#1:. Yugen Blakrok
Disciple of rap superstar groups like Wu Tang Clan and Organized Konfusion, Yugen Blakrok describes her music as alternative hip-hop, which straddles on the “darker and more lyrical” side of rap. And after hearing her 2013 album Return of the Astro-Goth, it’s easy to understand why. With its boom-bap-sounding backdrop, the Eastern Cape rapper, who is currently based in Joburg, uses her futurist lyrics to comment on social landscapes. Signed to renowned indie label Iapetus Records, Yugen was nominated for Best Freshman, Best Female Emcee and Best Lyricist at the 2014 SA Hip Hop Awards.
How would you describe the content of your rap?
The topics that I rap about are quite universal and I put a lot of time into the imagery of the raps. I’m always speaking from a human being perspective and not from a ‘I’m a female emcee’ or ‘I’m an African’ perspective. The content that I put into songs are experiences that I go through.
Isn’t it hard to separate being a woman and African from your experience?
Sure, but I’m not letting my gender define me. An emcee is an emcee. Within the hip hop culture, emceeing is based on your actual skill. I don’t use terms like female emcee or femcee, because if you want to reach out to an audience you have to be real. And that’s not something that I’d like people to focus on when it comes to me. The fact that I’m a woman does come into play at some point when listening to my music but I’m all about breaking the boundary.
I was looking at the nomination list of the awards and I noticed that it’s a very male-dominated list. What do you think of gender and hip-hop in SA?
We’ve got a long way to go. Last year I was nominated for three categories, and one was lyricist of year award, which I was the most excited about. Just getting the acknowledgment from this industry that we’re working so hard towards building, meant a lot. I did notice that I was the only woman nominated in that category, and I think that can create the illusion that women don’t have something worth saying. I was also the only female artist who performed at the awards. And when they do screen it on TV, there are certain things that they cut out [like my performance]. On a personal, I didn’t think that having one representative of the hip hop culture was true reflection of where we’re at.
So what do you think the industry should do to overcome these gender biased issues?
We’re not saying, ‘put us on the frontline because we’re women’ but when a woman is there, and she does have the skill – why make things extra difficult for her? Why make her feel like a woman, when she’s coming to you like an emcee or as an artist?