SA HIP HOP

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10min14050

OF ALL the periods in Hip Hop’s few decades of existence, there still hasn’t been an era that heads sentimentally connect and long for, like the ’90s era.

This nostalgic feeling is driven by the reverence in lyricism, the holy sampling, the endearing Boom Bap sound and the purity of the genre right before the immorality of the new millennium. It’s for this reason that even in this current Trap era, there are still emcees who uphold the above-mentioned 90s era “principles”. Simphiwe ‘Sim’ Mabuya is such emcee.

This is by no means a suggestion that his 12 track album Perceptions should be relegate to the 90s. Nah. The project is refreshing, particularly because it came out just this year.

IN THA STREETS: Simphiwe 'Sim' Mabuya. Photo supplied
IN THA STREETS: Simphiwe ‘Sim’ Mabuya. Photo supplied

The 90s Hip Hop head enthusiast inside me listened to the album in one sitting and appreciated it. Mabuya’s music is like something you’ve heard before, but always wanted to hear again. His storytelling is amplified by lived experiences, his vulnerability and the wisdom that comes with those lived experiences. He makes grown-ass black man music.

The emcee from kwaZakhele, eVuku in Port Elizabeth has a Drama background having studied at the University of Cape Town. “My drama/theatre background has always played a huge role in influencing my music. The stylistic writing, the vivid storytelling, the bringing of emotion / mood to the music and of course the poetry.”

“The project took me about 8 years or so to put together. Meaning the writing of the songs, a few songs I’ve had to rewrite, followed by a fun but long process of beat selection. Its authenticity mostly stems from real experiences, direct and indirect, reflections of my (and my society) daily experience plus stories living and growing up ekasi under difficult and horrific circumstances.”

In just 3:44 he managed to package some of these horrific circumstances, like being stabbed in the eye, to the rays of sunshine in his life, the birth of his daughter for example, in the beautifully laid Ngasekhaya. “I intentionally chose a variety of producers for the project to be diverse without losing that Jazzy, Boom Bap Hip Hop feel,” says Mabuya.

The album’s producers include Adon Geel, Bulelala Ngodwane, Xolani Duai Skosana, Planet Earth and Christian Monashe.

“Pain, joy, loss, daily struggles, achievements, conversations with self, traveling, reading …and a longing for a meaningful and empowering piece of music,” Mabuya tells me of what inspired this body of work.

A REBEL WITH A PURPOSE: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied
A REBEL WITH A CAUSE WITHOUT A PAUSE: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied

Unlike a Costa Titch album, Perceptions isn’t bombarded with features of other emcees-there’s no confusion about whose album this is, his voice is rightfully consistently present on this work. Mabuya only had one emcee on this project, with a few vocalists negotiating some of the choruses and hooks.

“I felt I needed to show my pen capabilities, above all …share a chunk of who I am, thus the album title Perceptions. Also I find it challenging to work with energies that aren’t on the same musical / spiritual plane as I am: pen game is critical, authenticity/ originality are key and a positive working energy,” says Mabuya. His first offering was 2007 Social Poetics, which he says was discontinued due to poor production quality.

On the song Tata he openly talks about the hurt brought by his Popps’ absence in his life. The joint is so real, he shares with listeners that the only thing his dad ever bought him was a belt. It’s one of those essential songs in the crevices of the album which will never be bumped on radio and probably won’t be a fan favourite nor a music video shot for it. The song highlights father-son daddy issues on a similar level that HHP’s Danger on the uRata Mang album did for teenage pregnancy.

Perceptions was released in August this year and Mabuya’s work has been received well by listeners. “Frankly, the project has been doing great, gradually gaining meaningful traction within a space of just three months of its release. I’ve been receiving great comments or feedback from everyone that has taken time to listen to the project and am truly thankful and humbled by the response so far.”

THA STORYTELLER: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied
THA STORYTELLER: Simphiwe Sim Mabuya. Photo supplied

So well that his music has been used on popular television drama series Gomora. “I had sent the music to a friend, she loved it and thought the album would be great for Gomora. She requested I forward five songs I felt would be proper for the show and I did so. A number of days later I was requested to send the entire album, I guess the show’s producers loved the project. I was blown away by the response I must admit, it proved that we, Home Grown Concept, had done a stellar job. So…yeah, it’s quite exciting and dreamy that the music will be heard from the award winning TV show,” a thrilled Mabuya tells me.

