This is a bit personal for me because you’re one of the most important artists to make local hip hop cool. Talk to me about the state of hip hop then?
Firstly, thanks for the compliment, I truly appreciate it. To be honest I never thought of the scene in terms of a broad overview. There were a lot camps / studios that were doing their thing, and a lot more that I wasn’t aware of. I tried to be cool with everybody without necessarily being exclusively attached to a particular camp. When I did my ‘demo’ EP I got a couple of beats and recorded with a Jamaican dude who had set up in Newlands. I burnt 100 princo CDs, hand-wrote the title with a marker and just passed it around to hiphop heads I knew. I had already discovered the Book Cafe scene and was performing there. The scene that I was in contact with was mainly underground in which the artists and the fans were mainly the same people. By the time I did Syn City I was seeing more of a scene with a bigger following that was composed of people who were not directly involved in the music, mainly because of some artists who were making some major strides and going nationwide/regional.
Which schools and hoods did you do the cyphers?
I went to Vainona High for my O Levels. This is where I would make the shaky transition from being a fan to attempting to become an emcee. I connected with friends who had a shared love for hiphop who I later discovered were also writing their own raps and this was a defining moment for me. We traded bars a little as a makeshift crew. For some reason that institution turned out to be the breeding ground for a lot of emcees/artists (for example Karizma). We also had an annual pageant/talent show called Miss Cosmo where I was inspired by people rocking the stage (Chucknossis and Chita for example if my memory isn’t betraying me). I was a bit of a strange one I guess because having moved around a lot within the first two years of high school (from Kwekwe went kumusha came to H via Chi-town) I had an overwhelming feeling of being out of place. So I was often by myself mumbling rhymes, which had people slightly vexed as they thought I was talking to myself. I vaguely recall cyphering with some cats at CCOSA college but thats in a later period. Apart from that, I would be in my hood, Belvedere at the time, and I would kick raps for my friends, but they weren’t so interested. lol.
The underground circuit was huge and who introduced to the those guys?
My introduction to recording was a demo cassette that we did with a Wu-tang-esque crew in Bulawayo, Encrypted Minds back in like 2001. So my very first steps in music were very underground influenced. I later worked with Phranchyze, Phlow and BC, who were doing production out of Tich Mataz‘s crib in Highlands in the early 2000s. It was there I met a lot of people including emcees associated with the Hajila’s Movement such as Mc Chita, Blitz (RIP), Illuminate etc. A bunch of folk come through there. But most of the people I ended up developing long term relationships with were through the Book Cafe circles when it was still at Fife Avenue. We had cyphers in the parking lot with some incredible rhymers and I also ended up re-connecting with the scene in Bulawayo through exchanges by events like the Umlomo Wakho sessions.
Then we had the Circle how important was it to artists and hip-hop lovers to have a monthly space?
I could never minimise the role events like the Circle played in challenging emcees to sharpen their craft. Thing is you could be at home, or in your neighbourhood where only a few other people rapped and you would convince yourself that you had something, then you go to events like the Circle where people came from all over to spar, perform or cypher and you’d realise that you needed to head back to the lab. That old adage iron sharpens iron is true. While I frequented The Circle and later Dizzy Don’s Rhymes I Wrote, I found myself more drawn to the politically engaged/ poetic movement through Magamba’s Mashoko event where I met people like Biko, The Dialectric Blue, Cde Fatso, Flowchild, PSP, Aerosol, Depth or the skies connects Phar, Tswa etc. Many of these people are still part of my family to this day. It wasn’t just being inspired and motivated to improve as an emcee but it was also a community where we (or at least I) found acceptance. These platforms allowed us to network, and also through getting up on the stage as often as was possible, they fostered growth. Plus I won’t lie, occasionally getting paid for a 10 or 15 minute performance wasn’t a bad thing at all.
Your first your Shoko Firstival (Mashoko) how was it getting to a bigger stage?
I was already a regular at the Mashoko event as I indicated before. The first Shoko fest was a bigger version of what we had already been a part of or witnessing monthly. While there was an added venue at the Alliance Francaise, for many events it was the same place we would have been normally been (the Mannenburg/Book Cafe) so for those events in the literal sense it was not a ‘bigger stage’ but it was certainly a bigger platform with more cameras flashing, and a more international audience and line-up which had the effect of amplifying the usual performance nerves. I distinctly remember a palpable excitement in the air. For that first edition I found myself in the Poetry Slam, which was fun but slamming wasn’t quite my forté. I had a piece, The Sayer, that got me into the second round and that was all she wrote.
After 2014 what happened to local hip hop because it took six years to be relevant again?
This is a bit of a tough one, because I can’t speak on this with any certainty. I think even prior to 2014 hiphop has struggled with legitimacy as a genre in Zimbabwe for various reasons which I won’t delve into for the sake of brevity. So perhaps between 2014 and now it had just regressed to its default setting of being overlooked especially when juxtaposed with ZimDanceHall. So it may serve us better to see what was working when it had said relevance, and whats working again now. There are many artists I can think of in the past who had a huge impact. For the older generations, I guess that growing disillusionment or just life taking over as we get older contributed to reduced activity. But there is always new blood and now we see artists who have captured people’s imagination by rapping on issues the masses relate to. But the fortunate thing is that hiphop has never completely died out as a result of the lack of acceptance of the masses which may rise or wane with trends. The core community of artists, platforms and fans have always and will always keep it alive, continuously working and pushing it often with little or no recognition. That consistency and background work is what allows it to rise to relevance again coupled with the hard work and draw of some individual artists and something that may be arbitrary, timing. Whats exciting about the current era is I see more cooperation between artists and thats creating a stronger fanbase overall.
