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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
WE’RE mortal beings whose existence on this planet has an ending, but through a legacy one can live forever. Ask Bob Marley, Steve Biko or Flabba, who today would’ve celebrated his 41st birthday.
Real name Nkululeko Habedi, born in Soweto but raised in Alex, Flabba passed away three years ago after an altercation with his girlfriend Sindisiwe Manqele, who stabbed him. I remember that Monday morning in March when former Skwatta Kamp member Infa, confirmed that Flabba was no more. The whole Hip Hop community was frozen in shock, that ntja ya Gomora was gone.
Flabba left us with music he recorded with his group Skwatta Kamp, but we were fortunate enough to get one solo project from him which was the 2006’s Nkuli vs Flabba. The album won Best Rap album at the South African Music Awards in 2007.
I write this listening to a track from the album which he did with Lira, Gotta Let You Go. In the short song, he talks about the battling pain of losing his father and brother. This was a rare appearance by Nkululeko on record talking about his emotions, something which Flabba wouldn’t do because he was Nkuli’s Black Label drinking out-of-this-world alter ego.
Like the Kea Go Rata skit on the album where he’s in a club with a girl, tryna mack on her over loud music, but changes his story as soon as the music abruptly goes silent. He gave us himself in the album, the ying and the yang.
It wasn’t a traditional Hip Hop album marinated in lyricism and intricate rhyme schemes, like the stuff Proverb and Zubz were doing at the time. But like a proper comedian, he was far observant of what’s happening in society than people gave him credit. Kats like Lil Dicky are being given tags such as a comical rapper, while Flabba exposed us to such years ago. He was ahead of his time.
Zubz’s Heavy 8 is probably South Africa’s best posse cut, but Flabba’s Is’Bhamu Somdoko remix follows close behind. It pinned down the various Mzansi rap styles in one song, with everyone trying to channel their twisted sexual side which Flabba did so seamlessly. On the track Nkuli Habedi, he says he’s not your average rapper, but your favourite porn star. Flabba could rap, but was wise enough to avoid sounding like everyone around him who was chasing that US flow and style. He carved his own lane.
Gifted individuals live with an unfathomable and sometimes careless realness as if they know that their time on this earth won’t match any country’s life expectancy number. His clique, Skwatta Kamp was often juxtaposed to the US’s Wu Tang Clan because of their influence in the culture and also because both groups were bigger than the average Hip Hop collective.
Writing this, I can’t help but think of Flabba as SK’s Ol’Dirty Bastard. Both are deceased, they were both comical, abrasive, genuine and intelligent. Thank goodness he wasn’t part of Club 27, otherwise we wouldn’t have received what he gave us in his last 10 years on earth.
IT WAS Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said the key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.
The artist we know today as Selema Writes, is an individual whose shown consistent consciousness of himself in each juncture of his life which has allowed him to embrace change that comes his way.
It’s commonplace for artists to change or minimally alter their stage names as a sign of growth or introducing fans to their alter ego. Tumi, of the Volume is currently doing this using moniker, Stogie T-a nod to his affection for cigars and his personal growth in the game. Mos Def switched to his Muslim name Yasiin Bey originally in 1999 but was publically known as Bey six years ago. Each individual has reasons for why they do this; even the absence of ‘Lil’ from some rappers’ names has poignant meaning. Just maybe.
Selema Writes, who last week shared lengthy posts on Facebook chronicling his life story was doing so as a way of reintroducing himself to his fans. He came into the game as Sledge Lee, a name which many know him of. But in 2014, right after winning the End of the Weak international freestyle competition in Uganda, he developed a sense of detachment to the name.
“I realized that I had achieved everything I ever dreamed of for Slege Lee. I had no more hunger to prove that I was the illest. I had a new hunger. A hunger to speak from the heart and tell my story. Everything that motivated Slege was no longer there,” Selema tells me. Sledge was the grimy nigger who was about the streets, cliques and the beefs that comes with it.
“My perspective was different but I still wanted to rap. I still wanted to express myself through Hip Hop but my consciousness was rising and I couldn’t be the kat I used to be anymore.”
