In light of the events regarding the 50 MCs list, I’m writing this letter in which I will speak candidly speak about the events leading up to the infamous issue list and my general resolution.
I feel the need to begin this account by briefly explaining how I got here. Let me get this out of the way, I’m a pretty intelligent guy, to say the least.
Midway through my high school years I began to shun institutionalised the idea of education because in the eyes of system, I believe, there is only a single archetype of what “success” is. During these years, every ounce of mental ability was absorbed on the basketball court and into hip-hop. In those few years my mind had turned into an encyclopaedia of hip-hop – lyrics, samples, albums and the year they were released, who shot who and why they did it, history, performances, beef, beats, endorsements, record labels and how they worked. By the time I was sixteen I had extended my knowledge beyond the average listener and owned a healthy collection of literature on the business of music. This was all for leisure.
When I was seventeen I developed an idea for a parody column called Hip-holitics (Hip-hop + politics). The concept for it was centred around the idea that there are only three things in the world that matter (to me at least): 1. Hip-hop. 2. Politics – whether we claim political affiliation or not, it is our responsibility to know what is going on in our country on a political level because it is the means by which we are governed. 3. Food – because that’s the way I roll. My first piece was published in that issue with Bonagni Fassie on the cover. Hip-holitics became a regular feature and the most read pages in the magazine. The more I wrote the more responses it got. The more responses it got, the more I started to get a better understanding of the people who were affected by this culture. My relation to hip-hop began to move away from an intellectual love to a personal one.
When I started to understand the power I had, just through the little that I did, I began to question myself. What was I really contributing to this culture? What are the immediate issues that face us Africans who are involved in this community? Why do we have so many talented musicians who make no money? Why do we claim to love this music but are not willing to support this industry monetarily? Why is it so frustrating to come up as an upcoming artist? How can we change ourselves to make this a better climate for artists? I started to attend more shows and conferences, acquaint myself with local rappers and promoters.
My thinking was now directed towards making a more immediate impact on my people and my column echoed this. I also started to get involved in anything to help the cause that I could. During this time I was fortunate to be in the presence of O.G’s like Slikour and Shugasmakx of Skwatta Kamp, Tido, Tibz and Benza of Vth Vision, Mpho of Bentey Records, Maraza the MC, Scoop, Osmic of The Ritual Stores, Proverb, Kevin Mdubeki, Thabiso (Hiphop Scholar), Morena and Allen and so many other people who were supporting a cause that I now knew I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life.
Some time last year I was given the opportunity to do a guest editorship at Hype during the time that current editor Simone Harris was on her leave of absence. I accepted. I received a lot of support from her and from major players in the industry who I had met along the way and that helped me tremendously. The issue was more successful on people’s lips than it was on paper. AKA called it destiny; he said fate had paired us together because the issue was his first individual cover and it was also my first individual editorship. Mizi had called it “The best issue of Hype ever”. During this time, I smiled through it all, but inwardly, I knew that this I hadn’t done anything. What had I changed? Nothing. I wanted to leave right afterwards but I realised that if I was as committed to this vision as I believed, it would take more than a single issue. The publication house was also keen to keep me on as a creative force and project manager because they believed that I genuinely wanted to make a difference (better sales and numbers for them, is what it would mean for them).
At the time that the 50th Issue containing the infamous 50MCs List, was being complied, my preoccupation with changing the status quo had turned into an obsession of sort and had completely consumed me. So much so that in retrospect, I admit that the process was trivially handled. Sitting in the YFM studio and hearing Amu and Slikour speak with so much passion on an industry that they have helped to build, made me realise that in my personal quest to try to change things, I had overlooked what all this is all about. I won’t dwell too much on the actual list but I will say this: There is no such thing as a correct list. No matter how that list came out, there was going to be controversy because this industry is still at a fragile phase where making a statement as bold and powerful as we did, reducing a person’s craft and career to a number on a list, would not be wise.
Many argued that the list favoured “the underground” and that they were not familiar with many of the people that were list. Just as many were angered that so many artists were put there just because they are popular and have singles but have not really made any contribution to “real hip-hop”. Others argued the low rankings of artists more popularly known outside of South Africa like Spoek Mathambo and Die Antwoord, and just as many argued that they should not be included because their impact on actual South African’s has been minimal. Some said they did not know Mr Devious or POC so how can they even be considered? Others argued that they should have been way higher because they were among the first to ever do it and it was our responsibility to educate the nation. What I am getting at is that firstly; outside of public participation, we needed to demarcate at least a basic systemised criteria for an artist to be considered. The onus on us was to create that criteria so that there would be, even on a basic level, a technical means to explain how positions were determined. Personally, I feel this was one of the major points of contention and I regret my part in allowing that to slide.
