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26 May

Interview: Uno July Talks Rap, Going Solo, CPT Hip Hop and More

Whaddup Township! You may know Uno July from his favourite salutation or as one part of the prolific Cape Town crew Ill Skillz. As a collective, they managed to put a noticeable mark on the South African Hip Hop scene and have performed at some of the country’s biggest events including the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, Earthdance, Back to the City and opened up for some of Hip Hops biggest stars such as Slum Village, Kendrick Lamar, DJ Premier and more.

Uno recently released his first solo project “Best Kept Secret EP” and will performing this weekend in Joburg at Koolin In The City. We sat down with him to discuss the new project and his insights into the state of Hip Hop.

After about a decade as part of ILL Skillz, you’ve finally decided to release a solo project. What prompted you to go in this direction and does this represent the end of ILL Skillz?


Just to put clarity on the future of Ill Skillz, its definitely not the end of it. Over the past year or so Jimmy and I have had a series of heartfelt convos regarding our personal directions, mainly it was about securing a better future for ourselves and protect our legacy and the credibility of the brand. We are proud of our journey and we weren’t willing to compromise with the industry for what we stand for, seeing that industry inevitably became fickle. All-in-all we’ve realised that we have built something outstanding and timeless so we owe alota respect to our legacy and our core fans.
That background story though behind the emergence of my solo solo project, since we had finished recording the Notes From The Native Yards by the end of 2013 I was left with so much creative euphoria inside me and I wanted to do so much, so eventually I picked up where we left off and started working on musical ideas and recording solo stuff aimlessly just as a matter of staying sharp. Only until I bounced out a bunch of tracks from the Protools session and played them for Jimmy, including some of my close friends, then he insisted that we put it out just to keep the lights on for the brand. So now I am here carrying the torch for Ill Skillz, but at first I was skeptic.
For a while, it seemed like ILL Skillz and Teargas were the only ones still holding down the old school crew mentality while everyone else was trying to go solo. Now in the last year, crews have become the trend. What do you think is the cause of this shift?


In fact thats true but I can only speak for myself on this matter. I’ve personally noticed and I’m sure that we’ve all seen how some solo artists leaned towards the collective set-up and forming alliances hoping to build their personal names around them, most probably it seems that could be the current trend.


As I’m answering this question now I just suddenly recalled something I personally experienced about 2 months ago when the Best Kept Secret EP dropped. I was on the phone with this one renowned industry PR chick while I was doing my research and hoping to secure her services, after I told her about my personal vision and what-not, she started referencing the whole Boyzin Bucks and Cashtime movements as the only way a rap artists can breakthrough at the moment. That seems to be the only way she understands rap just like the entire industry as well as the audience, so this might just prove my point.


Cape Town has really seemed to fall out of the national spotlight in terms of Hip Hop lately. This was really highlighted recently by Youngsta, who is probably the biggest rapper in the Western Cape right now, not being able to get his latest video “Salutas” on TV because it was too “Cape Townian”. You recently tweeted that people won’t validate you until they hear you on he radio or see you on tv. As an artist that has spent his entire career in Cape Town, can you tell us about the struggle to get recognition nationally?


Wow lol, man I’ve heard it all. Speaking from my own experience my understanding is this, the local rap industry like any other consist of ignorant gatekeepers who control whatever that can sustain their own personal taste and as a result influence the buffoons that follow who are generally the mass audience. For instance if Youngsta or Ill Skillz were given the opportunity to succeed, and enjoy high rotation on radio and TV they would inevitably influence the masses through the impactful help of the mainstream media. Which means that the artists (e.g. Youngsta or Ill Skillz) who know better will refer the relevant people into the business who can support their own taste and help grow the movement, which in turn means that those gatekeepers would lose their jobs, their social status and the luxury of feeling important around impressionable people because our agendas and musical taste differ and don’t favour their kinda lifestyle.


For as long as I remember, our local rap industry has been supporting mediocrity and lacking diversity. It was only a matter of time Ill Skillz and Driemanskap blew up since back then circa 2007-2010 because we stuck to our guns and applied ourselves the only way we knew-how as pioneers of the underground/ lyrically-driven/ anti-establishment movement, until we started witnessing the industry gravitate towards us because we were a threat and undeniably a force to be reckoned with.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the musical direction of your recent release “Best Kept Secret”?


