Culture Is Not Your Friendby Rob Cockcroft / 18.10.2013
Since his career began in 1998, DJ Raiko has established himself as one of Mzansi’s top hip hop DJs. He’s also been producing on the low-key and has helped up-and-coming artists gain recognition through his events company, Kool Out Entertainment. We enlisted him to drop this week’s Mahala Friday Mix and he gave us a rundown of his career thus far. Stream or download the mix below while reading the important insights Raiko has to offer on the history of Mzansi hip hop culture.
MAHALA: What kind of vibe did you put together with this mix?
DJ RAIKO: Basically, just a hip hop mix. I had been doing soul mixes and so on for so long, thought I’d mix some tunes that been lying around. It’s pretty much just rap and beats.
Tell us the process you took to learning how to become a DJ and turntablist and how did you get your name out there?
Well, I started in the 90s. There used to be a Tuesday night hip hop throw down at Johannesburg’s 208 (the legendary 206’s side room). We used to go there round about the same time I started DJ’n. I used to practice while the barmen stocked the fridges. Then the gigs would start round 9pm and I’d just sit there and watch the DJs that played. I met Hamma round that time. He was doing BVK as a rapper, but was branching out into DJ’n and running his parties Boogie Down Knights. That enticed me to move back to Cape Town. I was a fucked up kid before then, off my head a bit, that Cape Town move got me grounded. I stopped drinking and everything else and sobered up, became an unofficial type roadie for BVK, so I got to tour a little with them and helping out Hamma with the running of Boogie Down parties. Those two years were spent just DJ’n and getting a better understanding of the music and the scene. I didn’t drink or even get laid for 2 years. Fuck, what a kak two years.
Anyway, round the same time I started getting some DJ gigs as an opener at Boogie Down and that led to me getting a name and more gigs. Hamma was a dope reference point to how to run gigs, which helped me later on, as well as being the key link to me learning how to play a decent set. Azuhl and Dre helped me realise that I didn’t have to just play hits. In fact, I think Dre had the biggest influence on me sound wise. The guy’s an encyclopaedia when it comes to hip hop. He made me want to find those dope songs and reveal that to people for the first time through my sets.
I first saw you DJing at The Lounge. Those were the best hip hop parties I’ve ever been to. What do you think made it such a dope vibe?
I think the timing was perfect. Cape Town was on the verge of its third generation of hip hop heads. The BASE being the first, then the younger kids from that era, now older, started being the most active on the scene and formed the second generation. I was one of the younger kids in that scene that were trying to build on top of an established movement. Boogie Down Knights introduced all the town kids to hip hop and built a great following with them. When Boogie Knights finished The Lounge just fell into place.
The crowd was a group of regulars that used the night to network and stay in touch with the scene. It was a perfect mix of everyone, complimented by all types of hip hop music. I played the independent rap vibe as an opener, Hamma then did the party set and anthems and Dre smashed the classics sets. It was also R5 to get in. Cape Town was starting to somewhat integrate a little more and I strongly feel The Lounge helped some kids find themselves especially through a musical standpoint. The active hip hop scene in Cape Town between 2000 and now came up through that party. It was a special place.
A lot of classics were played at The Lounge, but also a lot of us were going there to be put onto all the newest stuff coming out at the time. Nowadays most hip-hop parties mainly just focus on playing classic golden era joints. What are your thoughts on that? Are most heads just stuck in a time warp?
Those sets still only form a small part of the whole market. Also, only certain people get recognition for doing it justice. I think there is a large entity just bandwagoning the movement. I mean 90s era is just in at the moment, the clothes, the vibe, etc. I guess the music is brought along with that. I mean we were playing that vibe with the KOL parties and getting labeled as ‘DJs that can’t move on’. I even had new DJs tell me that ‘things have changed, you can’t play Illmatic in the club no more Raiko’. Now they 90s hip hop connoisseurs, preaching the gospel with Illmatic as their bible. These are the same cunts that jump through genres to stay relevant to hide the fact that they struggle with identity as a DJ. Personally I love that era’s music, so if I get to hear it when I’m out more than this new music, then all good, regardless if it’s some hypebeast rocking the Jodeci scuba suit and Givenchy snapback. I could give two fucks about being stuck in a time warp. That era is what shaped me and that will always resonate through my sets as much as I can.
