In the first interview since disbanding, Godessa speaks to Helen Herimbi about being the 2016 SAHHAs Honourary Award recipients and more.

“Oh my God,” Shameema Williams exclaims as Bernadette “Burni” Amansure laughs out loud.

After all/I’m not a female rapper/Discussing female matters/Like the X and Y chromosome factor.

“Burni! Burni! Burni!” Shameema and Eloise “EJ von Lyrik” Jones both chant in unison as soon as I’ve read them the lyrics.

“It’s got sarcasm written all over it,” Shameema adds. “I know all your rhymes, Burni. It’s you!”

The other ladies giggle in the background.

These three women who make up the incomparable group, Godessa, are giggling and teasing each other. Shameema is in Cape Town, Burni is in Switzerland and EJ is in The Netherlands. From their respective homes, we are gathered together over Skype – making this virtual hangout the first interview they are giving together since they broke up in 2008.

What brings us together is the fact that through Godessa, they are the latest legends and first females to be inducted into the South African Hip Hop Awards’ (SAHHAs) hall of fame as they receive the Honourary Award at the ceremony held in Johannesburg tonight. Only Shameema and Burni are able to attend.

But before we get to discuss the fifth annual SAHHAs, I take them way back into time. I read them some lyrics from Dissfunkshin – produced by EJ – which appeared on Godessa’s debut and only album, Spillage, which was released in 2004.

Based on those lyrics, I ask the women who, for the longest time, were the faces and voices of hip hop heads who happen to be women if they felt burdened by constantly be made spokespeople.

“Definitely not a burden,” Shameema emphatically says. “It was an honour to speak on behalf of other women, hoping we’re representing our issues well enough. As a spokesperson for the broader hip hop community, it was sometimes a burden.”

“With only a handful of people being very visible at that time, people expected you to know everything or it created animosity with other crews and they’d tell you you’re selling out. It was a catch 22, I think.”

Burni adds: “We were never naïve enough to think our words wouldn’t impact people. We carry a certain amount of responsibility, like all other artists, but we are individuals, we have our own thoughts. We aren’t politicians or lawyers or whatever. We don’t have all the answers. The songs we wrote were our own opinions.”

Their opinions are what initially brought the then-Cape Town based three together. Activist in the making, Shameema was a rhymespitter who hung out with poet-emcee, Burni as high school kids in the late 90s.

Upon hearing ferocious rapper and patois enthusiast, EJ, freestyle on Bush Radio’s Headwarmaz show, Shameema promptly called into the show. “I said ‘yo! You have to connect me with this chick, man,” Shameema recalls.

“I’d heard so much about how she’d been killing it in battles all over the clubs in town,” she continues, “and I knew Burni because we’d rap at hip hop matinees and sometimes we’d rap together. We tried to form a crew in high school but it didn’t work until we made a group with EJ in 2000.”

That year, the trio was recording at Black Beach studios in Muizenburg while looking for a producer. EJ and Shameema go back and forth about exactly how they met Grenville Williams – who was the bassist for popular group, Nine – who produced Social Ills.

It’s funny to hear how the pair trade stories about phone calls and lunchtime hustling for hip hop. Eventually, they both agree that they first recorded, with Grenville, a song about Afrikaans for the Geraas TV show. That same week, they recorded Social Ills with him and it became Godessa’s first omnipresent single. The iconic African Dope indie label released the single in 2003.

“That song really opened up so many doors for us,” Shameema remembers. “At first, people didn’t know how to react to it because they had not seen three girls rapping together. It showed people we could make quality-sounding hip hop.”

After that, EJ and Grenville, who individually contributed the most beats to Spillage, started a production company called High Voltage Entertainment as a way to “formalise the music into a business.” Spillage was released through High Voltage and featured songs like Nguwe and Mindz Ablaze.

For four years after releasing their debut, Godessa was booked everywhere. They began work on the Rogue State of Mind project, which was collaboration with other artists. Burni and EJ also started to explore different music styles individually and Shameema worked with artists as a mentor, organiser and publicist.

Then in 2008, the band announced they were officially breaking up. It became rare to see the sisters-in-rap together in the years that followed. I was asked to not bring the break up beforehand and understood it was still a sensitive subject.

While we try to restore Shameema’s lost skype connection, the topic of solo work comes up and I ask what propelled them in the different directions.

“There comes a point in time where you want to explore your own individual ideas. People grow. I think it’s a good thing that we got the opportunity to find our own voices. It was great being with Godessa, it taught us a lot,” shares Burni.

Then EJ adds: “I think partly why we split up is that we were together for eight years, man. Eight years of eating, sleeping, breathing nothing but Godessa. […] From my side, and I haven’t discussed it with the other ladies, but I wouldn’t mind doing it again. It was a journey and a half for me and I loved it.”

In the meantime, Godessa are proud to be the SAHHAs’ Honourary Award recipients. It’s nice to reflect on their journey and as Shameema says before she goes offline: “Besides us being honoured, it’s also the first time that the SA Hip Hop awards have a Best Female category that is critical. It shows the progress that has been made for female emcees since Godessa. So that’s something that I’m really excited about.”

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