Cape Town based rapper BlaQ Slim visited us at the Unknown Union space to unpack all things about the artist and the person. Having recently been making waves in the Cape Town Hip-Hop scene, BlaQ Slim is carving an undeniable impression on the ears of his listeners. His talent is bubbling over to the rest of the country having caught the attention of some notable figures in the industry. Cape Town is home to a massive number of creatives across the artistic spectrum. From alternative fine art, to niche-rappers the city mirrors an interesting melting pot of people. Outside of the perceived glitz of undertaking music as a career, the rapper shares some of the real experiences of the ‘come up’. We sit down with BlaQ Slim as he talks us through his musical influences, growing up in Cape Town and how his experiences shape the musical process.
Where did your love for music develop from?
I come from a family of seven people. My dad was a heavy jazz listener. My mom listened to gospel. My sister was all about RnB, and my brothers would listen to a whole lot of rap. Then you have me, the last born, who's just always in people’s rooms looking at what everybody’s doing. I’d listen to all these different sounds daily, and I think that’s where my love for music came from. Whether it was 2Pac or Tamia, or jazz when coming home from school, I’d always be listening to music. After an unfortunate incident with me losing two brothers, I started writing letters to get all these emotions out. It transitioned to poetry, which then transitioned to rap. That’s where the love for it came from. I also know I’m a middle-class kid. Being black and middle class is cool, but very stuck in between. Do you fit in or do you stand out? I went to a pretty good high school, but still lived in Montana. It was always this thing of seemingly being too white for the black kids, and too black for the white kids. That’s where a lot of my stories come from.
What were those experiences like? Of travelling between two different worlds as a young black middle-class person?
If we can get political about it, it’s a hell of an experience at the end of the day. I'm not from the hood or the suburbs, but I have family on both sides. I'm genuinely somewhere in the middle. The differences are huge, but there are also so many similarities like the music we consume and things we watch. There’s also different lingo’s depending on where you are. Getting to see both realities, and their influence on me played a big role.
I was this kid who was hearing all these different things whether in the township or suburbs, but was really stuck in between in terms of class. It then becomes a thing of finding a balance. Right now, you have this generation who’s so outspoken about who they are and their backgrounds. It’s like this is a time where you accept me for who the hell I am. I feel like that’s where people can listen authentically.
Do these things influence your music?
For me the definition of music is the sounds describing an emotion. We categorize it into genres, but all these sounds describe certain feelings. When you put the right words to the right sound, it becomes magic. People want to know what’s happening in that moment. One of my favourite albums is Good Kid Maad City by Kendrick Lamar. When you listen to the album you genuinely feel like you know Compton and what happens there. If you’re from Cape Town, let me know how everything there feels. I try to paint the story of Cape Town, but also from the view of this middle-class black kid. I try my hardest to write as much as possible about how much I’m feeling. I love breaking the words down, and really getting into it. It’s about owning who you are, especially in your music.
What does your creative process look like. From imagining the song, to having it finished?
I have so many different spaces that I write music in. The beat will play and I mumble until the words come out. It’s strange but it works for me. I allow whatever emotion comes out. I can go from spending ten minutes writing a song, to two weeks. Sometimes you feel the emotion strongly, and then other times you don’t really know what it is. The process does vary. I always feel like I need to be as honest as I possibly can with myself in a song.
What or who are your influences?
Locally I listen to a lot of AKA, Nasty C, Kwesta. I grew up listening to a lot of Tumi and The Volume. I also listen to my friend’s music as well, there’s a lot of inspiration there. Internationally, your J Cole, ASAP Rocky, Rihanna, Drake, OutKast, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z. I haven’t mentioned Biggy for a reason because I didn’t listen to him enough. Everybody has a formula and it seems to be working. [Laughs]
How do you conceptualize your own music, in terms of making it unique to you?
I think South African Hip-hop is in its golden ages right now. It accepts you for who you are. People are also looking for good and relatable music. The sound I’ve been experimenting with is proto-trap. Which is taking prototypes (sampling) and trap, then creating this interesting sound. I use a lot of South African samples, which I’m trying to stop because sampling is a lot of money. I do find a great deal of inspiration in South African music though. I ask myself if the music I’m currently hearing is saying what I’m saying. What about the in between phase of spending money you don’t have? Or getting to the club and drinking, but you know you won’t have money for the rest of the month. Also, the issue of wanting to live through my twenties, and how those experiences are so relatable. That’s where I come in, with those stories. I highlight a lot of this in the EP that I’m working on right now.
You recently released a video for your song Motto. What was the process of shooting it?
I wasn’t going to put the song out at all. I had a bet with someone in my team. He told me to drop the song, and if it did numbers I’d have to buy him a bottle. I did put it out and it did good numbers. Hunters also contacted me about the song. Sometimes you just don’t know what people will relate to.
When we shot the video, the idea was just me rapping. You might see three or four other people from my team, who I speak about in the song. The video was just supposed to be me offering a piece of music and interacting with the viewer. Just me and the music, solidifying that I’m not here for validation.
Tell us about the EP you are currently working on?
I’m so in love with it. There’s so much going on in the world and the country. I love making turn up music, but there’s a lot of options we should also be exploring. The EP is called The Diamond in The R.U.F.F. It basically talks about having trials and struggles. Being an artist in a city that’s not seen as a strong point for Hip-hop in the country.
I took it to the extent of unpacking being a diamond in the rough in such a vivid manner. You’re supposed to see myself and the diamond as one thing. Two sides of the same coin. There’s a song titled Pressure, speaking about pressure and the formation of diamonds. Concepts of “tone” in terms of diamonds, but also societal issues, such as the tone of your voice and your skin. It’s a layered concept, which is why I’m taking my time. I tried to go into so much detail about being all these different things in one place, and still being a diamond in the rough.
What is the vision for you as an artist right now?
I want to change the spectrum of Hip-hop. In Cape Town especially, but also the country, continent, and the world. You start here though. We just need all the artists to be on the same page. That has more of an impact than having one person as somewhat of a leader. I try and help artists where I can as well. Issues of teaching artists the business side of music. I’m four months deep in a music school. Music is really all I do now. Reshaping and trying to pioneer Cape Town Hip-hop, outside of just saying it. It’s about doing things to benefit the culture, and there’s plenty of cake for all of us to eat. Once you lack the patience, it really becomes difficult. I’m in it for the twenty year lap, and I love what I do.
(Matimu Rikhotso for Unknown Union)
Check out more about BlaQ Slim on his socials:
Below: The video for Motto shot in various locations in Cape Town, including Unknown Union.