On: Muthaland Crunk

On: Muthaland Crunk

A decade since its release, Muthaland Crunk has shaped up to be a polarising album. HELEN HERIMBI revisited Jozi’s debut.

By the time 2005 rolled around, Skwatta Kamp had released their second album under a major record company – and their third overall. That undeniably ‘hood aesthetic had also made way for the bourgie English raps to comfortably live alongside it.

As a result, Proverb’s debut album, The Book of Proverb, was food for the souls of those who liked their rap punchline-heavy. So when a group called Jozi was formed, no one expected the status quo to be disrupted. But it was. Signed to the iconic (and controversial) Ghetto Ruff record label, Jozi comprised former POC and Skeem member, Ishmael, Brenda Fassie’s son, Bongani, a skateboarding, dancing rapper named Da L.E.S and former child star, Crazy Lu.

They dropped their debut album, Muthaland Crunk, when the crunk movement – a snappy, pre-blatantly-ratchet era sound that was spearheaded by America’s South – was at its height. By “real” hip hop heads’ standards, Jozi was bringing a sound that was straight up wack. The intro to the album notwithstanding, the rest of Muthaland Crunk made it clear that Jozi didn’t care what the heads thought. And that paid off for them. “This is for the ladies – woo! Ladies only, homie,” is the first line we hear on the second track on the album, Rock With You.

Da L.E.S says it in his signature braggadocious tone and it became something of a manifesto for the group.“The girls used to love Rock With You,” Da L.E.S laughs out loud as he reminisces about the song and album.

“That’s what we were all about. Or at least, that’s what I was all about.

“It was a confidence thing. I had no business trying to entertain people who only wanted to see Skwatta Kamp. We used to have people pulling middle fingers at us at our shows. Right in front of our faces. And the girls were just screaming. As long as the girls were screaming, it was fine.

“We knew we were doing something new and fresh. We gave birth to all kinds of people giving an easy ear to South African hip hop. Before, you had to understand vernac and the English rapping was really deep and poetic.”

While Muthaland Crunk was undeniably mimicking an American sound, they also had a trick up their baggy sleeves. Jozi’s lead single, What’s With Da Attitude (Wayithini Umami), had vocals by the legendary Vusi Ximba. Two songs (Muthaland and Swagga) sampled Philip Tabane. Most of the songs – 13 of which were produced by Bongz, while two were produced by 37MPH – incorporated traditional South African elements like the Maskandi guitar, Zulu choral compositions and the accordion.

If it wasn’t already obvious in the name of the group, the name of the album and songs having titles like Africa Unite and 011, Jozi wanted to make sure they married their influences with their realities.Crazy Lu – who makes sure to mention he was the first rapper to be signed to a major record label (Gallo) when he released his solo album, Destiny – remembers why the group wanted to make sure they kept their African identity.

“Prior to recording the Jozi album, Bongani and I had worked on a crunk album of mine that was never released,” says Crazy Lu, from Cambodia.

“Lance (Stehr, of Ghetto Ruff) then came and said he had Ishmael and Les and is going to put us in a group. I said ‘okay’. Bongani and myself were already on crunk, but we took it a step further by choosing to sample African stuff. I give it to Lance for actually giving us the Vusi Ximba sample we used for Wayithini Umami.

“It’s funny because I was asked to be on that song and I never wanted to be on it – I felt it was too poppy – so Les took it. And it became quite big. In terms of that album, I think it was ahead of its time.”

The only irony was that Jozi had to leave Joburg to complete Muthaland Crunk. Unhappy that the boys were getting distracted by their newfound fame and not recording more decent songs, word is Stehr tricked the group into thinking they were going to an event and instead, took them to a farm just outside Pretoria.

“There was no signal for our cellphones,” Da L.E.S remembers.

“There wasn’t even Facebook in those days, we were just like: ‘Man, I need to get on my MySpace so I can talk to my people!’ We thought it was torture at first, but it turned out to be such a great experience. Just to be out of the city.

“We recorded outside – that’s how much there wasn’t any noise on that farm. MPH took the mic and put it outside. Every night, we’d eat food around a bonfire with people who lived there. It was great. And we finished the album.”

Shortly after the album was released, Crazy Lu, of course, left the group – due to being unhappy with the contract, he tells me – and then Bongz bowed out. The combination of Da L.E.S and Ishmael went on to release albums under the Jozi name, but never quite lived up to the road that the groundbreaking foursome had started to pave. But then again, one could argue that crunk was a fad since it doesn’t exist in that form anymore anywhere in the world.

However, Muthaland Crunk began what is now the norm in South Africa. The N-word isn’t even censored on our radios anymore and it’s heavily littered on songs by South Africans! The biggest rap stars in South Africa right now are more able to copy America and not receive flack for it. That’s mostly because, from the languages used to the samples and even the throwbacks to genres like kwaito, there’s a lot more fusion of the South African and American worlds in these songs. And maybe that was going to be the natural progression of Mzansi rap anyway, but we can’t deny that Muthaland Crunk had a hand in making that happen.

Both Ishmael and Bongz were scheduled to be interviewed, but failed to answer their phones.

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