You brought the house down with Syn City, what was the creative process right there
Syn City happened a little by chance. I was trying to meet Rufaro Dhliwayo for help with my site. He was hanging out with Begotten Sun at the Book Cafe on the particular day we were meeting up and B.Sun suggested we do a project. I always had a lot of respect for B.Sun and I think he was one of the people I emailed my ‘demo’ EP back in the day. So anyway we got to working coming up with a name, artwork and a release date prior to there even being any song ideas. The music creation kicked off with B.Sun humming the melody for the Syn City track into his phone and we went over to FTRs to create the rest of that beat. I always credit FTR with being a key contributor coz apart from co- producing the title track I wrote a lot of songs to his work. Many songs would evolve as we involved other producers and musicians. There was an energy around ‘Mt Olympus’ that was incredible. It helped that over the years I had a lot of people I knew in the Industry I was in good books with so Ngoni Mapani could come and lay down keys for Before Dawn or Vee Mukarati a sax for Chenjerera or Aura with vocals and a poem with no questions asked. Sunna also had his own music connections such as Junior Bantan and Mic Inity who contributed. We believed that it was going to be something special and I think that belief was infectious, touching everyone else who got involved or who caught snippets of the project during its creation. By the time we released it it took on a life of its own.
You had a website for the release date and a 3D video for the title track? Walk us through the promo and why it is important for a drop?
When the album dropped the social media buzz was mad, I think the hashtag trended for a bit. Rufaro and B.Sun, were key in this in the visuals, website and all. Enqore came through with the 3D video and it was important as it created a whole new talking point for the album. Its possibly one of the reasons why international publications/sites like UK’s Guardian and OkayAfrica did features on it which got it a bit of attention outside Zimbabwe. I’ve learnt from that experience and now with stuff that I have done subsequently how important promo is for releasing. You can have a masterpiece of a project but without the promotional groundwork, that project will be dead in the water.
You had the big hommie Metaphysics, Jnr Brown, Karizma the importance
It was a mad honour to be on the same joint with people like Metaphysics, Begotten
Sun and Mu especially. But every feature on the album like meant a lot to me. I’d like to
believe that for a lot of them like Jnr Brown, Karizma and Tehn, there was already
mutual respect but we had never worked together at that stage so it was like a ‘Finally’
moment. Also, Im not gonna lie, though I already had respect from those in the know,
the features by artists who had bigger profiles did a lot to introduce my music to newaudiences. I didn’t do the collabs with that strategic intention but I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge that they had a positive effect on the overall reach of the project.
What can we expect from you this year and talk to us about the last EP and working with an International producer?
This year, I am definitely dropping an album entitled ‘A Travel Guide For The Broken‘. Its been a while working on this and I just hope it reaches the people who need to hear it. Apart from that I have a few other projects in the pipeline. I am wrapping up an EP entitled ‘Best Served Chilled’ with a homie of mine, The BBoy Wanna Be Deejay, from here in Portugal on production, that one’s almost ready to get out there.
Phil Chronics (Austria) who I worked with on The Soulsteez EP (2019) already sent me a bag of beats for the sequel of that project. Another Portuguese producer also hinted that he wanted to do an EP but Im not sure if Im taking on too much, maybe that ones for next year. To be honest, with everything going on in the world right now I’m just trying to work as much as possible, because we can’t take this time for granted. Got some collab tracks and features that will also be dropping.
The last EP I did, The Industry was mainly as a result of lockdown. Antagonist Dragonspit (US) who I already knew about through Phil Chronics dropped a beat tape late 2019. I had an old verse that I had been sitting on for years which fit on one of the beats. So I wrote the rest of the song but because I had time on my hands being locked down, I ended up thinking of a whole story that I could do as a concept EP. I love storytelling and it was a chance to challenge myself to do a story that goes beyond a 16 bar verse or a single track. Dragonspit then did the mixing and mastering and I just put it out there.
Thank you for your time and advice for upcoming artists
I often doubt I’m in a position to give any advice as I’m still figuring this thing out. But I acknowledge that at whatever level you are, there is someone who can benefit from what you’ve learnt so… here goes.
If its at all financially possible, (save as long as you need if you must) get yourself basic gear to set yourself up with a home studio. Having your own creative space where you can work will do wonders for your growth. So at the very least you need an audio interface, a condenser mic, headphones, a computer with a DAW of your choice and you are good to go.
Learn as much about the different processes as possible, from the actual creating to other things related to the wider scope of the music business. The more skills you can get, (like mixing, mastering, filming, editing) the more self reliant you can be, which means not only more content but also more control. Just as importantly, don’t neglect the business side (like the aforementioned promo, royalty admin etc) even with management or a team. You want people to join you to help accomplish your vision, not to dictate it.
Genuinely Invest in relationships such as collaborators, radio, bloggers, fans. Anyone who has or may have interest in your work and who can help you get to the next step. Define success for yourself and in the low seasons always remind yourself why you started in the first place.
I guess I could go on, but for the purposes of time I’ma close with that. Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.
Peace and Love.