Without a moniker, Selema had to find a name which would accommodate this experimental phase he was going through. It’s ironic that he went with Dice Mak, because he gambled on his look and sound which people knew him of in the past. “During this period I formed a band with my peoples Tha Cutt and Bonibass, I rocked suits on stage and I even experimented with trap music,” he says. The ‘Mak’ in his name was a gesture to his father’s surname, Makgothi. “It was only after some time that I saw that even Dice Mak is still an Americanization. Hip Hop is already so American and for me to have a name that sounds American on top of that was too much for me.”
The harsh realization of the inequality in society, the rise of the EFF, dialogs about land and even movements such Fees Must Fall and Black Lives Matter in the US and other things have made home in the black psyche, which result in a growing sense of pro blackness in most Africans, on the continent and in the diaspora. “Pan-Africanism and Afro-consciousness are two ideologies that I believe in strongly since I was very young. The difference is that when I was younger, getting respect in the streets was more important so that is what I focused on. Now that I’m grown, speaking for Africa and lifting up the children of Africa’s future is more important to me. And this was also a common theme with Bra Hugh. So I was inspired to be myself, an African. Not just in my beliefs but in my name too. With the hope that this will inspire other young Africans to embrace who they are as opposed to just parroting what we see from Americans.”
The mention of Bra Hugh was not just in passing, but Selema’s final evolution as Selema Writes is connected to him being part of the Hugh Masekela Jazz Band. Many aren’t aware of this but the late Masekela, was Selema’s uncle. “But as quite a proud individual I vowed that I would never use his name to get me anywhere. So all along I never told a single soul about my relationship with the great legend. Upon his passing all of that changed as I was asked by my family to represent in honour of his memory.”
Selema sings in the band which travels and honours the legacy of Bra Hugh with their unique tribute shows. “So far, I have been tasked to focus on the legendary song, Stimela. We’ve had several performances this year. Most notably at the Cape Town Jazz Festival and last month at the Joy of Jazz Festival.”
Yesterday the artist released a dopely executed video for his track Toothache, which introduces him to the world. Directed by Tazna Slater and Selema himself, the video is set in a scrapyard where Selema roams around the vicinity by spitting bars with the ferocity or Slege Lee, the swag of Dice Mak and alla that in Selema’s authenticity. Mark Anthony Duckitt was the creative director. The shots and editing were neatly done.
The track is a remix of a song by a UK artist Jaykae, which Selema heard while watching series. The track basically talks about his story which involves the changes he’s gone through over the years. “This song was something I wanted to give the people after a long time of not hearing from me. It’s a way of showing my evolution from both a lyrical standpoint but also from a content and sound standpoint. I’m quite proud of it.”
A MUSIC video is to a song, what an image with a good caption is to an article. It takes the story forward.
Just five months ago Riky Rick said he was taking a break from the spotlight in the music, but last Friday he surprised most with the release of a spirited track, I Can’t Believe It (Macoins) with gripping visuals.
The song and the video presentation is currently being slept on in the country. According to Riky Rick, some television channels won’t air the video because of the content. He said this while thanking MTV Base on Twitter, for playing the video on their platform.
The ill-judgement of some of our broadcasters is perplexing. Local broadcasters aren’t proactive in their presentation; they always prefer to follow a trend instead of being the ones to initiate the conversation. This is just one of the reasons why television lags behind the net, but not everybody in South Africa can afford to watch videos on YouTube due to exorbitant prices of data.
I can imagine an ocean of people chanting the chorus, when Riky Rick performs this joint live. He repeatedly says he wants more money, then sounds in disbelief in the hook, not because he has gotten what he wants, but at what it cost him it seems. That’s what the visuals relayed.
But instead of money, a group of eccentric individuals seem to desire freedom more than anything- to be themselves within an uncomplimentary society. The freedom comes at a cost though, as one of them commits suicide, which then sparks the revolt. The interesting part is that, everyone fighting for something is part of the riot, not only the small group of friends who lost a comrade.
Directed by Adriaan Louw, the video took the conversation stared by Riky Rick in his rhymes, to another level. They chose the perfect time to shoot this, managing to capture beautiful light under Joburg skies, while Marco Filby’s Art Direction was complimented by the cast’s believability and wardrobe.
