/ 19 October 2012

Slikour on keeping it unreal

Mouthing off: Slikour is still riling the nation with his shots from the lip.
Mouthing off: Slikour is still riling the nation with his shots from the lip.

The expression “keep it real” is not only an open-ended expression to which anyone can attach their own meaning, it is also a crucial, almost sacred tenet of the religion and commerce of hip-hop culture — and by that I mean the entire global urban youth culture.

It is also a mantra that 31-year-old Siyabonga Metane, known as ­Slikour, lives by. To him it implies many things. Take his refusal to apologise or “put too much politics” in it, as he puts it, over his notorious Blackz Are Fools song and the national rage that ensued.

The rage, mostly beaming from angry, bitch-slapping letters to editors, on radio chat shows and in Google la-la land, erupted specifically about the wording of the title rather than any lyrical content he penned. It has been six months since he became famous for being infamous. He is everywhere: television shows, videos, magazines and even advising corporations on how to tap into black township youth and urban markets.

We are negotiating peak-hour traffic in the leafy Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, on our way to Rosebank in Slikour’s black Toyota SUV, which resembles a mini spaceship. We are talking about what “keeping it real” means to him and especially about the fallout of an unspoken black or African pact he is thought to have violated. So who is Slikour, the controversial loudmouth?

It started as a kid, he tells me, and hip-hop is to blame for how his life has panned out. “I was always the do-it-yourself kid on the block. I got introduced to rap and hip-hop culture through MC Hammer. Man, his Can’t Touch This single sent a chill down my spine. Laugh all you want, but I was only 10, bro.”

At about 15 he teamed up with a childhood friend, Lebogang Mothibe, aka Shugasmakx, who would become his fellow band member in Skwatta Kamp and remain his “brother for life”.

They started taking loans from family to build a makeshift studio at his parents’ place in Leondale, the then East Rand’s integrated suburb for the new black middle class. And that’s how the early 2000s’ political and chart barnstormers Skwatta Kamp, the band who dared to take on Thabo Mbeki on youth unemployment, were formed.

At 20 he was a co-owner of Buttabing Entertainment, one of the earliest hip-hop indie labels owned by blacks. When he was 26 he established the music and pop culture marketing agency Ventilation. Since then, he’s been funnelling all his dreams of taking on the world through his agency.

Slikour is the super marketer, accidental taxi mogul (he owns a few taxis, a business he inherited from his father and now runs with his mother) and former guest host on Jam Alley, the popular youth show on SABC1. He is the sort of brother who could talk his way out of ­Alcatraz in broad daylight.

It’s easy to perceive him as suffering from what Australian cricket fans refers to as a classic “figjam” case: Fuck I’m good, just ask me.

But Slikour belongs to the figjam generation. They just don’t give a damn what you think of them.

Sometimes you wish that he possessed some diplomatic skills through which to filter his rather awkward utterances. Although, if he possessed such skills, he wouldn’t be “real”. After all, he is a rapper, a profession in which you need not to give a damn about what the world thinks of you.

Keeping it real is what has made him the most talked about — and you can make a case for — the “most reviled” performance artist of the year for the controversial pop juggernaut that was Blackz Are Fools, a song that originally appeared as a bonus track on his Ventilation Vol. 3 album in 2010.

Precisely because of its title, the single took on a life of its own. It got such heated reaction a year after it was released that, two years later, Slikour has shot a Blackz Are Fools video. His City Press rant titled “Why Blackz Are Fools” was aimed at diffusing some of the heat, but only fuelled it.

“Black leadership needs to be redefined,” he wrote, going for the jugular. “Our faith as blacks is based on the fact that the God we believe in lives somewhere in the sky. But what many do not realise is that God lives within us.”

Black theology 101. He would soon rain acid on anyone coming up his path. Readers threw the proverbial tear-gas canister back at him.

In a quick-witted riposte, titled “What a Foolish Thing to Do, Slikour”, Eastern Cape-based clinical psychologist Mthetho Tshemese took him on, marshalling the American heavyweight race theorist Dr Frances Cress Welsing. “Slikour, we have to stop thinking that rhyme and rhetoric will solve problems. You are just like Helen Zille who called us refugees and Gareth Cliff who called [Jacob] Zuma’s children bastards. Like Cliff, I imagine you will be rewarded for a job well done and be invited to lunch by some unthinking, foolish politician or official.”

Slikour retaliated by releasing the video for the song. Shot in period black-and-white, it starred Slikour as a teacher inspiring pupils to step up and take control of their destinies, do well by their communities, eschew idle life and the culture of expectancy and be their own gods.

It was a thought-provoking piece of work, building on Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, Carter G Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro and needle-sharp black consciousness lessons Steve Biko might have engaged the youth with. Darn thing soon went viral.

But why tag such a potentially political mind-fuck with a title that reduces black folks to bumblefuckers? Given a chance, could he have made an attempt to alter it?

“Why should I? Look, although I have not read Biko, I believe he had the same aim as I am pushing here: get black folks off their bums and own their stories, create their own enterprises, become major players in the direction of their lives. I believe we were born kings but, because we’ve been taught that we were merely naked hunters running around carrying spears, we act like fools. I have problem with that.”

That’s not the only problem he has with black folks. He feels that black leaders “in general” have disowned him.

So is the “realest” mouth in pop misunderstood? Does he just need a hug? “I mean, dude, I have met a lot of influential black leaders, captains of industry, people who make decisions in all walks of life. None of them has pulled me aside and said: ‘Look here, this is the way.’ ”

His eyes are now red and puffy. “In fact, they shoot me down. That’s what we blacks are good at. Shooting each other down.”

Slikour also uses life examples to light a torch on seemingly unrelated subjects. His examples include the Durban kwaito movement, sometimes known as “Durban Finest”, led by the prolific DJ Tira. Their brand of music is infectious, a “dance like it is end of the world” vibe that connects strongly with the black masses. ­Slikour pounces on that sort of music and its high priest to make a comparison with Julius Malema.

“Look at Malema. Malema’s leadership is exactly the DJ Tira kind of leadership. The common man in the streets connects to that kind of leadership in a powerful, almost visceral manner. The reaction to such leadership, like the reaction to DJ Tira, says: ‘He is one of us; he feels our pain; he knows what kind of success we yearn for and we love him for that.’ That’s almost like the fast-food culture we live in. Nobody wants to process anything.

“Too bad,” he jabs the air to make a point. “They — our people — need to know this country is not only run by street leadership. We need a combination of the common man’s touch and the aspirational wannabes who speak in English, make the world go round and are educated in ways that will show the common man the dangers of easy-won bling.”

But if you thought blacks are the only recipients of Slikour’s whip, well, wait a second.

“I love my people. But African folks need to wake the eff up. Look at the Indians and Jews. These people don’t worship a flag. They don’t care a toot or a hoot about a flag. They only care for their people’s advancement. They will never rip each other off. Instead, they’d rather rip you off.”

He’s on fire. “The biggest trick played on black folks, of course, is the lie that they are the only race that has ever been oppressed. And they believe that. Well, that’s bull!”

As I walk away into the late-morning breeze, I watch him negotiate his huge-ass black Toyota SUV built like a scud missile out of the parking lot. I let out a huge laugh that comes from nowhere in particular. Is it a sense of relief? I don’t know.

One thing I do know: Slikour’s mad-cap theories are neither as dumb nor as blood-boiling as they are from a distance.