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Get a Head

Get a Head

by Tala Leratadima / 27.08.2009

Hip hop in this country lacks inspirational foot soldiers. The majority are all boys in their mid thirties who act and look twenty two and hang out with every wave of youth that comes through, but are still living at home with their parents, with a couple of baby mamas around town. Their primary conversational topic usually comprises of blaming the system for all their plights. I ask myself frequently what system these grown men are complaining about – the system of get a freaking job? For people intelligent enough to memorise long complex rhymes it sure is hard for them to realise that your skill is your income generator. Duh. Dr Dre is rich, you have no excuse. Expand your horizons people, think out of the box and don’t be stuck in keeping it real. Real is being a productive member of society and getting the hell out of your mother’s house.

The first rap track that I remember taking notice of was Tupac Shakur’s ‘Dear Mama’. I owe that memory to the fact that the cutest boy in school performed it at the open day concert, and Tupac, although a rapper, had a melodic delivery that I hadn’t heard before. Perhaps it was the fact the track was an ode to mommies and their infinite dopeness. To cut a possibly long spiel short, ‘Dear Mama’ switched me on to hip hop. The first hip hop music I owned was The Fugees’ The Score. I bought that album with tuck shop savings (a commendable feat for a person who starts hallucinating when they miss the meals between meals) because ‘Killing Me Softly’ was a mega hit and waiting around for Radio Metro or Zero Hour Zone to play it wasn’t enough. It was imperative to have my own copy so I could annihilate that o o o o o o la la la la oooooo la la la laaaaaaaa bit at the end, at my whim. The acquisition of that album wasn’t driven by a particular fascination for the rap, or what the group stood for. The motive was purely a fixation with the biggest song of the moment. It wasn’t until I made my yearly trek to my cousin’s house for Christmas holidays that I met hip hop. My one boy cousin freaked out at my cassette. His excitement didn’t wear down after a couple of days, it intensified into an obsession. It’s a wonder that cassette didn’t detangle and snap from being played every day all day for the entire vacation. It was then, that I got my education into what hip hop truly stood for. It felt good hearing these boys and girl from so far away speak about things my young rural mind had never thought of.

So in as much as my brothers have been hanging at the same club since 1998, hustling beer every night, even amongst all that stagnancy I still wish I was a head. Going out to hip hop nights and seeing those cats get real nostalgic with every track that comes on and they know all the words. It’s priceless and enviable. Their stagnancy becomes immaterial. Through the smoke filled room and the sweet, foul smell of alcohol I see camaraderie, a prolific oneness. On the periphery I stand in awe wishing I could spit along, be part of the movement.

A good hip hop track always makes me feel dangerous and about to explode. I get that promising feeling that maybe somewhere between all this procrastination, ambivalence and whisky tainted blood corpuscles lies talent that should be utilised to create something significant.

As the beat circumnavigates me and the word play makes me flip out, I bop my head, mumble along and I wish I was a head. I flip out higher when the heads create a cipher and take each other on. It’s all off the cuff, on the spot, unrehearsed, pure improvisation. As the mike passes from one MC to another I walk to the bathroom to make room for another drink muttering to myself that I wish I was a head.

In my sometimes mundane existence, when I feel no different from the heads who seem headed nowhere in life, I get excessively self piteous because at least they always have the air about them that they are part of something bigger.

Now I’m going to behave in totally bad faith and pick only those that have touched me recently and give a big up to Khanyi, Tumi, Zubz, X-the 24th letter and Jimi Flex for living up to the calling of the bigness. For making us feel good about the moment and hopeful for the future. Special mention to that guy called Johnny somebody who is a mean beat boxer.

It seems when you are a head, you are aligned to some high order of purpose. The young men and women who have something to live for even though to the outside eye and to the worlds’ expectations its nothing but to hip hop, it’s something. Something big.

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RESPONSES (34)
  1. nziki says:

    this article makes no sense and goes nowhere (it’s a diary entry) – and yo admitting you got into hip hop through the fugees (that late in the day) is like telling your friends you just heard this amazing band called the beatles…oh yeah and people who advise people to ‘think out of the box’ (a phrase only good for ad execs and real estate moguls) aren’t fucking helping!

