Hip Hop

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8min2261

While the majority will make noise about the high youth unemployment numbers, the ubiquity of retrenchments and the paucity of genuine commercial platforms for creatives, this time has also given black youth an opportunity to show their leadership qualities. It was US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who said genuine leaders do not search for consensus, but are the ones who mould consensus. Lwazi Nonyukela is doing so with his media company, Hip-Hop 411.

“I felt like our stories in underground Hip-Hop weren’t being told enough, commercial platforms are not giving emcees and creatives enough opportunities to showcase their talent and tell their stories, plus I’ve always had the passion to be a Hip-Hop entrepreneur,” the Sowetan from Orlando West tells me.

Founded four years ago, the company specialises in content creation, pre and post production of its visual and audio platforms. Their content celebrates South Africa’s pop culture, largely driven by their passion for the Hip Hop culture. Their involvement in the Hip Hop scene was recognised by the South African Hip Hop Awards “…we were nominated for the Kings Of Gauteng for The South African Hip-Hop Awards for various elements in Hip-Hop before Battle Rap, but Battle Rap brought in a new and extended market to the brand including cyphers that we do across the country,” says Nonyukela.

Ever since the demise of Scrambles4Money there have been sporadic battle leagues around the country, but none have shown the consistency and meticulousness as the Hip-Hop 411 brand. Through their efforts, the league has become the premier battle movement in South Africa, managing to build relationships with brands to sponsor their movement. “…as a brand (Hip-Hop 411) we were able to collaborate with each other by tapping into each other’s markets which brought in huge values by also monetizing our content, growing numbers on social media, and getting more traffic into our website to attract new advertisers and for the battle rappers to see themselves as future brands by utilizing the opportunities we giving them on our platform and to also grow and maintain the culture.”

“I didn’t imagine it to be the home for just Battle Rap in South Africa, but I imagined it to be the home and movement for all cultural Hip-Hop elements in Africa, extending to other continents as well,” a determined Nonyukela tells me.

The involvement of emcee Kriss Anti-B has given the Hip-Hop 411 brand more clout, especially on the battle rap front, thanks to Kriss’ personal brand growth over the last few years in the local Hip Hop scene.  “Kriss has been a major boost for the battle rap division in Hip-Hop 411…. he is giving opportunities to a lot of Battle Rappers and emcees from around the country to come and showcase their talent.”

A Hip-Hop 411 battle. Photo by Hip-Hop 411
A Hip-Hop 411 battle. Photo by Hip-Hop 411

There’s a tad bit of confusion about Kriss’ exact contribution at Hip-Hop 411, with many wrongly assuming he’s the founder of the company. But he’s a content producer for Hip Hop 411 Radio and has his own show, a promoter and Nonyukela also describes him as “a creative director/partner, and a huge ambassador for the brand.”

Anti B At BTC in 2017. Photo by Palesa Makua
Kriss at Back to the city in 2017. Photo by Palesa Makua

In his parting shot, Nonyukela says “The long-term objective of the company is to expand its service offering by not just focusing on content creation but participating across all sectors of the Visual, Media and Entertainment industry. This strategy will see the company expanding to 2D and 3D cinema experience, online content creation, digital rendering, application software, co-production to local and African markets (clients) and content creation and distribution.”

Hip Hop 411 hyenas. Photo by Hip-Hop 411
Hip Hop 411 hyenas. Photo by Hip-Hop 411

With those sort of objectives laid-out, it’s not difficult to foresee a future where young black people such as himself become important role players in our industry. Maybe next time I talk to him, Hip-Hop 411 would have more employees than the 15 he already has working in his team- quelling the noise that comes with high youth unemployment numbers, the ubiquity of retrenchments and the paucity of genuine commercial platforms for creatives.


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6min1211

SO I got hold of this album around the same time I got Kev Brown’s latest project. Both albums are by dope producers who are unforgiving in the dismantling of samples.

But what stood out to me when I began bumping Apollo Brown and Joell Ortiz’s Mona Lisa, is that these producers need to chill behind the mic and hand the scrumptious beats to dope rappers.

I couldn’t even get through Kev Brown’s project, it was dope but too long and listening to him rap makes me cringe. Apollo and Joell coming together is perfect as the black and white on a chess piece. It works.

Cocaine Fingertips epitomises the duo’s chemistry. Not once did I get a sense that Apollo compromised himself for Joell, nor vice versa. But like a perfect relationship, the two brought the best out of each other.

