Photo by Lisana Preteni.
Interview: Ol’ Burger Beats & Vuyo’s ‘Dialogue.’ is a Jazz-Infused Conversation
'Dialogue.', the first full-length release by the Norweigan producer Ol' Burger Beats and Norweigan-South African rapper Vuyo, is characterised by jazz-infused beats and conversational, unhurried rhymes.
An album three years in the making, Dialogue. is the product of collaboration between Norweigan producer Ol' Burger Beats and Norweigan-South African rapper Vuyo. The project consists of laidback jazz-infused beats and conversational, unhurried rhymes, in line with the release's dialogue-driven concept.
Released on Germany's Jakarta Records, the album sees Vuyo sharing his experiences and observations, at times through a diasporic lens, while Ol' Burger Beats' sonics feature elements of jazz, soul, as well as touches of lo-fi and 90s' boom-bap.
Born in Zimbabwe to a father active in the anti-apartheid struggle and a mother active in the Namibian independence struggle, Vuyo grew up between South Africa, Zambia and Norway where he settled with his mother as a teenager. Through his father, he was exposed to the likes of Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela and other Afro-jazz artists. It would be hearing Jay-Z's "Momma Loves Me" from The Blueprint that would kickstart his love for hip-hop, with Vuyo relating to Jay-Z's story of being raised by a single mother.
While he started experimenting with hip-hop at home, it was a visit to Namibia where he recorded with the rapper Mark Mushiva, one-third of the hip-hop group Black Vulcanite, that would push him to pursue things further. The result was the release of his self-produced 2018 EP Home-Cooked Meals.
Ol' Burger Beats, on the other hand, is the child of music teachers. He learned the piano at the age of four. He would develop a passion for jazz through his father and later discover hip-hop through acts such as Outkast which led him to start producing beats on his computer and, later, study music technology. That was when he got to share his music with others for the first time. An avid record collector, the producer's first release was 2014's High Rhodes which led to comparisons to his heroes such as J Dilla, Madlib and Pete Rock.
Becoming a duo
Having reconnected at 2018's Vill Vill Vest Festival in Bergen, Norway after meeting at a party a year prior, the two decided to work together, resulting in their return to the festival the following year as a duo with brand new material and their signing to Jakarta. 2020 would see the duo release All Yours, an EP designed to tease the album. The EP consisted of tracks that sonically didn't fit on the album.
Read: How to Rap About Africa: Remembering When Binyavanga's Iconic Essay Was Turned Into a Scathing Rap Song By Black Vulcanite
In order to craft the relaxed, yet lively sonic atmosphere of the album, Ol' Burger Beats dug deep into his record collection, sampling from 1970s jazz records, adding his own layers and focusing on specific frequencies. "I'm interested in the things that happen in the higher frequencies. You hear all the percussion and the textures of the samples, it's all happening in the high end of the frequencies, which are the frequencies a lot of hip-hop producers neglect. They just turn them down and focus on the bass and snare. I think it has a lot to do with my jazz interest, the way I like my percussion to sound," Ol' Burger Beats explains. "It's all rooted in one sample per song. Then I play some keys, drums, and bass on top of that." While some of the album's tracks such as "Timeless" date back to 2015, others such as "Athens" were made in 2020 and signal the direction Ol' Burger Beats wants to take sonically.
Photo by Lisana Preteni.
Vuyo drew most of his inspiration for the songs on the album from his conversations with Ol' Burger Beats in what he describes as "that magical hour before you write and record." "I felt it was the two of us having conversations," he says. He further pushed this theme of conversation, bringing it into his rhyme style. "The way I wrote the raps, it's more in speaking form. It has that dialogue feeling."
His lyrics draw from his love for popular culture and reference the likes of his favourite TV show with lines like, "If I could watch Seinfeld all day I would/ Call crazy Joe Devola to put the kibosh on whoever saying that they're better than he/ Send a newsletter each month describing what we been doing overseas when it comes to the beats," on "Athens" to legendary football players and his personal connections to South African liberation with the lines, "Amandla! Awethu!/ Always been a team player like Bebeto" on "Not for Sale" and "Life around the equator, they say God is great but I met one that's greater/ The way the kickflips is an ode to my skater/ and this hi-hat has roots with my Hugh Masekelas" on "Brothers".
A dialogue led to Dialogue.
This concept of dialogue was cemented during the sequencing stage of the album and was tied together by a message that Vuyo's sister, the artist Lunga Ntila, had with their father in which he finally accepted that they are artists, something he had struggled to come to terms with. "The concept just came to us when we were halfway through putting the album together. The dialogue with Lunga and my father, that came last minute, after the album was mastered. It just fit perfectly and summed up the whole album. After I heard that, I suggested the name," recalls Vuyo.
Ol' Burger Beats & Vuyo - Schengen Visa [Official Music Video]www.youtube.com
Perhaps because of his father's political activism, Vuyo's own take on politics is layered and subtle, hidden between meanings and behind double entendres. This is evident on tracks such as "Summer of George" which juxtaposes George Floyd with Seinfeld's George Costanza and critiques "fake, commercial wokeness". "Just to be able to balance the humour and the tragedy, I really like that view on things," Vuyo says. He also shares his personal experiences such as on "Shengen Visa" where he describes the hassle of trying to make it as an immigrant, and on "Vent" which sees him doing just that on modern issues such as Instagram fixation, global warming and the lack of truth in a world saturated with fake news. "I think it's part of the duality. I think it shows all the different spheres of me as well. It can be deeply political or as basic as watching Seinfeld. I just draw inspiration from life," Vuyo says.
Of the album's songs, the most directly political is "Conflict" which openly addresses systemic racism and the immigrant experience with lines such as "the conversation we should have is about integration, not deportation", something that Vuyo generally tries to stay away from. "It's so in your face. I call it preachy at times. I like it when it's more nuanced, layered, that maybe only I can understand," says Vuyo of the song and his approach to politics in his lyrics. This subtle approach to politics is also reflected in the album's sonics, with Ol' Burger Beats having selected the samples from 1970s jazz rooted in Black liberation and freedom that can be found on releases by labels such as Strata-East Records, Black Jazz Records, Impulse! Records, Nimbus Records and Tribe Records.
Outside of long-time friend Mark Mushiva and DJ Chali, the album doesn't include any other features, which was a conscious decision. "I always tend to like the features that are authentic and organic more than just sending over a beat to someone. It was also really fun having Mark who is one of my favourite rappers do a spoken word piece. It's fun to be able to perform this album from start to finish, just me and Ol' Burger Beats, without having to fly anybody in or people being pissed off that this guy didn't show up, we can perform it as a whole body of work," Vuyo says.
Photo by Lisana Preteni.
Having previously played a small show in Johannesburg and collaborated with Spoek Mathambo on his 2020 album "Tales from the Lost Cities", Vuyo is keen to come to South Africa for a proper tour with Ol' Burger Beats and perhaps do some collaborations. "I'd love to collab more with Daev Martian, Buli, Muzi and Shane Eagle. My sister keeps showing me South African artists, and seeing them is just so insane," he says. While there are no set plans for a follow-up album, both are sure there is more to come in due time. "I was listening for samples and found two tracks that I'd really like to hear Vuyo on. So, hopefully, there's another one coming, but it's going to take some time I think," says Ol' Burger Beats.
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