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Mr Devious

Make Way, Hier Kom Mr Devious Verby

by Rob Cockcroft / 23.09.2011

You don’t have to be into hip hop to know that great rappers die young. You know the old Biggie and Tupac tropes. Rapper has larger-than-life charisma and unquestionable skills. Rapper gets killed tragically at the hands of violent attacker(s). Rapper’s body of work and legacy lives on decades after their accomplished albeit short life.

Today we pay tribute to slain hip hop activist, Mario van Rooy aka Mr Devious, who would have turned 34 last Friday. A conscious emcee from Beacon Valley, Mitchell’s Plain. I’m wary of using the label “conscious”. Nowadays “conscious” rap is that ubiquitous banner many emcees try stand under. Give a rapper some Swazi section and an Eckhart Tolle or David Icke book and soon they’ll be spouting some hyper-paranoid esoteric kak in the name of elevated consciousness. These cats want to school you on transcending to unknown realms and shape-shifting politicians who possess reptilian tails – if only you would open your minds, man. Problem is these abstractions can only be made in fantasies or at the end of a very long blunt.

Devious’ sphere, however, was not supernatural hocus-pocus, but the very tangible issues that people in his community, and the Cape Flats at large, face on a daily basis. Through being actively involved in his craft he, in his own words: “started getting aware and passionately angered by the system”. A political and economic framework designed to keep the poor and uneducated fucked on drugs and alcohol and confined to segregated ghettos.

The documentary entitled Mr Devious: My life is one of my most prized Mzansi rap keepsakes. This posthumously released DVD tells the story of the ghetto spokesman and icon comprehensively.

To dodge explaining something my middle-class white ass knows very little about, let me just say that it’s not hard to understand that growing up in one of the Cape Flats’ roughest hoods places you in a difficult predicament. You’re pretty much fucked from the get go, easily sucked into the quagmire of gangsterism and drugs which lie just beyond your front gate. Where for many, the only legit choice is to become a factory worker and the only default – join the gang.

Determined to find a way out through hip hop, Devious took on all the forces pitted against him armed with his unforgettable high-pitched voice and razor-sharp mind for constructing meticulous, high-energy rhymes. His venomous bars, or “insidious” as he liked to call them, were born out of sheer anger and frustration, of which he had no shortage. Unlike most underground rappers who instinctively hate and shoot bile all over the industry before ever recording a track, Mr Devious had had his taste. In ‘98 he signed to Ghetto Ruff, leaving his family for six months to record an album in Jozi. In the doccie his wife, Natalie Van Rooy, explains how he returned physically and mentally fucked, sunk into despair as he found out the album’s distribution would be canned.

Mr Devious

Feeling dejected by the failed deal and pressure from the news that his wife was soon to bear them a child, the 25 year-old plunged into lower depths of despondency. He would soon be running with his old clique, carrying guns and swallowed up by the evils of street life.

It was at this stage that filmmaker, John Fredericks, came across Devious which would mark a big change for them both. Inspired by the young man’s brazen voice and influence he had on people, Fredericks invited Devious to record for the soundtrack to gangsterism films Shooting Bokkie and Tomorrow’s Heroes. This got him back into the recording booth with his crew, Untouchable Fellows, as well as working with the likes of Godessa and African Dope.

With a rejuvenated supply of energy and direction Devious got a job at CRED (Creative Education for Youth at Risk) and put his gift to good use teaching convicts and awaiting-trial prisoners at Pollsmoor prison and doing youth guidance counselling in Heideveld.

In January 2004, Devious’ life came to an end at the age of 27 with a knife to the neck when he tried to rescue his father from stick-up kids on the corner of the street where he lived. He dedicated his life to being a role model, mentoring youth who faced the same obstacles he had overcome with persistence and determination. The documentary also covers his family life; from being a husband and father of three (two girls and a boy he hadn’t had the chance to meet), to inspiring his younger sister, also a musician, Blaq Pearl.

*To hear a tribute track by Isaac Mutant, Garlic Brown, Terror Mc and D-Mus go here.