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  2. Felix Ntentet says:

    Dear Mahala,

    I have a nice story of how my brother and I discovered the joys of punk rock when we first heard that song by Green Day called Working Class Hero. I still have it in my MP3 player. I also have a lot to say about local “punk” bands who rely on their parents to finance their guitars. Will you publish it? Pretty please?

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  3. Roger Young says:

    Felix, send it in – email is at top of page.

    nziki – who’d you get into hip hop through? I bet someone else got into it before you either way, so yeah you’re also a bit late in the day. That kind of posturing is what the story is all about. Check your Head.

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  4. Mary says:

    Man, this piece is so disappointing. I was hoping for an analysis of hiphop in SA, (way overdue as an article) and from the title I was expecting to be able to have massive beef with the the idea that the majority of heads are old and irrelevant (they’re just a visible minority). Hiphop is happening at grassroots among young people, but if you only look at the tv and go to gigs in urban centres, why are you surprised that you only see established artists?

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  5. Dr Puffy Centsless says:

    Roger – i think Felix was taking the piss

    On the whole hip hop seems all about the posturing and the materialistic. Throw in a bit of preening misogyny, add 2 parts absolute and blatant piracy and you get the latest single.
    Now we have guys lifting melodies from the guys who lifted melodies in the 90s. And this all on reality TV!

    The new breed is what’s killing it, parasites gnawing away at the legends of old. One can hardly take any of this decade’s hiphop seriously, let alone the last few years.

    *i know a few of my old mates, all changed their names to something suitably ironic (irnk?), then speak in awkward and forced rhyme to anyone who would care to listen, then go off the deep end and lay around empty flats in Bryanston, smoking weed and wondering why the speakers are all fucked (because you can’t turn them loud enough when you’re stoned).

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  6. Roger Young says:

    Dr PC

    I was hoping he’d write the whole thing ironically. With references to what he’s doing.

    I think the problem with “Hip Hop” is that it has such a non hip hop confrontational bullshit stance right now, no substance, no humour. But that’s just me.

    Mary.

    So do you or don’t you have a beef?

    Where is it happening? Tell me, I wanna check it out.

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  7. djf says:

    Are there new-breed equivalents for the likes of Public Enemy and El-P? If anyone has recommendations along these lines please speak up ‘cos I’ve been bored with what Hip Hop has had to offer in the last couple of years.

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  8. Mary says:

    Roger – I am not a head – let me make that disclaimer right now – but I know for a fact that if you look hard in Cape Town and Joburg you can find Park Jams. Where the performers are young, fiery, full of passion (and not always good, I admit). Driemanskap are young, excellent performers: I don’t know if they’re still so offensively homophobic in their live performances, but these guys have skills, don’t pull their punches, and are not copying an image of deified commercial 90’s hiphop.

    I wonder about the author of the article – should anyone be writing about hiphop if they haven’t been to any parkjams and don’t know they exist? Because if you’re only in touch with the commercial hiphop in the clubs and on radio, then you’re only in touch with commercial hiphop, in which case, please write us an article about commercial hiphop and why it sucks or doesn’t suck.

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  9. Doctor L. says:

    Mr. Editor this article had great potential – clearly the lady can write and she has something to say.

    Though personally, speaking as a “head” who still “lives with his moms” I would have found it wildly entertaining if it was an attack on me and my knowledgable, but (charmingly) bummy friends. You know, in a self-deprecating, self-reflexive kind of way. But it’s clear that she loves us, wants to hug us, wants to be us etc.

    Which brings me to my point. There is only one piece missing that could have made her tribute to my brethren more, shall we say, “cohesive”. In the first paragraph she is “obviously” employing the technique where the writer acts as a ventriloquist, speaking from an opposing viewpoit in order to introduce the lede which, in this case, would be her perspective. It’s a good way to go, but the problem here is that this opposing view is not mocked. Which is very important! She must mock the voice of her puppet, satirize it, she must use irony, make it sound petulant and misinformed. This will distance her from it and make it easier for the reader to know “where she is coming from”.