The album can streamed here on Spotify and here on Apple Music. You can also stream it on YouTube.

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9min3940

See Pava said I should tackle Vike, I left your homie with scars, now Kriss said I should give you the strike, they gon find this body on Mars, cos RC said for the good of the sport I should put Demon’s head on a spike, bra I think the PSL started a trend, cos so far it feels like every league is trying to relegate all you freestate stars

That’s the scheme that won No Peace Bar of the year at the Hip Hop 411 Battle Rap Awards, but nice as it was, he cherishes the Battle Rapper of the Year award more. “…It means I was consistent and it means people can actually see the hard work I try put into every battle. Bar of the year is prestigious don’t get me wrong, but that is just 30 seconds out of the year,” says the North god, No Peace.

The awards are a first for Africa, the only other Battle Rap awards to have taken place in the globe were the 2014 Battlerap.com awards. “Initially when the idea to recognize and reward battle rappers who had done well throughout 2019,we had planned on giving away cash prizes, trophies and other prizes to the winners yes. Financial circumstances related to other activities we are working on that needed a urgent heavy financial injection compelled us to scrap the idea of a ceremony, prizes, trophies and redirect the finances to other activities,” says Hip Hop 411’s Kriss. The winners were modestly announced in a series of Facebook posts throughout last week by Hip Hop 411.

The awards were adjudicated by 50% fan votes and 50% by a select group of judges. They selected adjudicators “with a high battle rap I.Q and they possess an extensive knowledge of the battle rap culture not only locally but globally as well.” Time Xone, Mdu Sibanyoni, Boy Wonder and Denis Bops were the individuals bestowed with judging responsibilities. A vote from a Hip Hop 411 TV staff member would be roped in if one category was tied, but that never occurred.

FINE ACT: Linda Strat
FINE ACT: Linda Strat

Other categories included Performance of the Year which went to Linda Strat, Verse of the Year was awarded to Verbalist while Don V and Fahrenheit’s battle was the Highest Viewed Battle as well as the Battle of The Year. “Real talk, it wouldn’t have lived up to expectation if it wasn’t [Battle of the Year]. I already knew Don was gonna bring it and if I did my bit, it was an instant classic,” retorts Height.

FINEST TUSSLE: Don V and Fahrenheit. Photo supplied
FINEST TUSSLE: Don V and Fahrenheit. Photo supplied

It’s still debatable who walked away the winner in that tussle. Both emcees came proper, not short of confidence. “We put up a dope battle, very personal as far as material goes and with that look at where it took us regarding YouTube analytics, 10 000 views,” says the 1632 emcee Don. One gets the feeling that had the awards been in existence a few years ago, Don would’ve probably gotten the same awards for his battle with Kris. His battles seem to be crowd favourites that rake up big viewer numbers.

True to the nature of calling it like it is in battle rap, there was a Moemish of the Year. That award went to Cape Town spitter Rogan, who was supposed to battle Fahrenheit in the Mother City, but failed to pitch to the battle claiming a rival gang wanted to kill him. All this after his dilly-dally of demanding a bigger cash prize, which Hip Hop 411 obliged to. “The rap battle community has welcomed this new development with open arms and excitement. Even people who are usually negative towards our work because they are aligned to rival battle leagues have been positive about it. In the same breath the will always be people who feel disgruntled and unhappy because their favourite rappers were not nominated or did not win or they feel that their friends who organise battle rap events should be the ones doing the awards,” Kriss tells me.

THA DUD: Cape emcee Rogan. Photo supplied
THA DUD: Cape emcee Rogan. Photo supplied

But these awards can do a lot in raising the standard of battle rap, should they have consistent growth and find ways of rewarding kats with actual prizes and awards. Imagine a No Peace waking up every day to see his Battle Rapper of the Year gong on his TV stand. “…it will make it more competitive and will push kats to work because we all want to our work to be acknowledged, so it will definitely improve the quality of battle rap,” No Peace says. “Battle rap is already a dope close knit family as is, but knowing there’s competition at every corner makes it even better,” says Height.

