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Cape Town In Your Earbuds: Ill Skillz

In the lead-up to Cape Town Electronic Music Festival 2015, Okayafrica shares an exclusive Cape Town In Your Earbuds mixtape by Ill Skillz.


Artwork by Philippus Johan

In the lead-up to this weekend's Cape Town Electronic Music Festival (Feb 6-8 at City Hall), we've launched a spin-off of our regular Africa In Your Earbuds series. All week we've been profiling five Cape Town-based artists/producers bringing their sounds to CTEMF with our exclusive Cape Town In Your Earbuds mixtapes and Q&As.

Formed in Gugulethu in 2005, Cape Town hip-hop duo Ill Skillz first crashed on Okayafrica's radar in 2010 with the release of their impressive Skillz That Pay Da Billz project, a full album that the group recorded, mixed, mastered, shot a video for and launched within 24-hours. Since then Jimmy Flexx and Uno July have been mainstays on our site for their golden-era deliveries and boom-bap productions. Speaking on the inspiration for their Cape Town In Your Earbuds tape, the group told us, "The mix purely consists of Cape Town artists and is primarily hip-hop flavoured. It further ranges between soul vibes, raw, grundy and new-age hip-hop as well as new wave elements and eclectic sounds. If you are also aware of the artists listed below, the mix displays a trajectory of the old-school cats blending with the new crop currently brewing out of the city of Cape Town, showing the progession of our sound since the likes of POC's and GroundWorx laid the foundation for over a decade ago." Listen to a Cape Town In Your Earbuds from Ill Skillz below, and catch them live at CTEMF Saturday 7 February 21:00-22:00 at the Audiotorium.

TRACKLIST:

1. Hueman (GroundWorx) - Stereotype

2. Archetypes - Blunts n Stunts

3. Petite Noir - Shadows

4. Boolz - Aphe Kapa

5. DJ Switch ft. Youngsta & Ill Skillz - Stiek Uit

6. Ill Skillz - Underground Jazz Cats

7. Camo ft. Sakhile Moleshe - Gimme More

8. Maloon & Nonku Phiri (Malonku) - Answer

9. Gugx Gang - Dedicated

10. 5th Floor - Kreation

11. Ill Skillz & Camo - Hip Hop Jones

12. Prophets Of Da City - Heita Daar!

What's your favorite Cape Town sound?

Jimmy Flexx from Ill Skillz: ​The Afrikaans Hip hop, the new street culture kwaito rap and also the electronic beat movement in the city. Not to forget the jazz revival. You really just have to dig for the ill stuff. Seeing it is such a small city, something iller could be achieved through collaboration. A Mix Masala.

What's your favorite Cape Town venue?

​JF: The Waiting Room, we started the Ill Vibe Odyssey last year with some friends and have been hosting FXCK YOUR DAY JOB parties there. Another good spot is Fiction, both are on Long Street. But for something completely different like you've never experienced before, Corner Lounge and GQ Lounge in Gugulethu are the spots... House, Gqom, South African Hip hop hits, Kwaito koze kuse! There's so much going on every weekend, also can't miss the Head Honcho Clothing parties, it's crazy.

Which Cape Town-based producers/artists/DJs have most inspired you?

JF: Planet Earth inspired us a lot. We worked very close with him early on. More recently we've found J-oNE is producing some of the best beats we've heard. Groundworx was one of the illest rap groups, there are also a host of DJs on the WaxOn parties hosted by Paul Mamabolo playing killer sets. It's hard to pin point with all the great stuff going on really.

What do you have planned for your CTEMF set?

​JF: We've got something for old and new fans, expect our guest Camo (Shaolin Jazz) to rock with us. We're gonna give the crowd a live rap show.

What do you have planned for 2015?

JF: Celebrating 10 years of Ill Skillz.

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A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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