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Headphone Hip Hop

2007-07-09 12:37
Mainstream hip-hop seems to be obsessed by ‘da bling’, ‘da booty’ and ‘da beef’? What’s your take – has bling killed rap creativity?
The funny thing about it is that mainstream Hip Hop has been ‘blinging’ since the 80s and ‘the booty’ has always been a major part of it! Eric B and Rakim had an album cover with dollar bills splashed all over the place. Big Daddy Kane had leggy hotties posed next to him on one of his covers. Oh, and don’t forget all those Gold Chains and medallions every rapper wore!

Some critics say kwaito is South African hip-hop. What’s the difference?
Kwaito and Hip Hop have both been genres that have evolved through the borrowing of “sound” from other musical genres. Hence, there are similarities between the two genres, just like there are similarities between House Music and Rave, or Kizomba and Raggaeton. Kwaito has elements of Hip Hop (rhyme schemes, chants, rhythm) and Hip Hop in SA has elements of Kwaito (lingo, rhythm etc). The line, thin though it may be, does exist and cuts the two into separate genres however. This line is defined by the Origins of Hip Hop and those of Kwaito. The line is further defined by the cultural elements that characterize the two genres; clothing, dance, ebonics etc. Two distinct “movements” exist typically Kwaito and typically Hip Hop. Both are mad different from each other. Essentially, the two genres are separated by an experiential soul which unless experienced first hand can never really be explained to an outsider. Remember, other countries customize Hip Hop to appeal to their immediate markets (France, Senegal, Germany) but they still call it Hip Hop. I guess the acid test would be to ask, “If I played this song to a German Hip Hop Head who doesn’t speak English or Zulu or Setshwana, would they call it Hip Hop?”

Speaking of you ever feel any pressure or the desire to rap in a vernacular other than English?
I’ve never been pressured to rap in vernac by my record label, fellow artists, my fans, my family and certainly not by my own conviction. I’ve never even been pressured to do so by overseas audiences I’ve performed for under the banner of an “African MC”! The only pressure to do so has come from peeps like journalists, programming directors, promoters…people who generally don’t care too much about what my music is really about and would rather see popularity rise above authenticity. To me, that pressure is no pressure.

What’s preventing SA hip-hop from going global?
If by ‘going global’ you mean ‘getting sold in the US and UK’ or ‘getting recognition by western markets’ etc then the true question would start at “what’s preventing SA Hip Hop from going regional?”! Most people believe the true measure of success would be to see Zubz being nominated for a Grammy and dropping a single featuring TI, Mary J Blige and Jamie Foxx, debuting at #2 on the Billboard Charts! All of which is a farce really. In order to penetrate foreign markets, I believe we need to have mastered local ones. In doing so, we can apply the same principles to those markets with some measure of success. So far in my opinion, Hip Hop hasn’t even mastered the SA market.

You name check 2Pac, Nas, Black Thought, Jay Z and Rakim on a track called “The Interview”. What’s the album that made you want to be an emcee and why?
That’s tricky cos I was listening to a lot of Hip Hop when I fell in love with it. It’s hard to pick out one that ‘started the domino effect’ so to speak. There are some albums that to this day I treasure cos of the special place they have in my formative heart. Albums like Fear Of A Black Planet by PE, all the Eric B and Rakim joints, Straight Outta Compton by NWA, Lethal Injection by Cube, Illmatic by Nas, Midnight Marauders by ATCQ. All these albums (and more) strike a special chord in me and in more ways than one shaped the Zubz I am today.

What’s the one rhyme you wished you’d written and why?
Let me start by saying I’m mad proud to have written and performed the song Family Of One ‘cos to this day no one has managed to repeat the feat as innovatively as I and with such relevance, too! What a joy to have birthed that one! If there was a joint I’d wish I had written, it’d have to be What They Do by The Roots taken off the ‘Illadelph Half life’ album. My favourite lines off that are from the first verse. Incredible lyrics that are quite prophetic of the times and have become a bit of a mantra in my life: It goes:

“The Principles of true Hip Hop have been forsaken/ It’s all contractual and about money-making/ Pretend-To-Be cats don’t seem to know their limitation/ exact replication and false representation/ You wanna be a man? Then stand your own! To MC requires Skills I DEMAND some shown!/ I let the frauds keep frontin’ and roam like a cellular phone/ far from home giving crowds what they wanting/ Official Hip Hop Consumption!...Now who can stop the music flowing through these viens?/Infinitely Go Against the Grain! That’s why my motto is to Never Do What They Do!”

Not only is the beat soulfully timeless, the rhyme structure is complex yet easy on the ear. Black Thought takes the words out of my mouth in 2007 and spits them in 1997! Now that’s Next!

Miles Keylock
Is SA hip-hop overdosing on bling? And what’s preventing homegrown rap from going global? One of South Africa's most dexterous emcees, Zubz shares his cosmic consciousness with us.

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