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  1. oy vey says:

    Really interesting article – sad story, but its a story told – great read

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  2. Dplanet says:

    Great article and fitting tribute to a SA hip hop legend. RIP.

    My small gripe is that it would be nice to have a dedication without the need to put other artists down. What’s wrong with artists who “want to school you on transcending to unknown realms and shape-shifting politicians who possess reptilian tails”? Weren’t you bigging up Garlic Brown the other day? Ben Sharpa also gets a bit esoteric sometimes but you put yourself on thin ice if you start question either artists’ credentials as ‘conscious’ emcees.

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  3. rob c says:

    point taken. i definitely wasn’t referring to L.O.S members or Ben Sharpa. That statement was a bit too harsh and generalised now that I think of it. what I was trying to point out was some of the younger crews i’ve been checking who kinda jump on board and use these phrases in a way that puts others down as being part of the ‘ignorant masses’. I definitely think it should come from the right place and not be on some judgemental vibe

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  4. Don Dada says:

    Mr.Devious – Homeboy was intense! Respect!

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  5. Andy says:

    Yo Dplanet… it’s all about how they do it. A lot of cats are dropping patronising rhymes about how others should live. Show don’t preach

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  6. Dplanet says:

    @Andy – like who?

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  7. Andy says:

    maybe it’s a phase – a necessary step towards relevant hip hop…

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  8. Dplanet says:

    … and what is ‘relevant hip hop’?

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  9. Andy says:

    DP itching for a fight this Friday, huh?

    Let’s step back from naming and shaming emcees guilty of producing less than authentic shit under the “conscious” banner… and just bring it back to Devious’ example. Write what you know, inspire with your experiences – don’t try to school everyone that they’re being hoodwinked by free masons

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  10. Dplanet says:

    I’m not itching for a fight. I’m just trying to understand why you’re being so proscriptive when it comes to ‘conscious’ rappers’ subject matter. Why do you feel the need to make the distinction between the work of Mr Devious and this unnamed mass of patronising, supposedly inauthentic, Icke-inspired rappers?

    Garlic Brown talks about reptiles in his raps. Ben Sharpa talks about conspiracy theories. Does that undermine their credibility as ‘conscious’, ‘relevant’ hip hop artists?

    My point is that artists should be free to talk about anything they want. Jimmy Hendrix didn’t exactly ‘keep it real’ did he?

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  11. einstein adonis says:

    word. esoteric generic shouldn’t keep us from the agenda.

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  12. Andy says:

    point taken… look I just think there’s a lot of fake, pretentious shit out there and Devious was the real deal.

    I don’t connect with David Icke or stories about lizards and aliens – that shit doesn’t resonate with me – and I’ve heard a lot of young rappers drop rhymes like that and I just always think these kids are trying too hard to appear like they know some secret and they’ve come to spread the word with hip hop – but it’s just some kak they got from watching Zeitgeist on youtube. when the real shit is happening all around us. For me it’s a trope, a facade, a bit like those R&B gangsta mofos in the states singing about “the club”. It’s not relevant or real to me. Feels like cats are trying too hard to be the Jesus of hip hop and cribbing their notes from Credo Mutwa.

    I’d have to listen to the Garlic and Sharpa rhymes to tell you how I feel about them.

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  13. rob c says:

    True einstein adonis!

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  14. Khangelani aka Jahkid says:

    as i seat in the chair far away from home in the european continent , am afforded the chance to seat on the internet limitless (time wise) i hard to do research about music industry of my home land … this motivated by the documentary i has been working for the past 9 years with my harddrive full with footage taking for more than five years in capeflats with friends and fellow artists in cape town and in the past three years i have been shooting in europe seasonally talking to south african artists practising art in foreign lands … we talk about the industry at home .. how it can be changed , how it can be improved … how it can be made beneficiary to artists … and i do film the brothers and sisters if i come across south african live here in europe … while doing my research tonite i thought it would have been a blessing to talk to Mr Devious about the south african music industry today … how will i ever do this as he is as true as the truth come and go … would have loved to let Mr Devious to speak with me and my footage shared with youths in million years to come … Warrior ..south african music statesman if …may his music live for ever Amandla … i write to say i am touch

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