There is a Xhosa saying that goes like "Inyathi ibuzwa kwabaphambili" (Wisdom is learnt from the elders). On the heels of a memoir that boasts untold street stories among other things, I sat down with the elder, one of the Pioneers of SA Hip Hop, DPlanet aka Dumisani (As I,Madira, Call him). He is not your ordinary "Mlungu".
Dumisani, greetings "Boeteri"!!!
What's up Madira, salute!
Some may only know you as the founder and CEO of Pioneer Unit Records, but before we dwell on that can you please tell our Kasi Music Konas, who is Dplanet.
I love music. I'm a music producer originally from London, UK. I've been living in Cape Town since 1996. I run Pioneer Unit records. I'm a member of Pure Solid and DOOKOOM. I rep K.A.K. I'm a Gooner (Arsenal fan). I'm a proud father.
So born as Damian Stephens in England, how did you end up in South Africa?
I had an opportunity to come to South Africa in 1995. I was attracted by the fact that the country had just been through intense political turmoil. There was a feeling that anything could be achieved. It felt like the Wild West compared to Europe. There was an intense energy that I had never experienced before. I found it very compelling.
In 1991 you and Simon Atkinson were signed to cult Dutch techno label DJAX UP BEATS, and released the EP "Theme from the Underground" and your music was played regularly on Hobbs' 'Experimental' show. That means you are coming from an old school era right?
Haha. Yeah, you could say that. I actually first got into hip hop in 1981. My name (Dplanet) is partly an homage to 'Planet Rock' by Afrika Bambaataa. I always liked the 'electro' sound of hip hop back then. It opened my ears to other forms of electronic music like the techno music from Detroit , which was actually another form of Black urban music. We were lucky enough to sign a deal with DJAX Records in 1991. Being played on Mary-Anne Hobbs' show on BBC radio came later (in around 2009), she was a big fan of Ben Sharpa.
Back in those days Hip Hop was not the way it is today, of course time changes and so is life. Please share with us what got you into Hip Hop and who was your inspiration back in those days?
When hip hop hit the UK way back in the early 80s it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. It was a tidal wave of culture shock. It was beyond simply being rebellious, it was a coherent culture that just blew my mind, the music, the dancing, the graffiti, the DJing and the knowledge of self. It's hard to describe what it felt like coming across this and to quote a friend of mine, "it was like discovering a whole new world".
Other than Afrika Bambaataa, my early inspiration came from a mixtape someone brought back from New York on cassette by DJ Cheese (I think). I'm not even sure who was on that tape. There was no Google back then to check! Later I got into KRS1 and Public Enemy (both of whom I was lucky enough to see when they first came to the UK).
While doing my homework, it did come up that you also had love for DJing, tell me about that.
I started DJing when I was 16. I was never that technically gifted in terms of cutting and scratching, I just loved playing the music. I started out playing hip hop and then in around 1988 I started playing techno, mainly Detroit techno or anything else that was influenced by that more minimalist sound.
This interview is about you but forwarding life to 2005 Driemanskap took part in the Baobab Festival where they opened for the legendary New York hip hop crew Dead Prez. People say language is a barrier of communication yet music is a universal language, how did you link with Drie'?
Like with most of my introduction to Cape Town hip hop, I'm pretty sure KONFAB put me on to them. I remember seeing them perform at a hall in Langa, it must have been almost 10 years ago now. The energy they created was insane. It was like they were in their own world. Even though I couldn't understand what they were saying, I could hear their technical expertise and like I said, the energy was universal. I remember thinking that they were rough diamonds who were destined for greatness.
Forwarding years to 2009, Drie' dropped "Igqabhukil'inyongo" in May, a few months later "Camagu" vid was done and Mzantsi was shaken. Did that strategy work for you guys?
Yeah, to some extent. Camagu was directed by Greenhaus who were young and hungry students at the time. They did an amazing job. That video is still very underrated as far as I'm concerned. It should be on 300,000 Youtube by now at least! People slept on it for a long time. It was the video for S'phum'eGugs that really put Drie on the map. That video was directed by Anton Visser, a very experienced director. He perfectly captured the energy of that track, which is a banger by Planet Earth. That video got played on Live and that's when Mzantsi really started waking up to Drie.
Enough about Driemanskap back to you Dee, Pure Solid. Who is Pure Solid and what does Pure Solid do?
Pure Solid is myself and spo0ky. It's a live audio-visual concept. Me on beats, her on visuals. Musically, there are influences of dub, grime, trap and all kinds of 'bass' music. I like to make sure we rep SA by using various emcees and singers. We regularly collaborate with Crosby and Redondo (Driemanskap), for example. We're about to drop an EP through Jarring Effects in France that features both those artists.
