Practice and Pressure: The Reptilezby Rob Scher / 28.03.2013
It’s been a busy year for the Reptilez. Since being crowned last year’s Beat Battle champions, the Jozi-based hip hop crew haven’t stopped. Touring the country, linking up with international hip hop crews in Brazil, opening a gig for Kanye West and developing their own clothing label, it’s a wonder they’ve even had time to breathe, let alone prepare for the upcoming Beat Battle finals! With all eyes on the champs, the Reptilez are dealing with a fair amount of pressure. Which is why crew leader Sparks only had time for a quick phone chat somewhere in between a campus activation, Battle practice and a radio interview. Just to check in and see how things are holding up at Camp Reptilez leading up to the big showdown at Walter Sisulu Square on the 1st of June 2013!
“As defending champs what are you guys bringing to the finals this year?” I shout down the crackling phoneline.
“We have to bring something different from last year, especially considering the fact that most of the judging panel hasn’t changed.” Says Sparks matter-of-factly. “As defenders of the crown, everyone’s going to be looking at us to see what changes we bring, what we’ve improved on and what new styles we’ve got. Don’t worry, we’ve been practicing hard and we feel confident. It’s been tough though. Balancing practice with the other stuff we’ve been involved in. Sometimes performing takes away from our chance to practice. The crews this year are also hectic, so we’ve got to bring it!”
“Since winning the Beat Battle last year, give us a quick run down of what the Reptilez have been up to?” I shout.
“Performing, a lot.” Sparks shouts back. “Besides the tour and working with Red Bull, we’ve been working with an activation company doing a lot of road shows. We’re also working on our business strategy of turning Reptilez into more of a ‘brand’.”
“How Did winning last year massively change things for the crew?” I ask.
“It’s helped a lot. Before winning Beat Battle we had previously won competitions, but with Red Bull it’s been different. It’s a powerful brand, and through their assistance with PR and touring the country, we’ve been getting a lot more exposure. It’s opened up a lot of doors for Reptilez as a brand.”
“Apart from winning last year, what’s been a career highlight for the group?”
It’s hard for me to even think of just one highlight. Every year has been a step up. Then again, we have been performing as an opening act for some high profile artists, like Drake. It was a big highlight to share the stage and see him perform. We also worked with George Avakian, the beatboxer and producer. We got a chance to open for Usher. Although he’s primarily a singer, we were more interested in him as a dancer – he moves so effortlessly. He was a real motivator. And then, of course, Mr Kanye West!” He says with more than a hint of pride in the achievement.
“How was the Beat Battle trip to Brazil in December?” I ask.
“Ah Brazil was great!” Shouts Sparks. “We got a chance to see the Jabbawockeez live on stage, meet them and had a freestyle session with them. They were really cool people.”
“Did they teach you any new moves?” I laugh.
“Nah, they learnt a few things from us. They didn’t expect us, as South African dancers, to do what they can do. They were shocked when we started krumping and popping. They were like, ‘Oh, you do that to?!’ We showed them what we can do.”
“So how do you respond to the criticism that as a hip hop crew you’re essentially not bringing anything authentically local to the table?” I ask, taking it there.
“I think we do bring something local, considering the fact that we do dance to South African music. We have our own unique Reptilez approach.”
“How then are you interpreting your dance form for a South African audience?”
“Well, the truth is American music is more popular and easier to dance to. But it’s tricky. If we select a ‘hype track’ we have to come up with something totally beyond the track itself, which is difficult. But when the crowd goes crazy for the music and for you’re dancing it’s like one big orgasm! The next time they listen to that track they’ll say, ‘eish, mara remember the Reptilez!’ It’s about the combination – entertaining the crowd and giving them what they want.”
“How has the Beat Battle changed the dance scene in South Africa?”
“It’s already growing the scene. Not just opening doors for performers, but letting people from ‘outside’ see what we as South African dancers can do. It’s also helping a lot of youth to pursue dance as a career, with opportunities to live off your dancing. It’s becoming more achievable. This to me is one of the most important doors that a competition like Beat Battle has started opening.”
“How do you feel about the other crews you’re up against? Especially the all female crews?!”
“Ja, they’re all very strong no? In terms of the female crews, it’s good to see they’re bringing more than just their looks to the table. They’re bringing original style, they didn’t get to the top eight because they’re girls. They’re bringing skills, their own styles and flavour. It’s a good thing. Our only concern to keep our eyes on the prize. They mustn’t be like Medusa! We’re going to be strong and focused.”
“So what do you think of your chances then?” I ask deadpan.
“We’ve been incredibly privileged to have the opportunities we’ve received in the last year. So even if we don’t win this year, as long as we go down fighting and people say, ‘Reptilez still have it down!’ That’s what’s important for us. But right now, it’s time to practice.”
And just like that Sparks has to bolt, the crew is ready for another gruelling two hour studio session, just to make sure that the pressure of defending the crown, is mitigated by the practice they put in!