Joell is a fine storyteller I first came across a couple of years ago through Eminem’s passion project, Slaughterhouse-one of the dopest rapping cliques the game has ever witnessed. That he could stand out, standing next to Cooked-I, Joe Budden and Royce da 5’9” says a lot about Joell as an emcee.

I’ve listened to his work and till this day Free Agent remains my personal favourite in his discography, but Mona Lisa sits right next to it.

What makes Joell more pleasurable to listen to on this album, is that he’s on beats you wouldn’t often have him spit on. They are heartfelt thanks to Apollo’s penchant of cutting old school soulful joints. These are the sort of beats usually reserved for kats who would sign for Mellow Music Group- dope kats, but a bit too lethargic and quite frankly, too mellow. Joell rips these babies apart, bar after bar.

Joell does get on his mellow shit though on Come Back Home, being introspective about his career and life -admitting that he’ll never pop in the game like mainstream rappers do. The beat that reminded me of Apollo’s 11th Hour and Know the Time (both from his Clouds project). Despite being all smooth in narrating his story, there’s a part in the second verse of the track where the lion that is Joell cannot be tamed. Saying;

I keep it pushin’, beat cookin’
Rep Brooklyn, give whooping’s,
Through the pen like it’s summertime in the bookings

Kats from Brooklyn rep their hood, with every opportunity they’re presented with and Joell takes you through Brooklyn projects and the goings on there in My Block. WIth so much pride. It’s a Hip Hop head’s joint, with a number of rhyme schemes he has on display.

Add ’em a lil’ water, that Eve, I hit the block
Long as I got that ‘cain, I’m able to flip the rock,
I swear to God, I finger-fuck this fortyorty,
like we in a orgy, and have these bullets shakin’ up
whoever comin’ for me, sexy thot talk from a G that pulls strings

Petty as Timberlan’d Up with Royce is, it’s a funny ass dope joint of grown men going hard on new age rappers. It would’ve been doper though, had the two went back and forth together in the last verse.

If you’re into dope raps on rich beats, then Mona Lisa is for you. It might be a bore to one who isn’t into real raps, but wants hooks and catchy beats. Joell has nice quotable punchlines, which helps make his music stick.


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13min3293

PRO KID was only 37. Ben Sharpa just 41. Ol’ Dirty Bastard was a mere 34. Mizcheif was 38. Sean Price was 43 .

All these are names of great rappers who’ve inspired generations of emcees. But the other miserable common thread among these names, is that they all died at a young age because of the lifestyles they lived. The gallons of alcohol drank, unhealthy food consumed, smoke that fills the lungs and countless blunts that are puffed and passed, plus shit sniffed up the nose are huge factors in most rappers’ early deaths.

Pro Kid who died just last week is said to have demised from a serve seizure following a night out with friends. Since his passing, a lot has been said about what actually happened to the genius rapper whose real name was Linda Mkhize. In an interview with Drum magazine, Pro’s cousin said the rapper had no history of seizures. There are suggestions that the rapper had begun taking drugs lately, to help him deal with career and life frustrations.

In my interview with the SABC’s Media Monitor this past Sunday, I mentioned that the only thing we can do now is speculate to what really happened because no one went to Pro to ask how he was. There was a requiring theme on social media in the past week from celebrities, saying they failed Pro. Failed him in what exactly?

This indicates something wrong had been happening in his life recently, but people turned a blind eye.

I last saw the rapper in June at Basha Uhuru where he delivered a good performance. But what was startling was how young he looked- before that, I had seen him around Tembisa where he visited often years ago. Then, he looked his age. But at Basha the kat didn’t necessarily look bad, but he suspiciously looked like a 22 year-old.

As much as people might think, talking about what really happened to him is tarnishing his legacy, I believe the family has a responsibility to share the post-mortem results so that it can also help the next generation of artists. It’s their prerogative I know, but being open about such helps guide artists who are already in the game and those who have ambitions of gracing stages with their talent.

Imagine what a post-mortem would do for a person like Emtee, who a just a few weeks ago fell on stage high on codeine. It would really be a reality check for the young kat and others like him.

Sharpa had been living with diabetes for a long while, but died due to complications with the disease. I can’t help ask myself if ‘the complications’ could’ve been avoided had he lived a better lifestyle.

