I was going through my twitter timeline and I stumbled across some tweets about the Skwatta 10 year anniversary gig. “It’s been 10 years already!” I exclaimed (I actually did). That doesn’t only mean we are getting old but it’s a milestone for hip hop in SA – an epochal album like “Mkhukhu Funkshen” is now a decade old. The album was one of the first hip hop albums to pop off commercially – we hear it sold over 40,000 copies (a number that has, up until today, only been beaten by Pitch Black Afro’s Styling Gel).
Umoya! The Semitone-produced banger provided a musical enclave for all seven MCs (Nemza, Shugasmakx, Bozza, Slikour, Nish, Infa and Flabba) to comfortably co-exist and go on a lyrical binge. Vocalist, Relo, (until today, I’m still not sure if she is a member of Skwatta or just “the girl who sang hooks for Skwatta Kamp”) gave the tune some flavour and radio-friendliness. Taken off their 2003 major label debut, Mkhukhu Funkshen (which was their third effort after Skwatta Kampaign and Khut en Joyn), the single was ubiquitous in early 2004– it was on high rotation on radio and on full blast on every taxi filled with school-going teenagers. Doing form-three (grade 10) at that time, just like most of my peers, I had the tune on one of my CD-R’s and blasted it (among other tunes of course) on my way to and from school on my CD walkman.
I’ve never been a singles-type of listener. I’ve always wanted to get an insight of what an artist was really about through listening to albums. Intrigued by the grandeur that was “Umoya”, I made an effort to get the whole album. But too bad, it wasn’t stocked by any music shop (if I may) in Swaziland. I was left with no choice but to obtain it illegally (yeah, right) from a classmate who earned some bucks burning CDs for R15 for us. I bought my copy in 2009 in Cape Town after moving here.
The songs on the album revolved around similar themes – obstinate misogyny, shameless egocentrism, indulgent promiscuity and overall, hedonism. A prime example would be “Kings” (one of my favourites on the album) where they each rap from a king’s perspective. Bozza rhymes, “I’m not a minute man so they better come into twos/ yeah, lady I’m talking ‘bout concubines/ one round one girl, 10 concubines a night…” or something. The hit single, “Umoya” was itself a perfect example of the aforementioned themes. The album wasn’t however apolitical even though the “conscious” cuts were a bit corny and cliché. A few narrative songs, delivered in a somewhat barbaric yet humourous manner, attempted to create vignettes about life in the township. The fusion of Tsotsi taal and English on the lyrics, which to a teenage me who had never been outside of Swaziland, was reminiscent of township-based SABC drama series such as the ever-popular Yizo Yizo.
I have always believed that the album was a classic – after Hype magazine declared it one. Do I still believe it’s a classic? Not too sure. I still know it is a gem though and surely one of the most important SA hip hop albums. I still feel it was unfairly hated on by heads as they viewed it as Skwatta “selling out”. Why? It was a drastic departure from their “raw” authentic hip hop sound to a more accessible dance-floor-ready one. This is of course nothing new in hip hop. Most artists “commercialise” their music by dumping their lyrics down and switching up their sound when they sign to majors. This doesn’t usually go down well with heads who are obsessed with rappers rapping about rapping and how well they can construct punchlines.
Production on the album was mostly handled by Semitone but Nemza, Bozza, Infa and Bheki (whoever he is) each lent a hand on a few joints. The Semitone production obviously stood out – they produced the best tracks on the album; the smash hit “Umoya” itself, “Kings”, the tongue-in-cheek interlude “Tap Dat Ass”, the Lira-assisted “Eskhaleni” and the hustlers’ anthem, “Building Castles” just to mention a few. Overall, it was well-produced album and also considering the era it came out in.
It’s 2013 and the crew is still “together” (as there hasn’t been an official statement released about them disbanding even though Infa’s “Brothers” single hinted some tension among the crew) though they haven’t worked on a Skwatta album since 2009’s Fair and Skwear. They went on to release two more albums after Mkhukhu Funkshen: 2004’s Washumkhukhu, 2006’s Bak On Kampus and 2009’s Fair and Skwear. Most of the members later foraged into solo careers (which is, again, nothing new in hip hop). Slikour, one of the most successful members of the crew released three albums – the three-piece Ventilation Mixtape series. Nemza had a fairly successful solo career which involved unsuccessful flirtations with Pop after the “kasi” approach somewhat failed to propel him to super-stardom. He released two albums: 2006’s Showtime and 2009’s Back To The Future. Flabba released the obnoxious SAMA-award-winning Nkuli vs Flabba in 2006. Bozza released After Tears in 2007 and shocked heads when he branched into the house music scene. I stumbled onto Infa’s Quotes on a peer-to-peer file sharing platform on campus a few years back. I read somewhere that that was an album recorded in 2002 and was due for release in 2003 but that never happened. How it landed in our hands, I wish I knew. In 2008, he released Schabzin Van Klipzin mixtape. Shugasmakx released Numba 1 in 2008 and The Shuga Factory in 2011. Relo carried on being a hook specialist and sang hooks for the likes of Pro(Kid), Slikour and later branched into house. What Nish has been up to, not many of us have an idea.
Word is the crew is working on another album. I can’t say I’m looking forward to that especially after not being impressed with their last two efforts. But hey, that’s just me. Maybe a reasonable number of us may not be such great fans of the music Skwatta has been dishing out recently (or even earlier) which is highly plausible but we have to agree that the group did open doors for SA hip hop and proved that it had a place in the SA’s mainstream music scene. A lot has happened since Mkhuhkhu Funkshen was released 10 years ago – some of it good and some of it bad – but that’s a story for another day. I shall end here.
Sabelo on twitter: @SabzaPassword