Peace Y’all. My pen name is Soshall Weka. I write about Hip Hop culture and its place in Africa. I speak about all aspects of Hip-Hop and demonstrate how it is relevant in the African context. You could say I represent the ‘gate-keepers’ of the urban culture and Africanness. This blog is also meant to stimulate the kinda dialogue that will influence the narrative of African Hip Hop and propel our youth forward.
It’s an exchange of energies between wordsmiths and results in a bond of the members of the cypher as well as an elevation of skills as each emcee has a duty to kindle, rejuvenate and uphold the vibration of the cypher.
Oral tradition is the author of civilization and social organisation. It makes sense that language and communication are key to the advancement of any culture. The cypher is an emcees ritual that harnesses the power of words, locked in a rhythm where concepts and thoughts are shared while craftsmen sharpen their oratory skills. It’s an exchange of energies between wordsmiths and results in a bond of the members of the cypher as well as an elevation of skills as each emcee has a duty to kindle, rejuvenate and uphold the vibration of the cypher. Cyphers are a symbol of the tradition of sitting around fires telling stories. A symbol of the dare/kgotla/village council where the cultural leaders meet and deliberate on the social and environmental issues. My mission is to find a collective that understands the principles and the practices of the cypher and when I find that cypher I find the ones with the responsibility to preserve the art of emceeing. The gatekeepers guide the narrative of the culture and the vessel that inspires this narrative is the circle, the cypher. The cypher, in my opinion, is at the centre of a Hip Hop tribe. A cypher gathers the tribesmen and tasks them with defining their craft and developing their discipline. It is also a place to tap into the creativity of other minds for inspiration. A good cypher session will have you going back to the pen with a fresh idea and a new standard. The best cypher will bring that fresh idea and new standard out of you spontaneously as if you have been possessed by some kinda god-emcee you didn’t know you harboured within you.
Now, let’s create the sacred space for our ultimate cypher, space where the magic manifests and heightens the energy of oral/aural exchange. The ego has to go first. It has gotten in the way of many a cypher, causing disorder and disharmony. On the vain quest of being the top cat, the ego makes one forget to work as a contributor to the ritual. The ego will also keep you from being sharp with your craft when it shakes your own confidence. When the ego tries to come with wit it conveys cockiness. When it tries knowledge it delivers corny. When the ego is just trying to keep from being sub-par it causes the nervous rapper to blabber and choke. (The best place to deal with the ego is a battle. A rap battle is based on breaking another’s ego as well as finding ways to rebuttal when the ego takes a bruising). Check for yourself- what usually kills a cypher prematurely is usually a loud zealot with something to prove or a timid puppy with something to protect. So if you are bent on ‘murking’ emcees in a cypher you are defeating the purpose. You are supposed to set up the energy of the circle and pick up from the next cat. That being said, a cypher needs to keep the random wackness away, to begin with. At least the ultimate cypher does. Before you say ‘ah but that is so elitist’ let me be clear that it is necessary for the gatekeepers to keep the circle tight- for its own sake. Each to his own is the principle here. I am talking about the sacred ground where the ritual observes a degree of standards. This is how you let the other rappers be and how you maintain a level of lyrical elevation. What makes a good cypher for you? If you had the whole African diaspora at your disposal who would you have in your cypher?
Gatekeeper to Gatekeeper- we need our own cyphers and conversations about the preservation of our culture as Africans; as hip hop Africans.
The Miseducation of Hip Hop
Hip Hop’s influence on the African youth needs to be viewed with fair judgement. The worst hip hop conversation to ever eavesdrop on is the one between someone who misrepresents it and someone who misunderstands it. The first guy is bound to “act as if” he is hip hop, hopping from disposable trend to disposable trend, if not stagnating in the one trend he took a liking to. The next guy might see this and mistake it for Hip Hop and then paint everybody claiming to be hip hop with the same brush. Then there is you. The gatekeeper. The one that really gets Hip Hop– let me rephrase that– the one that really is Hip Hop…. Imagine the first guy explaining hip hop to the next guy like “What do you mean ‘why does hip hop swear so much?’ It’s because we just don’t give a fuck about anything, nahmean? We just about bitches and hoes”. You would understand if the next guy responds by saying “well then hip hop is unAfrican and uncultured” (as if there is such a thing as uncultured…but that’s another story). You can’t expect either of them to get Hip Hop. You could try and school ‘em on the ‘principles of true Hip Hop that have been forsaken’ (shout out the Roots) but both cats will present evidence against your case and in a democracy you are outnumbered and that means you are wrong and they are both right in calling you wrong. Back away, I say. Don’t be the moderator for Misrepresentation and Misunderstanding. Your job is to practice. Your job is to live Hip Hop according to your understanding. Game recognize game, they say. You already know who you are going to tell about your encounter with the first guy (Misrepresentation) and the next guy (Misunderstanding). That is the person you have the talk about Hip Hop with. The other gatekeepers, the vanguards, the true heads, the ‘culturalists’, the word nerds who make up words like ‘culturalists’.
Change the Story
Gatekeeper to Gatekeeper- we need our own cyphers and conversations about the preservation of our culture as Africans; as hip hop Africans. If we spend our own time getting offended by the bullshit that the mainstream is putting out there we are just likely to get intoxicated like the ones that buy into it. Never do what they do (shout out the Roots) But we are the alternative and it’s on us to tell the story from an alternative angle and before we approach hip hop from the angle of trying to erase the misrepresentation and misunderstanding let’s get back to looking at how we represent and understand it ourselves. That is the only thing we need to bring to the table- Ourselves. Lets focus on representing and understanding ourselves and engage with our circle and when the first guy and the next guy get to eavesdrop on our conversations maybe, just maybe they will relate. That will be their story to tell…… Let’s touch base. What is African Hip Hop to you/us and what role do you/we play? Discuss.