Creeping in the Shadowsby Rob Cockcroft / Illustration by Luis Tolosana / 08.09.2011
Whether Cape Town’s infamous League of Shadows are rocking a ghetto park jam or opening up for heavy hitters like Ras Kass they definitely keep crowds aflame with their brand of ominous lyrical sorcery.
The emcee’s kinda emcees, they fiercely guard the gates of this subterranean hiphop movement which is as much about having the sickest rhyme flow as swag is to a wack rapper like Da L.E.S.
Recently L.O.S have put out a rugged, low-budget video filmed at Marcus Garvey camp in Phillipi and have slowed the tempo down with a beat by Saturn to school us on some Rasta tip. We got together with members Fungus Mutated Lung, Gambeno and Garlic Brown (AKA Vulgar Tongue) to find out what lurks in the minds of this off-beat Kaapse hip hop trio.
Mahala: When you say “too many dreadlocks not enough Rasta, Rastafari’s not about smoking ganja” are you being critical of some rastas?
Garlic: That statement was made to break down all stereotypes that go with dreadlocks. Rasta, for me, is a divine conception of the heart and the dreadlock is just a reflection, a manifestation of what’s inside. Also, certain brothers are going out there pretending to be Rasta and wearing the lions mane in vain. They may have their red, gold and green on but they’re smoking cigarettes or they got some alchohol. Its all good man, you can do those things even with your dreadlocks but don’t pretend to be Rasta.
Gambeno: What I got from that hook is; we see the Rastas in our ghetto man, they just like, “blessed king” en wat wat but they don’t mean it. They’re just a bunch of pypkoppe rooking out of Black Label bottles. Maak ‘n mix, maak ‘n pyp, maakie stop vol. That’s just how they are man. They just also using it for a front to smoke a lot of dagga everyday. It’s a pretense. Me, I’m not Rasta but I’m not gonna portray it and fake it. That’s not who I am.
Do you cats hold a certain sound sacred, this video has got that very 90s boom-bap feel to it?
Garlic: As the League there’s a certain sound that we have but we’re not just a crew we’re also individuals, as individuals we feel different tracks. Whatever inspires us to the point where we wanna actually spark a cypher on that beat or we wanna grab a pen and a pad and just write something down in the moment. It’s all about that. Basically connecting to that frequency that comes through on the music. As an emcee there’s a certain beat that inspires me to write, I can’t explain it, only when I hear it. It will actually make me feel like, yo, I wanna kill this beat, strangle it or maybe I just wanna be one with this beat ‘cos I just feel it so much, it feels familiar, it feels like the soundtrack to my life. It makes me feel like this is the story I wanna tell on this beat.
Gambeno: Fuck, I’m not gonna lam it out and listen to Soulja Boy and T-Pain and all that kak because it’s not what inspires me. It goes with the time, right, but it’s not real man. That shit that they had in the 90s, that was the struggle. That is hip hop. Like when I hear a fucken ill, mad jazzy beat. You know Saturn? He makes the ill shit. And in terms of going with the times, fuck, we’ve jumped on stage at dubstep parties. Rubadub. If there’s a dubstep beat playing we gonna freestyle on that shit. It just shows versatility.
League of Shadows; the imagery the name and the lyrics are all very dark and ominous, what kind of place is that coming from?
Garlic: As Bob Marley says all we have is songs of redemption. We come from very dark places, when the Europeans first came here to Africa they never had a name for it, the only name they created was the Dark Continent because what dem did sight through their eyes was darkness. But the darkness also created the ignorance and that created a lot of things amongst our people.
Fungus: We’ve been waiting in the shadows for more than a decade already, everybody knows us, has seen us, they pass us everyday but basically we’re just in the shadows. That’s where we operate from, not where we choose to be. That’s basically where society places us. We’re in the position of the underdog but it’s cool because people don’t really see it coming when you’re underneath. Its froggy style, it’s like doggy style with a bit more bounce from the back so you don’t see it coming, excuse the pun.