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10min4060

“The eye sees what the mind believes” and that is a scary thought considering that most of us as children of the soil, believe whatever they want us to believe. Zothile ‘Solo’ Langa wants us to believe that it is possible for a South African celebrity pretty boy to possess a high capacity for introspection and an above average level of critical thinking.

My default setting when it comes to dealing with pretty people is the prejudiced idea that evolution does not allow them the development of interesting genuine personalities and/or characters. Consequently, I was sceptical when a fellow shinobi declared that Solo’s latest musical project is fire and an essential addition to the playlist of anyone who considers themselves a mature Mzansi Hip-hop head. I have no frame of reference as it pertains to Solo’s musical journey or growth because this is the first time I have listened to any project by the Diepkloof native. I have always viewed him as a rap purist whose focus was more on lyricism than the music and I generally lack an appetite for such artists. After listening to Solo’s latest offering C Plenty Dreams, I feel bloated from the shit load of humble pie that this mo’fo has been feeding me and I have nowhere to hide my shame.

Sonically, Solo generally fuses kasi and isiZulu vocal samples with mellow melodies to create a laid-back and familiar sonic textures, which often feels uniquely South African without the usual pretentiousness that one gets from most mainstream Hip-hop artists trying to reach a wider market. Upon these textures he lyrically delivers priceless gems of wisdom to the young urban black youth of Mzansi. In the retrospective joint Imali he starts the track with a menacing sangoma chanting sample and later questions the instances of “bottle wars” that often occurs in SA’s nightclubs What is boasting anyway if it ain’t a hate on yourself…

On my favourite song on the album Imposter Syndrome, he explores the process one goes through in order to reach their dreams and/or goals by offering practical and authentic insights on how to approach such a dilemma “...jump on the stage while picturi’n people naked everybody naked, people just say shit, kodwa that’s one of my favourites…how do we walk around downplaying victories, highlighting miseries often eclipse…I’m talking about the delusion of chasing perfection while flaws are what sharpens the gift…”

It is clear that Solo has put a lot of effort into improving his creative process in order to become more musical without losing his lyricism. With that said one feels that the back end of the project he reverts back to his hold habit of monotonously rapping with generic vocal inflections which are void of any real emotions. In the kwaito influenced joint Promises, he predictably features Kwesta who recites some throw away verse to get that feature money and royalties. Solo delivers some wack ass rhyme scheme which one has heard a million times before “…I have had the visions since u pikinini ngi gijimisa u grot, figuring the business get my business get my niggers out of the woods…” In the following joint Ubuntu Babo he goes into a double-time rapping tiered which makes my eyes glaze over with disinterest over the entirety of the joint. Hypocritically though I love the last track Take me which is a boom bap tribute to Hip-hop legends who passed away in 2018 “…I have lost heroes that’s how villains are born…the cloth that I am cut from isn’t withering the storm , and what is a left is expensive fabric that you new niggers know nothing about… “

Shade!

The two interludes in this project, Highlight reel and Show the Bloopers are touching monologues by his parents which leave a “broke-ass-know it all” blogger with daddy issues feeling a bit tender. In the first interlude his mother reflects upon the circumstances that have led her towards living a spiritual lifestyle and how that ended up influencing her children. In the second interlude Show the Bloopers, Solo starts the joint with a cold eight bars which contain a moving tribute to Gugu Zulu

“…I was a defrabulator with those with no pulse, really shouldn’t be looking in those parts, pull the fuse and leave the room with no spark, Gugu Zulu put me in a go cart, who would have later known later that I would be so clutch, hope his daughter knows he had the biggest heart”

This is followed by his father, who dishes out compliments about Solo’s work ethic “…to do the right thing…ireward of doing that…iyazizela…when a person thinks about doing good right.. some people say ‘I do good so that should I die, I go to heaven’…and let’s say there is no heaven but you would have lived a good life…If you do something correct, ireward iyayizela…I promise…you will see”

In totality this project is dope as fuck, not chart climbing and internet breaking kind of dope. The hidden gem kind of dope, buried underneath the pop singles of the Nasty, AKA or Casspers of the game. This album is an important contribution to Mzansi’s Hip-hop culture because it is a clear indicator that our music can be more than just a bottle pusher in the North of Jozi. Hip-hop can be an authentic contributor to this country’s story and legacy. Due to that fact, I can’t wait for the next album from this not-so solo any longer pretty boy.

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8min4861

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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5min3211

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.


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