masekela and Fela shared anecdotes, experiences and music-which resulted in Masekela working with the indigenous band from Accra. “I found a certain vitality in Afrobeat. Playing with Hedzoleh Soundz was like being on a big fat cloud. You couldn’t fall of,” said Masekela.
The eight track album was released in 1973 and it was largely written by the Hedzoleh Soundz, bar Languta. This album stands as one of my favourite works of all time. It is unequivocally traditional thanks to the organic African drums, merged with the melodies of the Akan and Ewe people. Yet very jazzy with a punch of funk. It was universal music, too sick to be categorized by a mere genre.
The track Rekpete will have you feeling like you’re in the Congo doing a Kwassa Kwassa. On Adade, Masekela’s trumpet is like a jet-ski, gliding at open sea which is the combination of indigenous instruments, harmonies and melodies. I don’t know why African filmmakers haven’t used Patience in any of our African stories. It’s a song that would accommodate some of the best scenes.
Nye Tamo Ame reminds me of migrate workers, African soccer players or young men at initiation school. It’s the harmony and spirited voices of men singing together. It’s inspiringly beautiful.
It’s said in isiZulu that Uk’hamba Uk’bona and Masekela’s travels to the West of the continent opened his eye to gems in Ghana, which has opened our eyes to Africa’s vast richness.