    I am not one to tell a journalist how to write, but I think this would have allowed my fellow posters to understand her more clearly and perhaps be less angry.

    Addendum:

    My mixtape is coming out soon. Niggas ain’t ready.

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  10. d$ says:

    as haters come cynical, fans fade and foam finical, while I stay attached to the lyrical like umbilical.
    dilly goat wrote this rough to reach pinnacle
    of pristine ing mean that’s so frean and clesh
    I speak mixed up English to accomplish bics up
    clear head’s ears of rhymers mucking up
    like a dog in and out of Mucky Pups
    your luck runs out
    walking tall but insides self doubt
    are you pouting or sniveling?
    as I keep diction dribbling
    conversing with civilians with cracked craniums
    filling millions of pavilions and stadiums
    who’s blaming them?
    I’m not because I got what you want, what you need
    and if you ask me nicely then I rhyme with lots of speed
    and if you pass the dutchy then I’ll take a hit of weed
    stick a pair of Lilets in your ears and make them bleed

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  11. Doctor L. says:

    @d$

    Dope!

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  12. Felix da Combo says:

    Dr L wrote ‘It’s a good way to go, but the problem here is that this opposing view is not mocked. Which is very important! She must mock the voice of her puppet, satirize it, she must use irony, make it sound petulant and misinformed. This will distance her from it and make it easier for the reader to know “where she is coming from”. ‘

    Further proof that society is at the arse-end of postmodernism. No wonder so little seems fresh and inspiring these days.

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  13. Nathan Zeno says:

    Dr L’s comment is interesting because he says “She must” a lot. I thought hip hop was about freedom of expression.

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  14. Doctor L. says:

    @Felix da Combo

    Could you please elaborate? I’m at a loss as to how you could have reached that conclusion from my third paragraph.

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  15. Carol Reed says:

    Dr L’s use of @Felix da Combo is further proof that society is at the arse-end of postmodernism.

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  16. Doctor L. says:

    @Carol Reed

    Could you please elaborate? I’m at a loss as to how you could have reached that conclusion from my use of “@Felix da Combo”.

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  17. Carol Reed says:

    oh sorry, didn’t you get my use of irony, I was trying to sound petulant and misinformed.

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  18. Doctor L. says:

    @Carol Reed

    I see. Thank you for elaborating.

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  19. Felix The Orchestra says:

    Well spotted Herr Zeno – pomo tools employed within a kneejerk imperative? But then again, what do I know?

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  20. Nathan Zeno says:

    Felix, please elaborate on your statement “What do I know?” I fail to see how you could have reached that conclusion from my sentence.

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  21. Felix Gone Solo says:

    Jeez, I’m rapidly loosing track of who’s being ironic over here…

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  22. Nathan Zeno says:

    And here, hip hop heads, endth the lesson.

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  23. Doctor L. says:

    @All/Anyone

    I don’t “get” the Felix tag in the comments, but it seems interesting and funny. What does Felix da Combo have in common with Felix Gone Solo and how do they relate to Felix The Orchestra and Felix Ntentet?

    Anyway, I’m still at a loss as to why my comments are being called “further proof that society is at the arse-end of postmodernism”? I don’t even know what “postmodernism” means. It seems like a meaningless word, or an abstraction I can only “get” if I have spent 3 or more years in University or read people like McLuhan and/or Derrida and/or Baudrillard, or if I feel that ” so little seems fresh and inspiring these days”.

    “what do I know?”

    Is it clear to everyone that I was addressing the editor with my opinion on how the article (not Hip Hop) could have been improved structurely?

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  24. Nathan Zeno says:

    Yes, it is clear. Crystal clear, my friend.

    1: Felix might be making a commentary. Only he really knows that.

    2: I learnt postmodernism in grade 11 art class. so no uni necessary. wiki it.

    3: The fact that you feel the article could have been improved structurally by suggesting that she take one viewpoint and condemn the other through “sarcasm” indicates that you are uncomfortable with duality.