An illustration of late rapper Ben Sharpa at his memorial service in Newtown. By Sip The Snapper

Till this day, I laud Kwaito artist Zombo who went on live television to tell the nation that he was living with HIV AIDS. He died in 2008 at the age of 27. But that bone-chilling frankness has helped so many young men to think twice about dipping in the forbidden fruit without protection. Yea, he was ridiculed but at least now people know what not to do. If you can flaunt your success, then allow us to be privy to your downfall too. After all, you’re also a human being.

Kwaito artist Zombo. Photo Supplied

Wu Tang Clan animated rapper ODB died just two days before turning 35. His cause of death was due to an overdose on coke. An autopsy found a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription drug tramadol. The overdose was ruled accidental and witnesses say Ol’ Dirty Bastard complained of chest pain on the day he died- watching documentaries about the Wu, you get a perfect sense from those close to him that it wasn’t accidental. It’s this ‘sweeping things under the carpet’ mentality that causes the problem to escalate in the entertainment industry.

Rapper Ol’Dirty Bastard. Photo by HipHopDX

In an interview on Metro FM with DJ Fresh on his breakfast show last year, comedian John Vlismas spoke about this epidemic problem in the media and creative space. “We have been hardwired to think that we are working hard in media, we don’t really. Going down a mine is working hard. Being a domestic and working for people who are ungrateful is very hard. We think we work hard, therefore we should play hard and we have been raised in a society where this is permissive.” Vlismas himself, had issues with drug addiction before changing his lifestyle because of near-death experiences.

A member of hip-hop groups Boot Camp Clik and Random Axe, he was half of the duo Heltah Skeltah, performing under the name Ruckus, Sean Price’s death also shocked the world in 2015.  A statement from his team, just said he died in his sleep-not giving anything else. He was 43 and still had so much to offer.

Sean Price in 2014. Photo by Billboard

The last time I saw Sharpa perform was the last time I saw Mizchief, they were in Tembisa for the 21Mic Salute Hip Hop event in 2013- although Mizchief never performed. I vividly remember how Mizchief resurfaced from a hiatus, months before his passing.  The Fashionable hit-maker was reported to have died of illness in 2014. The more ambiguous the reasons for an artists’ passing from those close to them, the more the legacy is tarnished by rumours.

Mizchief. Photo Supplied

Fela Kuti’s brother, Professor Olikoye (Ransome) Kuti, a prominent AIDS activist and former Minister of Health in Nigeria, admitted in a press conference that Fela died of AIDS in 1997. Great as the musician was, his lifestyle choices weren’t the best. People ought to know who their heroes really are, because no one is perfect. If anything, people can now relate more to Fela.

Canadian rapper Bender who came to South Africa in 2016 to rip apart Stogie T (Tumi, of The Volume) in a rap battle, also died in March this year from a disease linked to his lifestyle.  He died from sleep apnoea- a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during one’s sleep. There are various causes for this, one of them being excessive weight or obesity.

Rapper Bender. Photo Supplied

The lifestyles we live will be our downfall. It’s very important for artists to surround themselves with people who genuinely care about their well-being because as much fun and cool excessive drinking and drug intake may be, one has to always think about their health. Added to that, is that most of these artists are survived by young families who are left stranded and in debt. That people have to donate stuff to the Mkhize family is sad and quite condescending for an artist of Pro’s calibre, because we’ve seen too many artists die as paupers. How long will this go on?

*Names not mentioned include: Brenda Fassie, Whitney Houston, TK, Jimi Hendrix, Brown Dash and plenty more!


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13min2400

What simply began as a place where DJs could dictate the playlist, without the meddling of club owners, Kool Out has become a fully functioning movement and a tastemaker in its ten years of existence, without losing its essence.

Thing about tastemakers is that wherever they find themselves, they inevitably build a legion of followers because everything they do sticks like wax on a hairy back. Koolin In The City Concept Parties epitomise that in how they’ve changed the status quo of the spaces they’ve occupied. Speaking to Kool Out Creative Director DJ Akio Kawahito about their decade celebration, one grows a sense of awe for their organisational skills and the consistency they’ve upheld in nearly 400 shows.

“We were the biggest and most influential Hip Hop collective in the city, but we were still struggling to pay rent…”

In 2008, Hip Hop in Cape Town wasn’t blazing the trail as it had in the past, contributing to the paucity of an abode for the Hip Hop community in the city. “I remember going on Long Street and there wasn’t a single spot that really catered to the Hip Hop market,” says Akio. Eventually they managed to get a place to host their weekly Hip Hop events at a club, The Waiting Room. But because Hip Hop had no place at the so called white venue, they were offered the odd Wednesday nights. “This is crazy to think, because in 2018, The Waiting Room has become one of the most diverse venues in Cape Town and is synonymous with Hip Hop.”

