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Eitan Prince – Local Man Of Mystery


6 September 2004 No Comment

Eitan Prince is a lecturer at the Department Of Journalism & Media Studies at Rhodes University. You might have read his articles in Hype Magazine or on the hiphop.co.za website. You might even remember him as the one who set up the Official POC website back in 1997. Well I got in touch with him to discuss his involvement with hip hop in detail. Check it out.Hi Eitan, how are you doing these days?

I’m doing okay. I’ve just been hella busy, paying the bills and then some.

So how do you pay these bills?

I lecture in the Department of Journalism & Media Studies at Rhodes University, which is in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. I also write (on a freelance basis) for local magazines which embrace or represent hip-hop culture.

What do Lecturers eat these days?

A steady diet of radio programming and recorded music! When the pangs reach my tummy, it could be anything from pizza to pasta. If it’s home cooking, fillet steaks and veggie soups.

How did you find out about AG?

I can’t recall the exact moment that I happened upon the site. I don’t think it was a case of anyone hipping me to it. I generally spend at least a few minutes a day searching for new and interesting sources on the web where one can engage in discussion about hip-hop culture and rap music, and I liked the concept of Africasgateway when I first browsed the site. As an aside,
I’d really like to see the forums develop further. There are occasionally interesting conversations that take place, but generally people don’t seem to have a lot of time to get into detail. I think the web is becoming an important tool for communication between hip-hop heads. I think it’s over at www.okayplayer.com where industry types have been known to participate in
their discussion forums (Questlove of the Roots is a regular, but there’s also Mr Walt (of the Beatminerz), and others have thrown in their $0.02).

Is your involvement with hip hop known to the establishment of Rhodes University, and how do they perceive that? How open is the university to the ideas of this culture?

The university is a huge organisation, and knowledge of my writing is restricted mainly to the Department of Journalism & Media Studies. I don’t think that, as an institution, the university has an opinion on my involvement with hip-hop. Certainly hip-hop as a sub-culture is discussed to a small degree in some of the course content. But, it certainly hasn’t taken off here (or at other SA universities) as it has at some institutions in the US, where students can participate in lengthy courses on hip-hop culture and its aesthetics.

Talking about universities, you obviously work with the younger generation, being a lecturer. In this environment, do you feel “safe” about these so called future leaders? Do you think they have the right frame of mind to take South Africa positively into the future? Or are we in for a rough ride?

I have to be careful with what I say here, because I teach and have taught some of the people who read your site, or may do so in the near future.

Firstly, I do not necessarily subscribe to Rhodes University’s tag line “Where leaders learn”. And I don’t feel “safe” about our future leaders. Perhaps safe is the wrong word, because I think we should be challenged by our leaders – and that notion goes against the idea of being ‘safe’.

To answer your second question, I have worked with students who are highly talented. But I have noticed that a lot of students are motivated not by a sense of social responsibility, but economic gains. I know, of course, that not everyone aspires to be a leader, but many of our students do leave university to occupy important positions in various industries. Unfortunately, it has been hard to enroll them into a way of thinking that is more considered of the world. I see too many students coming here to acquire skills, get degrees and become marketable and employable. But a university education is about a lot more than that. It’s an opportunity for students to move beyond their narrowly-defined worlds and experience and expose themselves to new ways of thinking and being. Unfortunately students are coming to the institution with the Mickey Dee’s mentality – they want the burger, fries and coke that will fill their tummies in the meantime, they don’t look at education as a lifelong experience.

Whether we’re in for a ride or not – I can’t say. For some of us, that ride has always been rough. What we need to do, though, is encourage a sense of social responsibility, reflexivity and constant questioning. We should not feel the need to settle. Keep it moving.

As far as perception goes who are the dopest hip hop artist/s at Rhodes right now?

TNG, 2nd Son. There’s a lot of respect for those two on campus. That they’ve also been instrumental in producing compilation albums to showcase other talent on campus and in and around Grahamstown also means that they get props. I must also mention the Def Boyz, who’ve been on the scene for a minute. I think their DIY approach is really encouraging.

Do you see a split between the hip hop folks of the university and of those who live in the town?

