We interviewed South African born rapper Yugen Blakrok a little while ago regarding her new bit of fire Carbon Form. The track evidently showcases someone who takes this whole business of bars with some serious intent. In fact, when we first heard the track here at #itchysilk a couple of the elder writers felt Yugen Blakrok's flow and the track was reminiscent of that stupendous cut Nature Of The Threat (1996) by yesteryear (so to speak) emcee Ras Kass.
“I think people need to focus on the skill of the emcee. It's about representing a whole new idea in terms of looking at emcees irrespective of gender.
Carbon Form flies in the face of those rather irritating mumble rappers making money hand over fist for a brand of rap which is mediocre. Yugen Blakrok defies such crass lyrical utterings. She prefers to take her lyrical pick axe and delve into our cerebellums.
But that type of lyrically conscious modus operandi is noticeable by its rarity. Yugen Blakrok however steps into the affray pushing consciousness with a slick verbosity. She is a product of that ‘golden era' of hip-hop. She readily pops out names like “mop” and “Busta Rhymes” as “inspirations” to her lyrical game.
“We had hip-hop coming to South Africa in the 90's and that is when I started noticing it like at that timewhen you had Onyx, MOP and Wu-Tang and all that crazy shit that I got into. There was something about it. It was so out there. It wasn't pop which was great. The rappers were able to convey so much in such a short space of time. That got me into rap in a big way.”
Raised in the “small town” of Queenstown (Eastern Cape, South Africa) it was the culture of hip-hop (then) with all its focus on being revolutionary which hooked her and started her journey as arapper.
“man, I don't know. There's this great militant energy about it [hip-hop].” She adds “Cats could rap about completely different things but there was still a community vision, a common perspective and it was that type of thing that got to me. Looking for the dopest shit because you know it's not just going to land on your lap-and that is part of the culture, part of the joy of hip-hop.”
As this “small town” girl looking for hip-hop in South Africa the allure of the vibrant hip-hop fuelled Johannesburg was always going to be a destination.
“I moved up to Joburg about ten years ago. That was all part of me wanting to grow as an artist. We had a very small scene at home. To build experience and a following in a way I moved around towns like; Grahams town,Port Elizabeth, East london and these places would also put me onto dope shit. So, by the time I moved to Joburg I had confidence as a small town girl trying to come up and do something. It was tough, and it really takes something to be that girl who grabs the mic out of a guy's hand and then has the confidence to spit bars. I came here to see how far I could take things”.
And since she began that journey (circa 2003) Yugen Blakrok has been pushing her name slowly above the parapet feature on the sound track for the movie black panther (2018) testament to her consistency. Despite this success however Yugen Blakrok is without management.
There's this great militant energy about it [hip-hop]
“No, I don't really have management-it is more of a group effort I've been self-managed since I started and for many years, it was just Kanif and I handling everything in and out of the studio through our indie label Iapetus Records in sa. Forthis new album, we've linked up with a dope French indie label, IOT Records. So, the team has definitely expanded, and we're excited to start this new journey with like-minded folks who are as passionate as we are. Of course, not having management can make things that much slower and make it more frustrating and intense, but you do learn a lot.”
She adds with lashings of pragmatism and resoluteness, “I mean this is hip-hop with that whole DIY mentality. I mean we are not coming from a generation of waiting for labels to sign us or managers to step and see what is happening. In the current climate folks are waiting for you to make it yourself in a way before getting involved. It's that Jay Z damn mentality ‘I am not a business man, I'm a business, man'. The game is to move outside their comfort zone and handle their business shit. The lessons you learn are invaluable. You know how the game works and you know how to fend for yourself”.
This attitude of “fending” for herself glaringly important in an art so driven by masochism.
“We have heard you guys more than enough.” She adds rather wearily when we pose the obligatory question about hip-hop and the overpowering voice of masculinity and pseudo masculinity,
“We have to change the whole game. Without getting too deep into gender politics, it is always interesting to hear from the under-dog. We have been conditioned and brain-washed for centuries. We are coming from different perspectives. There is so much to un-learn. The theory is that an emcee is an emcee. In practice people cannot help but attach gender to these labels, ‘female emcee' ‘femcee'.Guys just throwing these labels around without really thinking about what is being said”.
And perhaps in the face of the overt sexualisation of female emcees by men and women who make a great deal of money for a nice show of crotch, nipple and the obligatory round ass ready for slapping, the listeners can lose track of the essence of the rap game.
“I think people need to focus on the skill of the emcee. It's about representing a whole new idea in terms of looking at emcees irrespective of gender. This might allow people to move away from this whole over-sexualised, in your face portrayal of emcees that just happen to be female.To be honest those attitudes really irk me!”
And for Yugen Blakrok she walks her talk and by all accounts she seems to have no time for the hip-hop bullshit. With her latest single a“taster” for her forth-coming album, it's clear she only has time for intelligent lyrical constructions.
“You will see many levels, to this thing called humans. It's a track that gets elemental. I still love that part of the game; dropping the metaphors, similes, double meanings.”
The track evidently leaves you suitably intrigued for a full body of work. To that end in 2019 she will drop her album Anima Mysterium. It's been a while in truth since her last album, so this new album was to be expected.
With this fresh album Yugen Blakrok takes us down a worm hole where gender and Karl Jung inspired thoughts reside. Ultimately, Yugen Blakrok seems to be urging us to open and free our minds from the shackles of ‘normality'. It's a telling rapping discourse which thankfully highlights that true rappers with the essence of that hip-hop energy remain alive and verbally well.
“The album has a whole range of influences. This album is alot harder than my album Return Of TheAstro (2013). With this album we go deeper into this world. Into this mysterium, into the shadow world, and Carl Jung we are taking it there. We are talking about these different shadows of ourselves. The anima being the feminine aspect of the male and the animus being the masculine aspect of the female, for us to go forward we need balance. Right now, the state of the world is that we have has lost that balance and moved away from the feminine aspect which has been shut down for a while. We are taking things way back to molecules and vibrations. It is stepping into a whole new world where your shadow self is not suppressed.”
PRE-ORDER ANIMA MYSTERIUM