Within six months, the club’s Wednesday night numbers were better than their weekend’s numbers.

The original Kool Out clique comprised of host MPRVS from LA while Falko, Just Be and Akio himself were the DJs. “MPRVS moved back to LA, Falko left to start another event called Classics and Just Be was basically bounced from the crew. A local rapper name Mingus took over hosting duties and Raiko became the second DJ.”

“Back in 2011, Braamfontein was nothing…Now that area is synonymous with Hip Hop and young black culture”

After three years, Kool Out had reached the ceiling in Cape Town with their parties. “We were the biggest and most influential Hip Hop collective in the city, but we were still struggling to pay rent. At this point, we had starting doing some international shows in Durban and Johannesburg so we were experiencing the other markets,” Akio says.

More than that, Akio says a rude awakening from a brand rep they were trying to build a business relationship with, triggered the move from eKapa. “He told me straight up, that Kool Out was a black party and the purchasing power of that demographic was low and not a target of the brand. He said if we did the exact same numbers and our crowd was coloured or white, we’d be killing it. If we wanted to truly make an impact and grow, we needed to move to Joburg.”

They found space at Kitcheners when they got to Joburg in 2011, but now this was before Braamfontein became a haven of the cool kids and their woke selves. And like they did in Cape Town, they created a pathway in the wilderness that the city was, at the time.

“A lot of people were territorial and didn’t want to support a party from Cape Town. One of the ways we broke into the scene was by putting Kitcheners on the map. Back in 2011, Braamfontein was nothing. There was literally one venue and one street light.”

“We again did an extensive venue search and decided on Kitcheners because it fit our requirements and more importantly, there wasn’t a single Hip Hop promoter doing events there. The owner was very much against Hip Hop, but eventually the parties kept getting bigger and bigger and other promoters within the genre starting copying us. Now that area is synonymous with Hip Hop and young black culture,” says Akio.

He says what makes them unique from other parties is their aspect of musicality. “We place DJs and their styles in specific time slots that match the vibe of the event. For example, on our rooftop, if you come early you won’t hear the DJ playing trap bangers at 4pm. We’ll have someone playing beats and chilled vibes progressing as the day turns into night. You’ll almost never hear the same song twice at a Kool Out.”

“I also think in terms of venues, we always choose a place that is an experience. We almost never use the same spot that is associated with another party.”

Kool Out is a Hip Hop party, but Akio appreciates other genres of music thus he created the Alchemy Festival avoiding to confuse the ardent Hip Hop heads who religiously attend the Koolin In The City Concept Parties. Organizing such an event had always been a dream of his. The three-day festival celebrates Neo-Soul, Funk, and Jazz among other styles of music. “There wasn’t really anyone else creating an inclusive scene for beats, future soul, etc… so we decided to create our own platform.”

The first one took place last year where Tom Misch and Mick Jenkins performed. While Anderson. Paak performed at their Cape Town event last year too, which is their biggest attended show to date.

It’ll be exactly three years ago on Saturday, when 27 year-old patron Lawrence Ledimo from the Vaal, tragically died after falling from seven flights of stairs, at the Koolin In The City Concept Parties in Joburg. Reason was celebrating his birthday on the night, but immediately after the tragedy, the event was shut down and venue cleared within 40 minutes. “It definitely stopped the momentum we were gaining at the time, but we don’t even care about that.”

“It was more of a moment of reflection to see our roles in people’s lives and how for the time that someone is at our event, they are trusting us with their well-being. We want to be as loyal to our guests as they are to us.”

Three day festival Basha Uhuru takes place this weekend from Thursday and it’s also happening in Joburg. Akio says he wasn’t aware of Basha when they planned for this Friday’s celebrations at Good Luck Bar in, Newtown. “Their [music] event is Saturday so it doesn’t really affect us. Also, we feel that the industry is big enough now to cater to two big events on any given night. There isn’t anyone in the game that we feel we are in competition with.”