Well, on one of the hip-hop shows on the campus station, Hiphocalypse, they’ve tried hard to bridge any gap that may exist between university and town. Regarding the ‘split’, I would rather describe it as a difference in experience and, to a degree, aesthetics. Most of the hip hop folks in town are Grahamstown-born and bred. Most of the hip hop folks on campus come from other parts of the country or from abroad, so they have grown up with hip hop in very different ways. If you’ve ever heard the Def Boyz and TNG – you’d find it hard not to notice any differences.

By the way, I like what cats like Kamma (a local hip-hop head) are doing, getting involved in workshops and really giving shine to all the elements of hip-hop, obviously including spraycan art and b-boying.

The reason why I ask this is because you have two hip hop radio shows, one being the Hiphocalypse and the other being Food For Life. Do you see them broadcasting to two different audiences, one being the students, the other being the community? Or should we see them as one and the same?

There is unfortunately a divide between the students and the community – which I think is self-imposed. That divide does not have to exist in the way it does, but I think students try very hard to maintain the cocoon which they call their home away from home (Rhodes). I think hip-hop here would be richer if there was integration. And, please, do not take this as my arguing that it doesn’t happen. There is a crossover. But largely students stick to the campus and what they know. And I get a sense from people in town that their is a little bit of suspicion about the students. I wouldn’t owe this to the different broadcasters (Radio Grahamstown and RMR) but rather to the divided history.

On a related note, I do think it’s important that there is a variety of different perspectives on rap music and hip-hop culture. Not everyone’s experience is the same, nor should it be. Different ideas, different playlists – they’re necessary to keep things fresh and varied. I’d hate for everything to sound the same.

Is there a story about the birth of hip hop in Grahamstown? Was it because of the influx of foreign/city students?

You’d have to ask Kamma that. I can’t answer this entirely accurately, so I’ll leave it at that.

Do you see more interest in Hip Hop in Grahamstown?

I wouldn’t consider the hip-hop scene in Grahamstown big, but it is developing, and there are some really committed cats here. A few weeks ago there was a jam at a local nightspot, which was reasonably supported. Hymphatic Thabs and Abnormal Detail got down there, and the Grahamstonians also represented. There was also a hip-hop festival at the Youth Amusement Centre. Kamma, a multi-talented cat who’s pushing the development of the scene quite heavily, is involved in organising this festival.

Of course, all of this is still very much on the fringe, so to speak. I’d like to see hip-hop take centre stage more often. We need to educate audiences, and that can only happen if we’re given the opportunities to do so.

As long as I can remember I have always seen your name in print. Can you list each article with their corresponding publication names?

Well, I’ve written many pieces on hip-hop, many of which I can’t recall off hand. Most recently, however, I wrote:

A Tale Of Two Cities, which appeared in Hype magazine. That article investigated whether there was any beef brewing between hip-hoppers in Cape Town and Jo’burg. It’s a touchy topic, but I think I handled it sensitively and sensibly.

A Return To The Classics was an article I submitted for Y Mag (check the latest issue). In that article, I argued that it takes more than dope MCs to make a classic rap album, you need dope producers and a strong vision. I also went out on a limb in that article, claiming that POC’s Age Of Truth is the only classic rap album in South Africa.

note:  If you want to check Eitan’s style of writing you can see the review he wrote for Bjork’s album “Verspetine” here:

I also believe that. I can listen to SA hip hop today and it’s good. It’s dope, really dope. (Milk shakes his head in disbelief as he glances over the cd cover and says, “Jarra Jassus”).  But when you listen to that Age Of Truth album your jaw just drops to the floor. The unbelievable deliveries of Shaheen and Ready D and the production was well thought out. They really put a lot of energy and focus on the songs. And the messages contained in the album – wow is all I can say.  But in your opinion, who has come close?

In Cape Town, BVK came close with their debut. That album, though not as multi-faceted as Age Of Truth, was like Wu-Tang’s Enter The 36 Chambers. It wasn’t a perfect album, but it maintained rugged production values, captured an essence of Cape Flats culture that many can relate to and was groundbreaking for being a sustained assault of gamslang (which they managed successfully). And, if you’re looking for evidence of how that album has influenced cats today, look no further than Kallitz and Die Man van Staal en Biskit.

