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Meet Iain Thomas, the 36-year-old South African poet who is famous all over the world except in SA

Started out in the dark

2008-03-26 10:25
In 1993, there was a rap music explosion. I mean explosion because rap was no longer the voice of the youth in the US but every person every where. Every area of human relations was peppered with hip hop and rap. All of a sudden marketing campaigns had baggy jeans and Dr. Martens sprinkled all over them. The world was with the ghetto young talking about drugs, gangs and old fashion competition. South Africa was far from behind. Everybody, including old school house musicians who made a name for themselves by producing compilations such Big Beat and LA Beat, wanted in. This gave birth to Kwaito. The music was started by kids and related to other kids, at a crucial point, post Democratic SA. Even with this, local rappers would have a good deal of tough times before breaking into the market.

The local rap scene, on some different tip, was receiving a lot of rejection and disapproval. Those who wanted to rap like Americans were either dismissed as uncultured sell outs or downright wack. To a certain extent, even demo studios would not allows dudes to waste their time as the industry was not accommodating dudes. Dudes were making demos using instrumentals from R&B single CDs and recording their voices on them. Results were obviously disastrous considering that this was supposed to be a CV of a musical career. Those who had access to studios were really wasting time as their products were below acceptable levels of sonic value, whether from bad production or hasty decision making, it none the less made sure no one got any airplay and love. There were a few projects that came out, like the Muthaload and the POC 1996 album, but neither garnered support nor marketing.

A few people flew the flag for SA hip hop even in the meteoric rise and smothering of house music. People like DJ Bionic, Zak Dakile, Rude Boy Paul and Oskido’s Wednesday RAPACTIVITY JAM, Thabiso Khati and his Native Records and some artists really held on like AMU, Mischief, Selwyn, Shimane, Spex, Snazz the dictator were amongst the avant-garde movement in SA Hip Hop. HHP was the only rapper with a deal from the onset and various other crews were scrapping for national attention and acclaim. Through out all the hustling and bustling, it seems that as much as the game was stepping up, no one artist was receiving record label love or attention.

Then, things looked up for the game. An unknown record company with an 18-year-old marketing manager, Outrageous Records dropped a compilation that featured an array of groundbreaking acts such as H2O, Ngwenya, Optical Illusion, Proverb and Zubz. Not only did this album, which was called Expressions, produce good quality and accessible products but it produced a radio hit by H2O called “It's wonderful”. And indeed it was wonderful. Skwatta Kamp, a crew from the East Rand came with a landmark release, Mkhukhu Funkshen, unleashing what would be a blueprint for the SA rappers across the country. After these momentous occurrences the game quickly progressed to commercial heights and guys started making money off it. Even though financially it still does not make cents, the love is overwhelming, it got Skwatta Kamp a national anthem, Prokid became the face of local hip hop, HHP is a ballroom king and now radio jingles are done using local hip hop tracks.

In a time where American rap is more WWE rather than the 6 pm news and some have checked its pulse and have declared it dead, local Hip Hop seems to be doing nothing wrong. In all the albums that are released annually, the product is getting better and better than before. Some people have released what could be termed classics, people such as Mr. Selwyn, Tuks, HHP, Skwatta Kamp and Molemi together with unheard materials from Maggz and Landmines. Other albums are very contemporary in their context. With that being said, this might seem like a "prosperity from adversity" story, since the original started out at the park, this started out from the dark. I remember Waddy Jones aka Max Normal being asked on Voice of Soweto’s DJ Bionic’s Saturday morning radio show whether SA hip hop would be at a level that is internationally recognized and locally accepted and he said that the first shall be last and vice versa and everybody in the room went on to agree with him as if he was a preacher in the church. My gratitude to all who never lost hope in the game, from POC to Ben Sharpa. To all the people who carried their dreams in rhyme books and those that fruity looped their way into the hearts of all appreciating South Africans.

- Mindlo Mindlo

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