South African Hip Hop Series: Ill Skillz In Five Videos

Cape Town’s self-proclaimed two dope boyz Uno and Jimmy Flexx are Ill Skillz. At the end of 2013 they released Notes from the Native Yard (NFTNY), a collection of songs steeped in the tradition of great storytellers with its lucid detail and raw emotion, and driven by stellar production from beat-gods Hipe and J-One, among others.

Melancholic in parts (without being dull), it’s a pocket handbook to give outsiders a hint of life as a black man in Kaapstaad, a city often criticized for its brash treatment of the poor and underprivileged. NFTNY is also upbeat; it’s a celebration of being young and alive, of being part and parcel of pivotal shifts in culture, of embracing one’s influences and learning from one’s mistakes. Ultimately, it’s an album about growth – both personal and artistic.

Ill Skillz have, since their full length debut Off The Radar in 2008, paid immaculate attention to their appearance. To them, the visual is as important as the music. To this end, they’ve managed to build a repertoire of videos worthy of envy, and they’ve managed to achieve it all by maximizing whatever resources are at their disposal.

To pay homage to their keen eye, we compiled five of our favourites and asked them to share stories behind how they were made. It’s all very compelling stuff filled with quotables such as “This video inspired Kanye West’s interest in ballerinas.” Have a look.

“Rocoflo” is our first video. It was a pretty big deal to finally have our first video at the time. We knew this [was] gonna be our introduction to a lot of heads. More importantly, we wanted [them] to bug out. We linked up with Garth and the team from GreenHouse Productions who were at AFDA film school at the time. They knew their stuff man and we made it happen – just having a good time in the CBD, guerrilla-style.

“Unbreakable” was probably the most challenging as it was part of The 24 Hour Project, Skillz That Pay Da Billz. We had to choose a song on the day and we went with Unbreakable. Greenhouse only had a few hours to come up with a concept and execute it all in the 24 hours. We were recording, mixing, mastering, having a photo-shoot, interviews a performance at the Cape Town Festival, and our launch the same night. This video inspired Kanye West’s interest in ballerinas. It’s about being extra-ordinary in the face of tremendous hardship [and] odds.

“We Are Over Here” made us most proud. It became a talking point; the bar was raised again. We enjoy working with creatives in other disciplines because we get to explore what else is possible after the song is done. This time, Echoledge came through with new tricks. You see these tricks in other videos – even commercials now – but it all started with We Are Over Here. [This is to] let the ladies know we’re over here, where they want to be, where they need to be.

Once again Echoledge came through, we wanted to have a bunch of ill skillionaires and at least one Bonita Applebum in the video, the rest is a gazillion cool kids in the ghetto.

Brown Sugar, I Used To Love H.E.R…we worked with ONS on bringing this to life the journey of the South African Hip hop head before rap blew up into what it is today in SA. Reminding people that Hip hop is really a street culture, no matter how many culture vultures come at it, for as long as there is young people in the townships and urban areas, inner cities. It’ll keep getting bigger and more consumer driven, but it’s core will remain raw. Real life.

*Ill Skillz’s album Notes From The Native Yard is available on bandcamp and iTunes. They’re currently in post-production for their third video off of their latest album. 

***This article is part of Africasacountry’s series on South African Hip-Hop in 2014. You can follow the rest of the series here.

Further Reading

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Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.