You got your first break through Pioneer Unit as the touring DJ for Ben Sharpa. What was your first taste of performing internationally like? And are you still affiliated to P-Unit?
To be honest, I lost my mind on those tours. I had never been out the country before (ok I went to Lesotho once) so going overseas was exciting as fuck. Those tours upped my game by like 100%. The growing points of it were life-changing. Our first gig was in Reunion Island; I thought I was Rick James jumping on Eddie Murphy’s couch. After that we were lucky enough to do four more tours to France and then around Europe. I learned a whole lot about putting a live show together, studio sessions and just the tons of artists we met, from Bronx Hip hopheads to Austrian gypsy bands. The dynamic of it all and the open attitude is what stuck with me the most. Most South African music lovers are sheltered in their genre. I learnt to appreciate all types of music and the effort that goes into making each genre.
How did you become Khuli Chana’s full-time DJ and what does the job entail?
PH, the guy who produced ‘Tswa Daar’ asked me to come lace some cuts for him (the track ‘PINA’ on Khuli’s album). Khuli was there and I guess he liked what I put down. He asked if I’d be interested in doing another track, I agreed and that track became ‘Tswa Daar’. None of us guessed the success of that joint. A few months later Khuli’s manager hit me up to be part of his new band as the DJ. We did a few gigs last year. Then this year they offered me the full time slot. It’s been great, Khuli is at the top of his game and the shows speak for themselves. Basically it entails being on top of your game as well, I mean all eyes are on Khuli this year, so one has to adapt and make sure they make those eyes stay focused. I handle the edits of the shows like intros, breakdowns and re-workings of his music and then run the music on the shows accompanied by cuts and some effects. The schedule is nuts, my life has 360’d since joining. But I’m really enjoying the headspace it provides.
Was the goal always to become a live performance DJ rather than doing DJ sets?
Not really, there weren’t options like there are today. I’d DJ for acts that couldn’t even afford to pay me for any show, so it made more sense to just concentrate on the DJ sets side. Although I’ve been doing performance DJ’n since the early 2000’s with Abnormal Detail (Hymphatic Thabs + Gin Grimes), just bout every rapper CPT had back then too, and I did some shows with Zaki Ibrahim as well. At this stage of my life, I prefer the performance aspect of DJ’n. Firstly, there isn’t as many active DJ’s with live hip hop acts than the clubs and doing original music feels more appropriate. I feel old in clubs where twerking runs the night and button pushing DJ’s drop the same songs several times throughout the gig. I’m happy here, I nearly quit DJ’n last year and went and got a 9-5, so I’m grateful I’m able to still do it.
You did weekly soul mixes for the Phat Joe Show until you recently got booted. What happened there?
The whole Phat Joe thing is confusing to me. He called me out of the blue one day and asks to meet me. We met and he offered me the slot on the spot. I was very excited at first, there was a buzz around Joe coming back to radio and to be part of that was humbling. It allowed me to bring my vibe to a whole new audience, even if it was counter balanced with radio hits (something I’ve never been known for). The response was good and I never got hate for it from disgruntled heads, so I was at peace with it and enjoying it.
Then I got an email saying they were going to try new DJ’s. No reason or anything, with a hint that they might use me again sometime. It’s been a month, I haven’t heard from anyone and I see that he has a new “official” DJ – DJ Robben Island which I’m convinced is him. I did hear from a friend that Joe may or may not have mentioned that I didn’t grasp the radio thing or what he was trying to achieve, so maybe he felt I didn’t fit in their scheme of things, which is fair enough, I guess.
What’s your opinion on SA rappers with American accents?
I don’t mind it; sometimes it’s easier to listen to. Like some rock guys or pop artists, they sing with US accents then when they talk, they sound like Nataniel after a night out. I guess the same happens to the rappers.