Spooky's videos are regularly shown on MTV Base, Channel O and SABC1. Her work has also been featured at the Design Indaba Expo. Recently she was chosen as a featured ‘revolutionary’ in Nike’s IAM1 campaign. How did that come about?
Yeah, spo0ky is an amazing talent. She was approached through the ad agency that was doing campaign. It was some well-deserved recognition for the work she does. They also featured Rattex. Shout out to Nike!
I've got great respect for you two, I've seen the way you guys work as a team and you're such an inspiration to me for real.
Thanks my man, appreciate that! Teamwork makes the dream work!
You describe your musical style as ‘soundsytem music’, ‘robot army music’ or ‘dark’, who is your target audience and is there a market for it in South Africa?
I never think in terms of target market. We just want to connect with anyone who feels what we're doing. I'm passionate about making sure anything we make is relevant to South Africa. Like I said, we feature a lot of SA artists. But visually, we also want to represent life in South Africa. Dance music is often stripped of any political context so we try to incorporate 'message' without being overly direct. A lot of the music I make is quite dark and angry. Sometimes as a direct response to situations like Marikana, for example. Spo0ky even incorporates footage of the massacre into some of our shows. We're not trying to be shocking, it's just to remind people that aluta continua.
You are part of Dookoom too. Tell me how did that come about? And who is part of it?
Isaac Mutant was literally the first emcee I heard when I got to South Africa although I never met him. Last year, a friend of mine, Roger Young, was writing a piece on Mutant for Rolling Stone. He was basically telling Isaac's story. The story looked like it was going to end up being a typical tale of talent in Cape Town going to waste. Mutant was just bored with hip hop and wanted something different. Roger put me and Mutant together and we discussed a vision for the way forward. I gave him some beats that I thought might work just before I went on tour. When I got back Mutant went into hyperdrive and we ended up recording 30 tracks. DOOKOOM was born. DOOKOOM is Isaac Mutant (vocals), Human Waste (production), spo0ky (visuals) and Roach (cuts).
Jy is Human Waste what's up with that nick D hahahaah. Isaac Mutant is legend-e no doubt about it but when I listen to his style of music I associate it with Die Antwoord is there a link or influence?
Haha! Human Waste because I'm the shit! The name came around because of the service delivery protests where fed up kasi residents took human waste to go and throw at Helen Zille - something we can all relate to, I think.
Isaac Mutant was featured on Die Antwoord's first album, $O$. They hung out a lot together while making the album and Mutant toured with them after it was released. Mutant was inspired by Ninja's showmanship and his dedication to concept and performance. The rest is all Mutant.
"Kak Stirvy" is currently sitting on #2 on Headwarmaz Show (Bush Radio 89.5) and its been on the top ten for over 2 months. That track is sick and I love its video. You guys recently shot a vid for "Dirty" and "LarneyJouPo*s" what is your mission about the "Dookoom" project? Is there a point to prove?
Thanks. Shout out to Ari Kruger from Sketchbook Studios for Kak Stirvy. He always comes through for us. He also shot Izulu Lelam and Ivamna for Driemanskap. The mission for DOOKOOM is simple, we are here to F**K S**T UP! We are the middle finger permy in your play list. It's about getting emotion and anger back into hip hop. Mutant says that rappers have become the biggest pussies, all so scared of not being liked or offending people. Anger is a powerful motivating factor. It has a bad reputation because it's seen as 'negative', but life isn't a bed of roses! Sometimes you need anger to wake people up and change things. Our shows are intense. You're going to feel something. It might be anger, fear, revulsion, hate or excitement. One thing it will never be is boring. You'll feel good afterwards though. Or maybe you'll kill yourself.
Have you ever doubted yourself or career decisions?
I'm a tortured artist. I can't sleep at night doubting myself. I tried doing 'sensible' work and I've never been more unhappy in my life. Sometimes you just have to accept what you are and make it work.
I Almost forgot South African Hip Hop Awards 2013, you were nominated against Akio Kawahito, Lava Magwaca, Mawande “Manez” Sobethwa and Rozzano Davids in the King of Western Cape category and you took it, where were you and how did you feel when you received the news that you came tops?
I think I was on tour in France when I heard. I'm very grateful for the honour.
Some take an award as a bonus whereas some take it as recognition, for you to have won it as King of Western Cape how does it make you feel?
It hasn't changed me much, except now people have to kneel down when they talk to me. And no eye contact. Haha! Jokes. I feel good. It's always nice to be recognised for your work.