It was so much fun. I achieved exactly what I aimed for. Aside from the joyful moments when I was given the platform to express my God-given talent each time whether it would be at shows or simply being in studio, on the contrary my life was going downhill and it led to alota depression. So the result of ‘Best Kept Secret EP’ was the case of “When life fails, The music speaks” if I may put it so. I came from a conflict-driven position and a very dark place because of the hardships we dealt with in the music business, which was moreso shown on the ‘Notes From The Native Yards’ album.


My main aim while approaching the creation of the ‘Best Kept Secret EP’ was to overcome all of that, by intentionally crafting something enjoyable, by finding a rhythm and searching for a feel of jubilee. Now if you finally listened to the EP you would initially discover that I’ve taken a slight different direction because I wasn’t tryina make another Ill Skillz album, but rather find my own sound and a voice. Alota contrast is shown between the production which I’ve designed as an avant-garde aesthetic, weird song structures, lyrical patterns and polarising voice-pitches but all the beats are groove-driven, yet the effect of the music is nuanced by dark moments of my life.


“Art Imitates Life” is straight up banging. I don’t think I’ve heard you rapping over a beat that hits harder than that since “Illskillionaire”. Who produced the track and can you explain the theme of art imitating life?


True that. The beat was produced by Mr. Carmack who I met at the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival while performing there earlier this year with Ill Skillz. The beat is one of his exceptional work he’s previously put out before.


Then the “Art Imitates Life” concept was inspired by Oscar Wildes quote as famously known, it resonated so well in terms of where I’m trying to build my own personal story from. Approaching my solo venture I had to primarily accept that I was evolving as an artist and I felt the need to reinvent myself and experiment with my art after capturing an epiphany. I had an authentic story and I also had personal beliefs which I hope to inspire and share with the world. I would like to believe that all the iconic musicians, revolutionaries and artists to ever exist with longevity have shared their stories through art and portraying their authentic experiences to be able to touch people. I am just a product and vessel following the same tradition.


ILL Skillz was very much known for their Boom Bap sound. You’ve really changed this on the EP going with a much more modern sound. Was this prompted by the producers you work with or by the type of music that you are personally listening to now? 


I always wanted to proved my versatility and my musical range, the ‘Best Kept Secret EP’ allowed me that. Working closely with J-oNE also helped shaped my ideas into place. Obviously I follow the traditional routine, all my music stems from soulful, funk and jazzy roots, but as long as its avant grade, edgy and groove-driven. And alot of new wave artists I’m currently following apply the same elements and carry those sensibilities. Artists such as Kaytranada, Sango, Mr. Carmack, Black Milk, Tyler The Creator, Petite Noir and the whole Soulection crew have been my influences.


Gone are the days of the Nike and Nigerian phone endorsements. It almost seems like an opportunity to redefine yourself as an artist. Now that the EP is out, what is the next step? 


LOL!!! It definitely is man, I have very high hopes. I wanna expand my brand, I wanna be global and travel the world and by July after the ‘Uno n Only’ tape drops I’m moving between New York, somewhere in Europe and definitely Tokyo, then back to Africa. I’ve set my sights afar other than producing a hit track with regurgitated kwaito lines to get with the times and stay relevant. No shade, but I’m trying to find my own corner in this industry for myself and Ill Skillz and everyone else who share the same beliefs. The bigger plan is to find my own place in history and its my vision to invent something for the world. At the moment I’m just following my own path and figuring how I can make it work. Swayze!
You can listen to Uno July’s Solo Ep “The Best Kept Secet” here.
Follow Uno on:
Twitter: @Uno_July
Facebook: Uno July
Instagram: @UnoJuly
1 Comment
  • Boitumelo

    Enter your comment here…Big up to Uno and Jimi for still keeping the torch of truth on. I amped about your new solo and I hope you brought Jimi Flex too for the show, as your performance at Back to the city was just short lived. Joburg has been waiting for such fueled energies of rappers that can still flip bars.

    May 27, 2015 at 2:44 am