South African Rapper Uno July On His Triumphant 'Skelem' Music Video
His first solo music video for "Skelem" is a work of art and singles Uno July out as a standout name in South African hip-hop.
Uno July is half of the revivalist South African hip-hop collective Ill Skillz and, months into his solo career, the eccentric rapper is claiming to be South Africa's best kept secret. The Cape Town MC dropped his first solo EP Best Kept Secret this past May, which he describes as "an avant-garde approach... drifting towards left field from the centre," that boasts an energetic manner and desire to merge old-school hip-hop with "new age textures" in a way reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar.
Uno July's first solo music video for "Skelem" is a stylish and recognizable work of art that displays youth simply enjoying being alive in the streets. What sets this video apart is the supreme editing skills and artistic vision of Tashinga Mutakwa combined with the undeniable charisma possessed by the rapper. Alternative angles, sporadic jump-cuts, aesthetically pleasing color palettes, futuristic silhouette shots and countless eye-catching filters are carved throughout "Skelem" making you want to hit the replay button if you blinked.
Below we spoke with the South African rapper about the meaning behind "Skelem," what it was like to shoot in his hometown of Gugulethu and his plans for the future.
Okayafrica: What does "Skelem" mean? How does it relate to the video?
Uno July: "Skelem" is an Afrikaans word directly translated as a thief or a villain, often insinuated in our local slang. However in the context of the song it alludes to a popular phrase often used as a ghetto slang/phrase when someone refers to another person as "buying face." So it has more to do with lambasting weird dynamics I normally come across within our society especially around impressionable people. It so happens that I have some famous friends and whenever we hangout around functions or in public, I cannot help notice how they receive proper treatment based on their stature or position while I would get undermined. Seeing that I had an opportunity to tackle this issue and bearing in mind the impact it would cause, I used this platform to reflect and throw some childhood memories and monumental references based on our hip-hop culture and South Africa's racial disparities, also not forgetting how I call out the music industry for attempting to black-ball the existence of my beloved crew Ill Skillz.
OKA: The editing is on-point. Did you get to work with Tashinga Mutakwa in editing and directing the video or did you leave it all to him?
UJ: Thank you. I let Tashinga handle the entire production including the editing with the assistance of his producer Des Dlamini. All I had to contribute was the primary concept which they took to a whole other level. They were definitely a great team to work with and I enjoyed the intimacy throughout.
OKA: Give us a bit of background on the video. Where was it shot? What was the concept behind it?
UJ: As it is portrayed, it is performance-orientated and artistically-driven. Initially I felt like I should work around my strengths and advantages in order to convey the song the way I want to, such as my performance ability and also the distinctiveness of my image, hence you see me appearing as a silhouette performing the song throughout. I often explain how I maintain a dark image, but my music portrays colour as displayed and ever-changing within the scenes, and we managed to execute that with this particular scene. Furthermore I relied so much on the landscapes and the gritty locations around my neighbourhood in Gugulethu and some parts of the city to complement the references I've used in the song.
OKA: What can you tell us about the upcoming album? What's been the inspiration behind it? What are some of the musical influences behind it?
UJ: My forthcoming album is entitled Uno n Only and it is slated for a release around October. Essentially it follows suit to the Best Kept Secret EP title, where I aim to reveal in-depth personal stories. I come from a position of struggle as you would understand our nation's background, so as a source of healing and improving my way of life introspection is my key for overcoming my past and creating opportunities for a better living.
And I know people may wonder what to expect out of it musically, but my approach maintains a soulful sound, synth- and groove-driven. Lately I've been influenced by a lot of indie music and I enjoy the fact that it has no boundaries. I'm aiming to adopt that by creating more weird song structures and fusing various soundscapes and textures.
Check out the visuals for "Skelem" and a behind-the-scenes gallery from the music video shoot above. Look out for Uno July’s upcoming ‘Uno n Only’ full-length, due in October. For more, revisit Ill Skillz’ Cape Town In Your Earbuds mixtape.