By Edward Tsumele
Probably the country’s most talented underground rapper, Yugen Blakrok is rocking the European capitals right now where she and her producer Kanif are based. Yet back home, the duo are not as celebrated as they are overseas. And there are no prizes for guessing here why that is so. .We are a country whose population loves bling that blinds us from seeing excellence in our midst until someone far away spots it.
That is what is happening right now with the unfolding international careers of talented beat maestro Kanif and sharp cutting lyricist and hip hop rapper Yugen Blakrock. The duo of producer and rapper are conquering Europe and more lands right now, and not long ago, they were here with us, and as usual, we did not see them. As usual, were blinded by hip hop bling, and not the real deal that the duo posses. But Europe saw them and has embraced them.
Let us take a few steps backwards. No doubt the hip hop scene has taken off big time in recent years in South Africa, but unfortunately remains narrow, stubbornly refusing to cast its gaze wider- beyond those popularized as the icons of the genre locally by mainstream media and major recording companies’ PR machinery.
In that sense, it is no surprise, but tragic though that one of the country’s most talented recent exports to Europe hardly gets even a mention on mainstream media, and yet she is steadily conquering the world. Big recording majors put their money where they mouth is, and therefore, painting an imperfect picture of the amount of musical talent in the country as their marketing and PR machinery only concentrates on the artists that are signed to them, and not independent artists like Yugen Blakrok. Not to mention hard working and independent minded beat producers like Kanif and others.
A classic example of this sin of omission by the powers that be, is when recently a website for Hip Hop ranked and identified the top hip hop cats in the country, and ranked those at the Top 5 as Saudi for the number 1 position, with a Spotify listenership of 1 146 689, followed by Nasty C (574 052),then incorrectly placed Capser Nyovest at number 3, (174 430) instead of Blakrock, who has a higher Spotify listenership (337 043). AKA has a Spotify listenership of 124 481 placed at number 4, and Kwesta placed at number 5 with 76 607 Spotify monthly listenership. A top Spotify performer Yugen Blakrok is missing, her rightful Number 3 spot occupied by someone else with glaring much less Spotify listenership figures.
Yugen Blakrock is No. 3.
The fact of the matter is Blakrok, with a Spotify monthly listenership of 337 043, is Number 3 on the local hip hop scene, and she has the distinction of being the only female South African artist to be in the Top 5 of the local hip hop charts. It may be a genuine mistake on the part of Hip Hop Hub, but the fact remains that the only female hip hop rapper currently representing South Africa in top European music league has been mysteriously erased from the local top league, the competitive hip hop scene. The rapper has come of age since the release of her debut album in 2013’ titled Return of the Astro Goth. Never heard of it? Do not worry as you are not the only one because local mainstream radio and TV stations have gone on long leave. I am sure someone people in Berlin and Paris are enjoying that album right now.
“For some unknown reason they left our Yugen Blakrok (the only female) who has over 337, 00 – much higher than their No. 3 Casper Nyovest who has 174,000. So rightly Yugen is in the Top 3. We have been wondering why the SA Press just continues to ignore Yugen – over and over.
She is held in high esteem by some big name musicians elsewhere and in the US (and recently she was commissioned to do 1 track for the soundtrack of big a Musical opening at the Folies Begere in Paris recently, and yet SA ignores her as if she didn’t exist,” one of the closest followers of Blakrock’s career complained to CITYLIFE/ARTS.
The point of the matter is Yugen Blakrok is probably right now facing the same ignorance as that recently displayed to Master KG by a music industry whose approach to who it embraces is often narrow, uninformed and plainly tragic, and clearly out of touch with public taste.
The same music industry recently found itself in a huge hole that it could not extricate itself out of, when the South African Music Awards ignored talented producer Master KG of Jerusalma fame, only for him and his song to be embraced by the whole world. Jerusalama reached 150 million people on YouTube, and championing a new Jerusalema dance craze that is currently sweeping clean the dance floors of the world.
There is even Jerusalema dance competitions that continue to be organised organically by the public. It is difficult to understand the rationale of excluding the song in the Sama 2020 nominations. In fact it is an embarrassing episode in the history of these music awards that will haunt the Samas for many years to come. The global success of Jerusalema despite the Sama snub is akin to pissing in the face of the Sama organisers who now have to work hard to restore credibility of the awards.
The Jerusalema sama debacle is unfortunately probably the same situation with Yugen Blackrock, who is bound to put South African musical talent on the global stage, and South Africa will probably again be caught wanting, reduced to playing a catch up game with the rest of the world in appreciating her talent.
On Wednesday night, the artist and her producer rockedNantes in France , where they had a gig. CITYLIFE/ARTS yesterday had to wait for sometime for this interview until the duo reached home in Marseille, where they are based as they were on a train back home, coming from the gig.
As far as Yugen Blackrok is concerned, this general ignorance about her talent that has been growing in Johannesburg’s underground hip hop scene for years now, before she relocated to Europe, is though somehow explainable. Her brand of hip hop, is not the exhibitionist type that the big recording companies tend to promote extensively. However by now, she should be celebrated. Europe is already doing so.
The fact that South Africa is currently not celebrating her talent is simply mind boggling. Here is a female black rapper from Queenstown, Eastern Cape, who has teamed up with a person the hip hop scene regards as the most consistent and talented when it comes to creating hip beats, especially of the old school variety, Kanif, and yet not much is said about her music and her steady global rise to the top.
Yugen Blackrok was even noticed by the producers of the Afro futuristic Hollywood movie Black Panther, who featured her in their sound track, alongside top American artist and West Coast representative Vince Staples in a song titled Opps, and yet South Africa is yet to notice and embrace her talent, and the potential she has to take South African hip hop to a global platform and audience, something the rapper is currently doing. The Black Panther soundtrack was curated by Kendrick Lamar. Unlike other commercially driven rappers on the local hip hop scene, Blakrok’s music though is highly spiritual, taping deeply from the fields astrology and other mysteries of the world that is beyond ordinary current human knowledge and understanding.
Bringing in Kanif’s beats, that strictly speaking, reference old school hip hop music of the 1990s, such as that by Public Enemy, bringing out an outstanding, deeply spiritual atmospheric sound that adds depth and sophistication to Blakrock’s brand of hip hop. The latest album from the artist, Anima Mysterium, released in 2019, is the epitome of that beat.