With the abrasive, in-your face beat Riky Rick reminds everybody who he is in the music and creative space. Steeped in Hip Hop braggadocio, from the first verse he states why 10 years in the game, he still manages to remain relevant throughout the country. But it’s his second verse on which he bluntly raps
I’m in my element, my regiment
Taking over is imminent,
Drop one song per year, and stay prevalent
Old niggers say my name to stay relevant
I couldn’t help but think of Stogie T when I heard those lines, despite the fact that the two recently settled their feud, which was sparked by Cassper Nyovest saying Stogie did nothing for him, during an acceptance speech at the South African Hip Hop Awards last year. iVenda LaKwaMashu, as Riky Rick is known on Twitter, was in Nyovest’s corner and also slammed Stogie for claiming other artists’ success.
The song has a similar refrain as Pick You Up, which came out earlier this year but unlike that joint, he raps in vernac on I Can’t Believe It (Macoins) and sounds original, rejuvenated and grimier. iVenda LaKwaMashu isn’t the lyrical-miracle typa rapper who will get battle kats like Kriss AntiB and Don Veedo salivating at his every line. But his hooks are catchy and he speaks his truth and a lot of people can relate to that shit.
THE air filled with the smell of dank blunt, omnipresent quarts of Black Label and Boom bap sounds racing out the speakers, a graffiti portrait of Ben Sharpa was the backdrop of the stage, and the DJ scratched on classic Hip Hop joints, when each speaker came forward-could’ve sworn it was one of those old school Hip Hop sessions at Ben Sharpa’s memorial service last night in Newtown, Johannesburg.
Hosted at the Stop Sign Art gallery, the service served its purpose in how it captured and celebrated who the man was. Whilst also reuniting old friends. Kgotso ‘Ben Sharpa’ Semela passed away last week due to complications from diabetes.
“The funny thing is, I knew him as Cilo, his baby nickname. Then he was Kaptin, I wasn’t there. The only thing I knew about Ben Sharpa was in the media. I knew him as Cilo when we were like 18, 19 year olds,” says comedian and foodie Tshepo Mogale. Mogale was Sharpa’s roommate at the University of Cape Town where they met around 1996.
Mogale was fortunate enough to see Sharpa just a day before his passing. “I hadn’t seen him in over 15 years. Then I got a call that he’s in hospital…I was so apprehensive to go see him- if last time I saw you was good times, then I hear you’re in a fucked up situation, it could be kinda awkward. But one of my boys said I should go and I went and the look in the guy’s face man, it’s one of those priceless moments ever.”
They spent at least two hours together reminiscing about old times. Mogale was one of the speakers at the service, whose speech was quite emotional. “I learnt so much from him. I just couldn’t say it in front of his mother up there, but he taught me how to untie a bra with one hand. He was like an encyclopaedia who knew everything and had rhymes for days.”
Osmic was still in Grade 7 when he first saw Sharpa performing at Le Club. “I looked up to him as a kid and I was like ‘oh shit, so this is how it’s done.’ I think we all saw Ben Sharpa the same way I probably saw him. We had nothing but respect for him and I think that’s what this is, people coming to say ‘big up’. Any parent would be super happy that their son is celebrated in this manner,” the Back To the City founder says.
After the formal ceremony had wrapped up, Breeze Yoko who was the night’s master of ceremonies went outside with a cordless mic asking fellas to jump on the beat and drop some bars. The cypher went on for hours. Speaking after the formal ceremony, Sharpa’s mother got on the mic while kats were free styling to say that she’s grateful to those who came and to see who his son was and how he lived, despite the fact that Hip Hop doesn’t sufficiently reward rappers- he loved what he did.
Those in attendance included Hymphatic Thabs, former Hype magazine editor Mizi Mtshali, skater Wandile Msomi, actress Renate Stuurman with her partner Krook’d tha Warmonga and a number of other Hip Hop heads.
Co-founder of BTC Dominique Soma, was also present but rushed out to a gig soon as the formal service was done. “Ben Sharpa deserved to get this reception. I haven’t seen these people in years, I feel like it’s a bit of a time warp…kinda taking me back to another time of my life. Very nostalgic.”
Comedian, writer and film director Kagiso Lediga says he was touched and moved by the whole service. Like Mogale, he too met Sharpa in Cape Town during their varsity days. With Hegemony playing in the background, Lediga says “I wanted to come and pay my respects. He was a very wise guy, who always spoke in concepts like his sister was saying. If he spoke about his passing, would he imagine we’d be all here like this…for me this is quite special, seeing all these faces, people I haven’t seen in a long time.”