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Interview: Skwatta Kamp

2010-01-21 14:25
Skwatta Kamp

It’s been three years since Bak on Kampus. Has Skwatta Kamp lost their hip-hop hunger?
Shugasmakx: The break was good, we just needed to find each other again. Some of us have been friends since 94-96, you know? Being in each other's faces for that long, we just needed to find our chemistry and our hunger again. And I think we've done that.

Slikour: We also started taking it for granted until it never meant anything to us, it wasn't a Skwatta Kamp thing, it was a people’s thing. So we needed that split to find the passion for us to do music as a group and actually keep and maintain a friendship.

Juggling seven egos in the recording studio again must have been a blast?
I don't think there were necessarily any egos in the studio, we just tried to find the chemistry. We came together at the beginning of [last] Jan. The songs were slow, there'd be long breaks. We just had to go through all the bumps in the road. But when crunch time came things started coming together. It’s a 12 track album, so we probably had about 24-odd songs to look through. The others we scrapped.

Slik: One thing we had to deal with was that things aren't the same with each other anymore. When we first came out our fans were in high school. Now, 10 years later, we are the first prominent South African hip-hop group to come back and find their fans have got professional jobs, are mothers, parents, their bodies have changed shape, they’re not the same people they were! Skwatta Kamp was just a bunch of ordinary kids who made this thing work. When we looked at it we [realized] we were ordinary kids who became extraordinary. And we were like, gee, we are starting to become ordinary adults. That’s really the key factor that got us back together. We were becoming ordinary adults. The Skwatta Kamp thing just makes us extra-ordinary. Those are the questions we always need to answer with a new SK album: "Can we fulfill the legend?" 

Speaking of Fair and Skwear…you dropped it just in time to for the SAMA nomination deadline. Does winning awards still mean anything to you?
Slik: Even when we started off and won a SAMA, I wonder what it meant, you know? Was it just about the chemistry with us? It’s not about the award - I won’t lie to you - it’s not about the SAMA. The MTN SAMA or Metro Awards will always go on without us, you know what I mean? That's when you know you’re disposable, next year it's someone else. If you win an award then that's the world's approval, from everybody else. But, you know, sometimes the world’s approval doesn’t make you happy. This is really just about fulfilling your inner happiness. So if we win it, we win it."

Shuga: It does feel good to win awards, you know? Don't get it wrong, it feels great! An award is like that extra SABS stamp of approval. From Skwatta Kamp you become the award-winning winning, the multi-award winning or the internationally award winning Skwatta Kamp. You get a prefix before your name. But it also comes with its pressure, you know, because you want to stay on top of the game. But you don’t just do something for the sake of having an award. That would be a flawed exercise completely. But at the end of the day just as a token of appreciation, or little motivation they really come in handy. It’s like "yeah, thank you."

So what flavas can we expect from the album?
We're still the same old Skwatta Kamp. If anyone’s followed us through and through, they’ll understand that this is that vibe, you know. We are confident as ever. Trust me, you can’t tell us nothing. For years they’ve been trying to tell us something and for years we've been here and we’re still doing it. In the same breath the new album very much caters for the market which is now. You have to approach younger, new fans. We walk the streets and see young high school kids relating to it - from a six year old to a 36 year old in one household, we’ve touched them. So that’s pretty cool.

Slik: I've heard almost every new hip-hop release and out of all the artists we have the biggest songs. There's great music, great artists, 'dah, dah, dah....' But the difference with Skwatta Kamp is that we make great songs. We have the anthem songs on our album. When we play a song now and someone catches on it immediately and people go, "oh, that's commercial". No. it's a skill. There's a thin line between cheesy and actually doing a great song. And that’s what Skwatta Kamp has done from the beginning, from "Clap Song" to the "Summer Song" now and our next single, "S'gubu". We may not have the biggest marketing budget, but we have the biggest songs. We are an independent product so we don’t have the infrastructure of a recording company pushing the product, but I can honestly tell you now, with the right airplay, with the right push….

You've also got an impressive list of featured artists, what's up with all the colabos?
in Skwatta Kamp we normally feature nobody –
Slik (laughs): because we have to share the royalties between seven people!

There are enough personalities and different styles, we all want more space in the song already, you know? So we got Kruna, our East Rand homeboy from back in the day, he’s someone who can do this properly. And Ree-lo as usual, she's part of the family. We've also got Lungelo from TS, Max Hoba, Tamarsha's also in their, so the colabos are very nice. The music itself also calls for those colabos because it's like cutting edge, yet still relevant, being mature, but still street enough to bring in a new market. That’s how I feel about it. So it's not completely jazz and it’s not completely ‘snap your fingers’ at the same time, you know? It’s also not stagnant in whatever the era is at the moment. It’s still moving forward, it is very fresh.

Slik: the only thing that's changed is our age. Great music is great music at the end of the day. We could talk about Auto Tune, we could talk about snap your fingers, you know? You can either like it or not like it. It’s not like we’re saying that stuff is not happening, or not cool, but we just focus on doing great music. We’ve grown from a niche group to become a mass group. When we churn out songs that communicate to the masses its because we’re respecting that acknowledgement by the consumer and the industry that’s saying this group deserves to be put on such a platform. Fortunately-unfortunately, that’s how it is, you know? Not everyone will love you, not everyone will appreciate you.

 Indeed. So how tricky is it to walk that line between consciousness and con-shizzle?
Shuga (laughing):
For me it’s always been a very simple thing: just keep it real for yourself. If you do that everything else is very easy. I can be conscious on the streets with my friends, or I can be conscious in my actions, by developing myself as a human being, by being able to employ other people. That makes me more conscious, you know? I’m conscious about what I’m doing and how I’m going to change things. I’m conscious about going out and giving out blankets to people that need them. Or raising funds by performing for free so a soccer team or disabled person can get something they need. That for me is really being conscious. I’m not conscious with my mouth, I’m conscious in my actions you know? Skwatta Kamp’s music is there to inspire hope, for a lot of people. To tell that average kid out there who believed in hip-hop but didn’t think it could be done, "listen, you can do it just by being yourself." If that’s the message I can give to anyone to help achieve their dreams, I’m sorted, that’s as conscious as I’ll ever be. I don't need to prove anything.

Slik: Consciousness is the small things. It's not the big things, like "what are we going to do? We're going to save the panda or the wolf". Meanwhile you need to save money to pay your school fees. Our mere existence is consciousness. It is conscious and con-shizzle at the same time. We own our product. When we do a record that’s supposed to sell, a commercial record, we define what that record should be. And we’re conscious of that, you know? Consciousness does not stop in studio. When I'm making a commercial song I am conscious of what I am doing. Other people might be conscious, but they don’t even know who sells their product. All they know is how to roll a proper joint. When we talk about consciousness we talk about the awareness of your surroundings. Whatever the world has given us we’ve always been able to change. And that's conscious. When people are aware of who SK is and what they’ve done that's consciousness.

If it isn't crazy party crunk, it's bombastic gangster swagger. If it isn't booty-chasing bling, it's Auto-tuned crooning inanity. Yes, cynics could be forgiven for thinking that 21st century hip-hop is overdosing on its own excess. Thankfully there's always one crew you can rely on to keep it real. With their first new album in three years burning up the shelves, we thought it was time to quiz Swatta Kamp's Slikour and Shugasmakx about walking the line between consciousness and con-shizzle.
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