I think Skwatta Kamp’s album “Mkhukhu Funkshen” will probably be known as a classic in years to come. I don’t think we’ll really be able to appreciate the importance of some of the hip-hop being released today until much later.

Okay, so what else did you write then?

The other notable piece I wrote recently was Ken Jy Vir My? A Tribe to Mista Devious, who was stabbed to death in January. This appeared in Y Mag (a few issues back). I thought Devious’s story is one that deserved to be heard. He never attained commercial success, but he was a young cat with a lot of heart and a whole lot of skill. I hope he’s remembered years from now when cats look back at the history of hip-hop in SA.

What’s is the next piece you gonna write for Hype?

Well, the next piece is not a particularly ambitious one. It’s actually in three parts, and I’ve gathered some opinions from heads on the scenes in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Detroit. I really think the stories of CT and JHB need to be explored in greater depth, because those pieces provide only a small part of the tale.

Pieces you would like to write?A Day With MF DOOM. I’m a fan of Zev Love X’s work, and I’d really like to get into his seemingly head.

Can It Be That It Was All So Simple Then? Remembering the good ol’ days with the likes of Shaheen, Caramel, Rozzano, Emile, Sky 189, etc. etc. You know, those people who were there at the very beginning, or appeared on the scene soon after.

Now if I think back I’m sure I’ve seen your name in very early editions of SL Mag? Or am I wrong?

Nope, I’ve never written for SL magazine. I have no relationship with that magazine. Though, you might have seen my name on the site www.hiphop.co.za – I wrote a few reviews (records and shows) for that online hip-hop resource.

Eitan’s 5 Most Slept-on Rappers
-Masta Ace
-King Tee
-Kool G Rap
-Lord Finesse
-Percee PHonourable mention: Shaheen

I’m probably getting confused with another mysterious figure who goes by the name of Dror Eyal. Do you know this person?

Dror Eyal? Yes, that’s a name I remember from our undergraduate days at Rhodes University. He also studied here. He wrote some stuff in SL and also for www.rage.co.za. I never did get a chance to build with him about his thoughts on hip-hop.

In my circles you are mostly known for the creation of the official POC (Prophets Of The City) website. What was your relationship with POC?

I was a fan. I am only acquainted with Shaheen and Ready D. I have a lot of respect for the work that they’ve done, and they’ve been very helpful in assisting me to document hip-hop in SA.

note:  The link to this site is:
Disclaimer:  Site has not been updated for centuries!

What is your current relationship with POC?

POC? They don’t even exist, man. 🙂 [Ed: Correction, Ready D is hitting the road to perform at Rhodes University during the annual Trivarsity Sports Tournament. The deck-wrecker will also be accompanied by an outfit tagged as POC. But it’s unclear who that group is.]

I know they don’t exist (hand gestures from Milk become animated like Greek fish shop owners). Let me rephrase. What is your current relationship with Shaheen and Ready D like?

Shaheen, I’ll hit him up on the phone every now and again. I hold him in high regard and I’ll always go back to him for comment on any issue relating to or affecting hip-hop in SA. But I think our relationship is a bit tentative, as I’m not sure if he’s feeling my writing 🙂

Still, I have crazy respect for him.

Ja me too…

Can’t say much about D, as we’ve never had much contact.

What prompted you to put the POC website up?

I was really unimpressed that there was so little information available on the group, so I thought I’d create a website for them. I approached their manager at the time, Lance Stehr (of Ghetto Ruff), and he commissioned me to design and maintain the site. Clearly it hasn’t been maintained much of late.

How long did it take you to put together the website?

I designed the site during my fourth year at university. Off the bat, it might have taken me two months to set up (working on and off).

How old is the website?

I’m guestimating that it’s about seven years old. It’s been around since the middle ’97.

Does it get a lot of hits?

It used to, and it still does get hits. Unfortunately it’s been completely neglected. I also don’t access that server as frequently as I used to. I think it needs to be reworked, as there’s some useful material there. Perhaps you would like to collaborate and spruce it up, so that we have a solid tribute page to POC.

I’ve been thinking about that, too. I’d be delighted to assist. I’m also writing a book about POC. Just haven’t gotten round to finishing it off. Too much to do, so little time.