Is South Africa so superficial that the best lyrical artists are surpassed and outsold by generic mainstream artists?
Haha! That's a big question. I'd rather turn that around on the best lyrical artists and ask what they are doing about being surpassed by supposedly weaker artists? If what you're doing isn't working, try something else! And I don't mean dumb down your lyrics.
Some say Hip Hop in South Africa was born in Cape Town. Do you agree? If so is there still a chance of claiming it back as everything is now in Jozi.
Cape Town is definitely the spiritual home of hip hop in SA. But we have to be careful not to live in the past. We must always respect the history and the pioneers of Cape Town hip hop, but we can't rest on our laurels. We need to earn back that top spot. We have the talent and the skills but maybe we're lacking the vision and the confidence to make it happen. There are exceptions of course. Driemanskap are going to be huge. Die Antwoord are already huge. Jack Parow is killing it.
When we, Cape Town, are hosting big events like the yearly "Festival of Lights" and many others. Example the recent CHAN Tournament that we had here in South Africa, we hardly see our own Cape Town artists on the line ups instead we see artists from elsewhere booked to perform here. Is there anyone to blame for this?
We have to be realistic. When people do events, they don't think, 'let's help out a local artist'. No. They think, 'who will attract the most people to the event'. Let's stop blaming and start making ourselves impossible to ignore!
You've toured the world, what was the best tour of them all?
It's so hard to say. I love touring. I love traveling. I love performing live. They have all been great, but the last tour with Cape Town Effects was a massive amount of fun. Spending time on tour with KONFAB, Jaak, El Nino, Redondo, Tebz, spo0ky and the French crew was an amazing experience that I will never forget.
You have a few nicknames, of which I find rather funny. Do you mind sharing with us and their meanings?
Haha! Outside of Dplanet and Human Waste, I go by Sukwini, Don Hate, Mnqundu, Didiza and Rangoane Letaoa. I think they are all pretty self-explainatory! Rangoane Letaoa means 'drunken uncle' (shout out KONFAB).
Nas claimed "hip hop is dead" and I personally say whoever say that is the one with the killing weapon, what is your opinion?
Like Chuck D said, don't believe the hype! There's so much great hip hop being made around the world. You just need to dig deeper.
You posted this on your Facebook "Cape Town needs to wake up. Too many rappers look outside themselves for the reason they are not successful. Stop blaming radio. Stop blaming fans for not 'getting you'. Stop blaming 'the industry'. Stop blaming 'the media'. It's a lot easier to make excuses than it is to do the work necessary to succeed, but your excuses aren't going to put food on the table. Life isn't fair - get over it." What is your advice to upcoming artists who still have dreams of making it in this industry.
Music is a tough industry. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. Have a vision and be FEARLESS! You're going to need a team to believe in you. Even if it's just your friends at first. Develop your networking skills and remember that business is about MUTUAL BENEFIT, don't be going with your hand out begging for help. Get a proper press kit together, I put a post on my FB timeline detailing what a proper press kit should look like.
At Pioneer Unit Records you work with some of the best producers in the world but you’re always on the look out for new beats. How does one get their beats to you?
The best way is to approach the artists you want to work with and play them your beats. Don't be scared, artists are always on the look out for hot beats. You can also check out the 'contact us' section of PioneerUnit.com for full instruction on submitting beats.
I also believe that as a talent discover you get a lot of requests from musicians who want to know how to go about getting a deal with Pioneer Unit. Although you’re not actively looking to sign new artists, I believe you’re always keeping an ear out for exceptional talent. How can upcoming artists get their music to Pioneer Unit?
To be really honest, we're just not able to take on any new artists at the moement unless they are truly exceptional. If you really believe you are truly exceptional, you can also check out the 'contact us' section of PioneerUnit.com for full instruction on submitting demos.
Before I let you go, please share with us what to expect from Pioneer Unit fam and where to go to get fully updated.
We've got Driemanskap's album, Hlala Nam, coming out soon. It's epic, trust me. These guys are going to fulfill their amazing potential with this album. Also coming out this year, 'Galant' by Jaak and 'The Transition' by Ben Sharpa. Both also amazing projects. We might even manage to get KONFAB's album out this year too.
You can follow PioneerUnit on Twitter (@PioneerUnit), Facebook 'pioneerunit' and www.pioneerunit.com
It has been a pleasure chatting with you. Kasi Music Kona wishes you all the best in everything that you are doing. We do need people like you in this Industry.
Likewise! Big up Kasi Music Kona.