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Scrambles4Money, SA's Independent Hip-Hop Battle Circuit

We highlight South African independent hip-hop battle circuit Scrambles4Money


Scrambles4Money is back having just had the final round of 'Foreign Exchange' with Illite Emcee (JHB) facing Cerebro (Durban) for the title of South Africa’s representative at King of the Dot the biggest battle rap platform in the world, taking place in Canada. Okayafrica had a chat with Gin Grimes, who discussed the ins-and-outs of battle rap, revealing that it's not only a telling medium of expression, sport, skill and a movement, but also heavily-laced with social commentary pertaining to each city’s youth. The 'Forex Finals' went down in Johannesburg at Greyscale Studios on June 9, bringing names both old and new, including Slyme, Pava Gunz and Anti-Bullsh*t. At the end of a long day’s battles, Grimes and reigning wordsmith Illite will join the ranks and represent in August’s King of the Dot 4.

Okayafrica: So give us the works, who’s behind Scrambles, from the founders to the judges, to sponsors, and the recording crew?

Gin Grimes: First off what’s up to everyone reading this. I’m the founder of the league, I run the whole organization and get all the battles set up. We are currently sponsored by Red Bull, Flexfit and iapetus productions. Our judges depend on the night and who's available, but I think we have a good panel now that make good decisions on the most part. Our film crew consists of Tumi Moroka from iapetus, Nic Hester and Rob Wilson.

OKA: What has it taken to bring the concept together? Tell us a bit about your past with battle rap.

GG: It’s taken countless sleepless nights, a lot of hustling, some screaming and just basic understanding of what needed to happen. The world is starting to watch and I felt it was time to capitalize on it. [Battling's] always been a huge part of the culture since day one, and I just want to push that as far I can. It’s a sport now; it’s evolved into a competitive level of intelligent as well as comedic writing tied in with performing and selling your lines to the audience.

OKA: Tell us a bit about the process behind the draft leagues. How do the MCs get partnered and what do the judges look for in a competitor?

GG: Draft league is for up-and-0comers, for the younger guys and for emcees that just want to have fun battling. It's our development league where we try and get the next main eventers to come up. The guys are taking it really seriously. They get paired up according to style, wins, losses etc.. some are grudge matches between 2 emcees who might not see eye to eye. It's all development. The judges go off performance, consistency and of course punchlines.

OKA: What were the day’s events like?

GG: It was a crazy day. The battles were good all 'round with some crazy highlights. The bar was downstairs in the parking lot with the Red Bull Sound System playing the beats, and the battles were upstairs in the Grayscale Gallery & Graffiti Store. A great highlight battle was Slyme vs Inferno. The Slyme vs Inferno battle was so entertaining because they both tore each other to shreds on the stereotypes attached to their races, but it's all in good spirit. It’s a place to put out your voice, to express your feelings and opinions and be creative with it. We plan to take this as far as we can.

OKA: Who did you have your money on to take the title beforehand? Since this was their second battle together, did their material step up as expected?

GG: I was fine taking either one of them with me, so my money was not on either. I learnt during this tournament that anything can happen on the night. Cerebro had been the strongest throughout the journey but had showed some flaws, and Illite was the one that has consistently improved. I feel whoever says they going to win something usually doesn’t. You’ll see that in the promo! [below] Illite's second round was a smasher. Right now its just preparing for our opponents out there and being as polished as possible going forward.

Foreign Exchange Promo

OKA: For those of us who haven’t kept up, tell us a bit about King of the Dot and how you organised this with Organik.

GG: My friend Troy at KOTD has been pushing us really hard. KOTD is the biggest battle league in the world at the moment and most people would give an organ to be there to perform and compete, so for us it’s a huge achievement already. I set up the tournament last year after knowing I was going to be battling in World Domination 4. I knew we had what it took to be on that stage so I approached the KOTD guys about it and they were keen on the idea.

OKA: What can you tell us about the local battle rap culture in South Africa? Did you ever think Scrambles would become such a telling platform for the state of the society we’re coming up in; when it comes to what people have on their minds about race, the cities MCs are from, gender and class, let alone just a battleground between MCs?

GG: The culture is deep. It’s a sea of talent brewing up under a plethora of bullshit commercial pop music and fashion. It’s as real as it gets and SA is one of the livest places in the world to visit if you want that real hip hop. It’s real because it's as honest and as harsh a reality as one can get. You won’t win a battle rapping about jewels and rides you don’t have. You’ll get smashed out here. The battle culture has always been in existence, we’re just unifying it and trying to get it to spread as far as we can over the continent, so it was just a matter of mobilizing the heads to step up and prove we’ve got it. It’s a perfect platform to joke on race, society, politics and even religion. Anything goes and I think most of our MCs understand the boundaries they can and cannot push. We make light of what people are too scared to — this is battle rap, its not meant to be nice.

King of the Dot goes down on August 23rd, with Illite and Cerebro’s battle video available on the 17th of this month. Head on over the Scrambles4Money for the draft battle release dates and more.

Music
Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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