Gambeno: I come from a line of mad drug addicts, from that shit I just ended up focusing more of my time on writing rhymes. And with the dark comes the light, so we are good people all in all, but we have a dark side to us and that comes through in our rhymes and you’ll find there is still a consciousness within it.
Before gigs you cats are freestyling, still hitting up rap battles (Fungus won last year’s Sprite Lyrical Warfare). How important do you think it is for the culture?
Fungus: Us, being the generals, have to test the cats. Just be like, yo, fuck, spit your shit! Let me hear your shit. If these cats are sounding shaky you must be like, yo dude, sit down for a moment smoke more of the blunt. You go chill over there, we gonna keep sharpening. It’s all part of what we do. Our ritual before we get to the sacrifice, if you wanna call it that. That’s just from an emcee’s point of view. All that shit is really relevant.
Garlic: In life, man, we all have different eras, different ages. The golden age, silver age, the bronze age and I guess right now we’re living in the age of wackness, basically.
Gambeno: It’s fucken rusting now!
Garlic: Everybody’s just accepting wackness. The power of marketing has really shadowed the art in this time.
Do you only portray what’s real? Are you against that gimmick style?
Fungus: I don’t wanna only rhyme about the experiences I’ve had in life. I’d like to think I could listen to a story you tell me and go and rhyme about that shit. So I’m definitely gonna be broader than everything I’ve seen. But there’s obviously a certain dignity I’d like to have, like there’s certain things I won’t do. I guarantee you, at our next show, halfway through verse one, if I say, “yo Vulgar Tongue” and he drops his pants and everyone else just whips their cocks out and we film that shit we gonna get hits on Youtube but obviously that’s not the legacy you wanna leave, dude! We got some crazy shit at the moment and it’s not even a gimmick, just people we know. We got this one cat, Dj Sakkie de Kock. He’s gonna be onboard at a lot of our shows and there’s a couple of characters that we’re working on. We might just be bringing a bit more because that’s what these people are doing, they’re just re-enacting shit that they see. They just don’t know that the shit that they acting is actually us, that’s our fucken culture that they’re taking and raping. Like that’s the original trash right here, cat. We like the bottom of the food chain, bushmen, you don’t get worse. That’s like the lowest. Like dude, we the owners of this land and we got fuckall, we not even in the constitution like the ANC won the big victory and we’re still living under trees.
You cats rap about anything from Rastafari to sneakers to being gam. How do you find that balance between the more conscious stuff and the more fuck-around, fun stuff? Do you think there will ever be a stage where you’ll become stricter and use this medium just for the message?
Gambeno: For the LOS anything goes. We mix light with darkness, we mix sadness with happiness. We’re on that level of lyricism where we can’t hold back anymore. When I used to write there would be a lot of things I would scratch out because I wasn’t ready to say that because I knew as an emcee, saying something projects a certain image. You plant a seed in peoples’ minds. As an emcee you always have to stand firm. You also have to learn to accept yourself for who you are and then you can be yourself.
Fungus: People must just accept. We’re not trying to impress some aya sitting in Delft. I’m just trying to have people hear my shit. Who likes it, likes it.
I noticed in your rhymes you don’t like Helen Zille very much. Why?
Garlic: As we know, Helen Zille, is this big icon to certain people because of the way that she works in society. She always just there to lend a helping hand to uplift communities, but what is the goodness behind what she is doing, I feel like it’s a curtain to cover something else up that’s happening behind the scene. I feel very uncertain about her place in society because of what she has done to one of the greatest African storytellers by the name of Credo Mutwa. She was also almost responsible for his death for writing a story upon that man. He is one of two spiritual guides left in Africa, an African shaman. I would even say he’s part of the League. In the spiritual realm.
Fungus: But also on the Zille tip you can’t respect somebody who says they are wanting to do good if they don’t acknowledge who the indigenous people of this place are. So what the fuck is she actually doing? Helping people that robbed our heritage. If you don’t acknowledge who is the original people of this place and give them the privileges that are owing to black people in this country, then you ain’t doing shit you just just passing the buck to the next person in line and when will it eventually get to us? Fuck, by the time it comes to us it’ll be like the apocalypse.
*Opening illustration © Luis Tolosana.