If you were to record a posse cut who would you enlist?
Locally – I would grab some of those Scrambles for Money kids, seeing as cyphers are just about bars. Gin Grimes, Cerebro, Illite etc…
Internationally – Smoothe tha Hustler, Saafir, Jamal, Ras Kass and Vince Staples.
How do you deal with drunkards coming up to you with song requests while you’re playing?
I just act like I can’t hear them, or tell them to just hold a few while I ignore them for the next 3 songs. The pressure of standing up there looking like a fool gets them off eventually. Once, Angolan kids offered me R100 for every Tupac song I played, so I went through all the Pac I had and made a little more cash than that shithole could pay. I’ve been offered blowjobs by women and men (Cape Town tourists will try fuck anything) at Marvel for playing their songs. A German thought it would be cool to chop up a line of cocaine next to the turntables one night and offered me the rest while they threw his ass outside. Other than that the random white girls asking me “when you going to play some hip hop?” keep me entertained.
90% of hip hop coverage in this country is American cliché kak. How important do you think proper media coverage is in terms of creating our own identity of the scene rather than being sold some image shit?
I think that lies with the artists as well as the media. The media knew fuckall about hip hop just 7 years ago; now all of a sudden The You magazine is telling us “Do you know Afrika Bambaataa started this culture?” Fuck out of here! We’re to blame though, cause we let them jump on the wagon in exchange for a little spotlight. The scene is buzzing locally. The content, language from all regions and musicality, is more representative of South Africa than ever, both mainstream and independently.
Tell us about Kool Out Lounge. What’s the concept behind it? How do you go about choosing acts for shows?
KOL was running before I joined it four years ago. I aligned to it because it was the closest gig to the vibe I play, so it made perfect sense to join. Basically it started as a group of DJ’s and an MC that put on gigs to accommodate for them not getting gigs outside of KOL. Basically we provide a platform for up-and-coming artists and DJs. We give preference to those that support the movement through our gigs. We’ve grown a lot from a grassroots movement to a company that offers work to larger brands. We still do a free gig every month in Cape Town at the Waiting Room, as that’s were we started. We’re focusing on doing more production work with brands and next year developing KOL into a mature events company.
KOL throws parties in Cape Town and Jozi. Is there much difference between the two scenes?
There was at first. Cape Town was always closer to the culture and at some gigs you’ll still find all the elements gathered in one space. But these days the lure of popping bottles in the club and showing off designer threads is the main focus. KOL started 5 years ago, both in CPT and JHB, there wasn’t a regular night like that in either city. It’s a no frills party and we focus on the music.
The element of turntabilism doesn’t feature nearly as much in new hip hop tracks. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that element is beginning to be phased out or become even more niche?
Turntablism, I think, reached its pinnacle. It’s not ever going to go beyond what the greats like Q-Bert, have done with it. The sound of mainstream hip hop has changed so much, I don’t think there is a place for turntablism anymore. I still hear mad tracks with DJs on them though, they’re just not in plain sight anymore. DJs have also branched off in to becoming artists and producers themselves, so the need to align with an act as a DJ is not the only option anymore.
Your top 3 hip hop albums of all-time?
Dare iz a Dark side – Redman
Ras Kass – Soul on Ice
Saafir – Box Car Sessions
Who is being slept on at the moment? Anyone whose music we should be seeking out?
Locally, I stopped taking in new music as acts thought I had the power to break their careers, so I’m out of touch at the moment. I like a few independent acts like Zetina Mosia (she’s not hip hop, but is affiliated to Iapetus in JHB) and the JHB + CPT beat scene is nuts, especially the acts affiliated to *GRAVY*.
What is your long-term goal for your career? Anything you really want to achieve?
I really want to release music when I’m comfortable with it being out there and the quality is decent enough to be recognised. Other than that, maybe some development things to help future acts get to their dreams. I would love a complex that houses a live performance area, a studio to record and resource center to help package any music that come out of it.
* Lead image © Stephanie O’Connor