HERE ARE 10 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT KOOL OUT:

1.      Kool Out has brought out more international hip hop artists to South Africa than any other promoter. (Mobb Deep, Talib Kweli, Blu and Exile, Ras Kass, Mick Jenkins, just to name a few)

2.      Kool Out was the first promoter to bring Hip Hop to The Waiting Room and Kitcheners

3.      Kool Out Lounge (the original event) has been hosted in 5 cities in 3 countries.

4.      Kool Out events continue to keep the DJ culture alive by having DJs that play on turntables.

5.      The Anderson .Paak show in Cape Town was their highest attended event.

6.       The Alchemy Music Festival was Africa’s first urban producer based music festival

7.      Outside of their own events, Kool Out consults for some of South Africa’s biggest corporate brands and music events.

8.      Kool Out won the “King of Gauteng” award at the South African Hip Hop Awards in 2017.

9.      The Kool Out rooftop has hosted international artists such Skyzoo and Cappadonna (Wu-Tang)

10.  Koolin in the City rooftop event, happens the last Sunday of every month in downtown Johannesburg


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8min910

In your music collection there’s at least one album created between 1998-2003 at the Electric Lady studios. That was the period which the studio homed the music collective The Soulquarians, the gods of the Neo-soul sound.

In 1998 D’Angelo moved into Electric Lady Studios in New York to record his Voodo album. He roped in drummer Questlove to work on the follow-up to Brown Sugar and because of the long studio hours, the drummer simultaneously moved the recording of the Roots LP Things Fall Apart to Electric Lady.

Questlove and D’Angelo’s chemistry was sparked by their love for classic songs from years gone by. The core of the Soulquarians was completed by composer James Poyser, Detroit genius producer J Dilla, Common and Erykah Badu. Although they never want to be tied to the genre, the Soulquarians are heavy influencers of the Neo-Soul sound we know today. Their influence can be heard in some of today’s artists such as Robert Glasper, Rayvn Lenae, NxWorries and MoRuf.

Not suggesting that these musicians no longer work together, because they do, but here are some of the classic albums that were produced in that period of them working together in one space sharing their gifts.

D’ANGELO-Voodoo

YEAR: 2000

The 13 track album which was overshadowed by D’Angelo’s strip down and steamy down video in Untitled (How Does It Feel), which left a lasting effect on a lot of women. But it was a masterpiece from the music genius which had a funky soulful Hip Hop feel thanks to J Dilla’s sick sampling. D’Angelo featured Red Man and Method Man in Left and Right. Such was the level of artistry here that Q. Tip had initially laced a verse for the song but it was deemed lukewarm hence D’Angelo roped in the New York duo. The album bagged a Grammy.

 

THE ROOTS-Things Falls Apart

YEAR: 1999

This was a follow-up to their Illadelph Halflife project which came out in ‘96. It’s this the project here that earned them critical acclaim from industry fundis and probably that ‘legendary’ tag too. It was the group’s novel experience at selling over 500 000 copies. The Roots won the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys for You Got Me featuring Erykah Badu. Stand out songs here include Act Too (Love of my life) and Step Into The Realm.

 

COMMON-Like Water For Chocolate

YEAR: 2000

Common just sounds extra nice on J Dilla beats. Dooinit is one of the finest tracks where Common rips the beat and some rappers with the energy of Julius Malema at a rally behind the mic.  While songs like The Light and 6th Sense remain classics till this day, Payback Is A Grandmother, Film Called Pimp and Song For Assata were gems that many never paid close attention to. There’s a great balance of social commentary, love, lyricism and musicality throughout the album.

ERYKAH BADU-Mama’s Gun

YEAR: 2001

Mama’s Gun is probably the album that made a lot of the young fans of Badu fall in love with her music. It’s unbelievable how an album can be so cohesive with a cocktail different sounds. Cleva is a beautiful Jazz joint that doesn’t sound out of place alongside the sticky Jay Dee drums on Didn’t Cha Know. So many musicians consciously and subconsciously use this album as blueprint to creating a Neo Soul project. This is a classic-I can visualize myself listening to this at 60. Orange Moon and Bag Lady are just some of the classic joints in this album.

 

COMMON-Electric Circus

YEAR: 2002

Some people said this album was Common’s regress after Like Water For Chocolate which came out two years prior. But this project was simply ahead of its time. It was great body of music by the Chicago rapper. It had influences of Rock, electronic and funk soaked in the Soulquarians sounds. Common once said that he wasn’t feeling Hip Hop at the time of creation and his choice of sound was influenced by Jimi Henrix and Pink Floyd. Stand out tracks here include Between Me, You and Liberation, Heaven Somewhere, Ferris Wheel and Soul Power.

 

What’s your favourite Soulquarians influenced album?

 



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