Secondly (and this is by no means a justification of any errors that was committed), it is important to realise that in the midst of genuinely concerned artists and fans, there were characters who used this situation to fuel the sensationalism because of a tape not reviewed to their liking, a homie of theirs’ whose mediocre tape was justifiably rejected for a compilation, or to just be able to direct their general frustrations about their struggles in the industry at someone. One of the non-rapper members in studio last Thursday did not even question the list, he just went straight to trashing the entire reputation of the magazine. The next day he asked me for a writing job in the mag.
Now why would you want to write for a magazine whose foundation you believe to be rooted in irrelevance and ignorance? I don’t say this to humiliate or mitigate anything but to paint a clear picture of the situation. Everyone has their part to play in this industry; artists make and promote music. But believe me when I say that there is an alarming sense of entitlement that many of us feel towards the government, record labels, magazines, promoters, God and anyone who we perceive to have influence over people. The artist’s responsibility is to produce good music and then fight to get it to the people and let them judge for themselves.
Also keeping in mind that the musical atmosphere is competitive, there are millions of aspiring Reasons and AKA’s and you cannot expect anyone to give a chance if you don’t respect the listeners enough to put out something decent at least. Even if you do, sometimes it’s very hard. Secondly, every medium has its limitations. To claim that “the industry is fucked up” because you were not able to get your song on a tape or get a radio interview, is ludicrous and small minded. The fact is, the reason many go on to have widespread appeal, sometimes despite not being as lyrically sound as the next rhymer, is because there is no substitute for hard work no matter how talented you are. Sacrifice.
This point must also not be misconstrued. Media and artistry must exist separately; the industry cannot shake every time an artist disagrees with being scrutinized. Entering the industry as an artist, you sign an involuntary agreement for your work to be critiqued and scrutinised as much you do to receive praise when it is due. With a community like hip-hop, specifically, rooted in love and self-awareness instead of tabloid content or anything malignant, the purpose of this is for the betterment of the culture. With myself and my role in this, I assure you that the intention is good, even though it has been presented to many as the opposite. But in this isolated situation, it was not about that. This is about a logistical error in the method that this list was obtained and that is a responsibility owed to the readers and member of the public. Yes, we fucked up.
In the few issues I have worked on alongside Simone, I discovered a view of the game that she and, I imagine, others too, have already known for a long time. These issues began to weigh on me overtime. They included dealing with the God complex and sudden weighing expectation of an entire national community to suddenly make things better, my frustration with attempting to accurately represent an entire country in less than sixty pages only every two months, frequent conflicts with our Publishing house about our close to non-existent budget and still being expected to pull off miracles, having to publically represent a vision that I by now had started to question and the general pressure of not only being one hundred percent responsible for my words all the time, but having people keep tabs of it. I speak as candidly as possible about these issues, not to offer an excuse for any plight one may have with the mag, but to let you know that there are challenges that the magazine faces that also limit the extent to which its mission statement is carried out. That is as real as it gets.
On the issue of representation, I stand by my belief that you earn your right to speak out about your grievances in this industry by participating in it. Passion is great for the bedroom but we are moving into a space where we begin to call this culture an industry. A place that people who are active in it are able to be rewarded also monetarily for the work that they do. You may not show your participation by buying HYPE particularly, but if you have never paid for a show, purchased a CD or tape, clothing item or other local hip-hop related paraphernalia, you do not have a voice. Passion must always translate to action. As they say, “love is verb”.
All of this really got me thinking about the issues that were raised about the game being run by the wrong people. Though this list is not the product of my personal opinion, I had my part to play in it because I was in a position to further scrutinize the credibility of the methods which it was compiled so I cannot vindicate myself from the situation. Right now I’ve got more hate mail than Tiger Woods personally directed at me and it’s all good. I took the wrap because in a sense people’s in allowing it, I have also betrayed the members of community. I took the wrap because that’s what a team player does. I took the wrap because I have never met anyone in my life more selflessly dedicated to a cause than Simone Harris is dedicated to hip-hop. What this is, is the realisation of the true meaning of accountability.
That is what this is all about; being accountable and honest enough with oneself to know what is best for everyone. I am twenty-two years old. I have written treatments and scripts for television shows, written for a range of reputable publications, contributed to some of the campaigns that have kick started careers. I am not a man short of confidence and that has not changed after this. Fortunately, my greatness does not allow me to be defined by this one event; my mind and my pen are still as powerful as ever. But talent does not presuppose maturity. That shit is learned. Thank you to every individual on the ground who continues to play their part in making this thing grow – whether you cop CDs, magazines or attend shows. As for thousands of internet experts who constantly ONLY complain about the industry being “fucked up” and who constantly find everyone else to blame without making an active effort to contribute positively and who don’t realise the part that each individual has to play in this, kiss my ass.
Respectfully and sincerely,