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  25. Francois Le Skag says:

    That Felix fucker was getting tedious and deserved to die.

    Pomo has becomed as ingrained as capitalism in our everyday behavior, to the point that many people perpetuate its aesthetics and uphold its rituals without much knowledge of its true purpose and machinations, no?

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  26. gracejones says:

    god this site sucks

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  27. Nthabi says:

    That intro was dope… thought we were really onto something there – and then it kinda gets lost in praise worship… which was unexpected. but don’t hate on Mahala. We love you guys. But ja, would love to read a story on the death of hip hop – because it’s shriveling up and dying under our noses with all this gangster hollywood influence and misinformed commercialsim. Most of the cats defending hip hop so vociferously are just lazy ass bitches living at home with their moms – like tala says! But ja, sister needed to argue this thing better.

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  28. Nthabi says:

    And Dr L. Nathan etc. you guys need to go and get some air, play some hackey sack in a park somewhere – shee-it what are you guys even talking about???

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  29. julius says:

    These comments are typical of the arrogant superior-minded white colonial. A black person writes a good honest story about music that is part of their culture and all you do is crtisize and bring silly Eurosentric fancy theory to talk about something made by black people who are sick and tired of the white mans obsession to analyse everything instead of speaking from the heart like a natural person. You have to mess with everything that is not your own always don’t you? The hip hop is not a white mans thing but he still wants to talk about it all the time and sometimes try to make it very badly while the black man does not try to make the stupid hevy mettal noise which make us laugh while you stay at home and watch that Seinfeld TV show.

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  30. anonymous says:

    The article is weak. I am actually beginning to think that Mahala is putting these poorly written articles to get a rise from the Nathans of this world.

    to djf: there are no Public Enemy and El-P equivalents, that is the most condescending question you could ask someone, who are the Bob Dylan equivalents today? hip hop serves those it serves. It goes through great creative and boundary breaking phases as a movement but there are times when it is stagnate and stale on a large scale but that does not mean the beautiful mind blowing stuff does not exist. You guys will soon realise that because you simply comment on the culture you will forever be watching and not participating. Hip Hop is not dead, it is in rock, pop, indie, electro and most genres that will diss it. Not cuz it is a copy cat artform but because it is alive and cant help but be alive.

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  31. djf says:

    Hey Anonymous, you need to put your money where your mouth is before you accuse me of being condescending. I gave the examples of PE and El-P as some sort of clue as to the kind of Hip Hop that has moved me in the past. That certainly doesn’t mean that I’m looking for cookie-cutter equivalents today – those two outfits impressed me precisely because they did their own thing and bucked against prevailaing convention and peer-pressure (of which I suspect there is a lot in the hip hop world today). So if it’s not dead, WHO exactly is keeping hip hop alive?? The culture does not speak through your opinion, but through examples of the artform. I’m waiting…..

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  32. Rip van Winkle says:

    “…All right stop, Collaborate and listen
    Ice is back with my brand new invention
    Something grabs a hold of me tightly
    Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly
    Will it ever stop? Yo — I don’t know
    Turn off the lights and I’ll glow
    To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal
    Light up a stage and wax a chump like a candle
    Dance, go rush the speaker that booms
    I’m killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom
    deadly, when I play a dope melody
    Anything less than the best is a felony
    Love it or leave it, You better gain way
    You better hit bull’s eye, The kid don’t play
    If there was a problem, Yo, I’ll solve it
    Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it…”

    ha ha ha

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  33. token says:

    wow this is the mount of attention you get for writing a bad article? why didnt you tell us earlier, some of us been trying to be famous since the first breath

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  34. Daara-J says:

    Never dooooo….what they do, what they do, what they dooo…… Is the tune that was playing as I read this entire page. I’m an avid observer of the hip hop genre and its trends and my 5 cents input is that maybe the article needed further research and editing, judging by the way the content was butchered by the commentary. Maybe next time the writer will be well prepared for the merciless hip hop fans. Criticism is a good place to get inspiration from.

    Signing out…

    Daara

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