Ill Skillz – To The Beat Y’all

I met these guys in 2008 during my first year in Cape Town. I saw them give their first performance with a live band, the Ill Skillz Playaz, at Zula Sound Bar in front of roughly fifty people. I’ve also seen them rock a 5, 000-strong crowd of university students. I wrote about them in the lead-up to their appearance at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in 2012.

While they may be the rap interpretation of hard work and dedication, sustained attention from the South African public seems to elude them. Perhaps they’re too vested in the realities which keep class lines firmly-planted in their city of birth. Or perhaps, as Uno raps in the DJ Raiko-produced “Confusion“:

Cape Town pioneers and veterans left us for Joburg/ seemingly it was for greener pastures

while Jimmy Flexx expounds on that thought with a half-spoken half-rapped:

we’re going all out/ spirit of independence/ more political talk/ less reality and/ delusions“.

Could this be why they decided to stay?

Uno @ Zula Sound Bar circa 2008
Uno @ Zula Sound Bar circa 2008

They met producer J-One just over a year ago, and have gone on to forge a powerful unit. “TTBY” is the first single off of their “Notes From The Native Yard” album. ‘It don’t stop‘ goes rapper Common’s voice, the phrase a sample from his 1994 offering “I used to love her“. Uno seems to hint that there having to be a drastic change in their fortunes. “I’m just a hustle to make my mama proud” he reflects, then continues “it’s kinda hard to please everybody/ especially if she questions if this rap shit’s gonna make me some money.” In three more bars, we learn that Uno has dropped out of university and quit a well-paying job in pursuit of his rap dreams.

From the on-set, this is a man destined to succeed regardless of the cost. Yet true greatness eludes them.

The video was shot in one of Cape Town’s oldest townships, Gugulethu (or Gugs for short), and is the perfect fit for the song’s jazzy undertones. Gugs is home to South Africa’s foremost jazz luminaries, from Ezra Ngcukana to McCoy Mrubata. As Uno said in an interview: “I grew up opposite McCoy Mrubata’s house. I used to wake up to his saxophone every single morning.”

I like this video because it portrays exactly how people live in Gugs. The kids gathering excitedly to appear on camera, the street-side shop painted in red, and the high school kids skipping class to catch a smoke – these things form part the fabric of life in Gugulethu, Cape Town, South Africa.

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