That’s great going, man. Just keep it up. Books are a real investment, meaning they might take a lot out of you, but you’ll reap the rewards later. What we need to do is put our resources together. I’ve got some stuff in Cape Town that you might be interested in. Old press releases, magazine clippings, etc.

That would really help. I even phoned the SABC and asked if I could have access to the programmes like Zap Mag etc, where there is footage of POC performing and Deon working the decks. But they claim that they do not have it, or maybe this woman I was speaking to was clueless. Do you remember that one episode of Zap Mag where they interviewed this “white” rapper/beatboxer/deejay in Joburg? This was way back in the day, it could’ve been 1989, even 1990. Do you have any idea of who this might be?

I don’t remember the white dude in question, but I do remember POC making a gang of appearances, including that one on Zap Mag. I imagine it might be quite difficult to get your hands on old archive material. I’m not too sure what the SABC’s policy was on providing that sort of stuff back then. It might be a good idea, though, to speak to someone a little higher up or more influential.

What impression did POC have of the website (Milk’s tone is reminiscent of BBC’s Hard Talk’s Tim Sebastian)?

Well, I don’t know if they’ve ever checked it out. I remember interviewing Shaheen about it around 1997/98, and he responded vaguely. I don’t think Lance ever really got them on board. In retrospect, I should’ve pushed this harder, because really… the site is one of the few online resources for POC.

Do you remember the video for “Our World”?

Sheeit, I’m not sure if I do. That’s too long ago. We need to get our hands on that, though. I wonder if Ghetto Ruff still has the material?

Were you ever a member of the POC fanclub?

No, I wasn’t. I did once try to contact them for the lyrics to the Phunk Phlow album and didn’t get very far.

Do you remember Brother A?

He’s an old school cat. Unfortunately I don’t remember him…. I mean, I couldn’t pick him out in a crowd. But I do remember his style. He had that typical late 80s fast-rap rhyming style, in a similar vein as Big Daddy Kane.

What can you tell me about Mass Dosage and the radio show that everyone was talking about back in the day?

Well, back in the day, Mass Dosage was considered one of the few cats who was pushing hip-hop on the campus radio station. He was an anomally back then, because the campus radio station was like a poor man’s 5fm who a while, with the exception of some DJs who tried really hard to push local music and local hip-hop, in particular.

From what I’ve heard from Mass, he never intended to be a radio DJ. But a cat who was in residence with him saw his crazy collection and suggested he should try to get on air. The rest was history!

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Mass – but he’s the most unlikely looking hip-hop head, but he really had love for the culture. I didn’t dig some of the trip-hop stuff he used to play, but around 95, 96, he was one of the few prepared to give underground heads some shine.

He generally played more international stuff than he did local artists, but you must remember that in 1997 there were two NEW commercially released SA hip-hop records – POC’s Ghetto Code and the Muthaload compilation. By the time Spex, Mizchif and Amu did their thing in 1999, he’d left varsity.

The Hip-Hop Headrush was a dope show, though. I miss his cool presence on air.

Ya Kamma was telling me how they use to put the aerial on the roof to get the signal coz it was “that” tight. Does the University still have archived recordings of those shows? Well, they probably don’t. Back then, RMR used to archive its broadcast material by recording to VHS tape. This was quite erratic and prone to human era, because, well, they relied on the DJs to change the tapes once they were full. I doubt you could find any of that material now, unless Mass Dosage himself had recorded it. If I remember correctly, though, he used to feature a few of his mixes on his website along with some playlists.
(Some of) Eitan’s Favourite Rap Albums
Above The Law – Livin’ Like Hustlers
The Beatnuts – Intoxicated Demons
Count Bass D – Dwight Spitz
The Coup – Genocide And Juice
The D.O.C. – No One Can Do It Better
Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep
Kurious – A Constipated Monkey
Masta Ace – Slaughtahouse

What was it that made you respect Hip Hop?

My first taste of hip-hop was the breakin’ films around 84. But at that stage, I was too immature to appreciate that b-boying was part of a larger scene. I then reconnected with hip-hop through rap music, most notably the tunes I Need Love by LL Cool J and Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’s early stuff (Girls, Parents Just Don’t Understand etc.). And, at that point, I loved the straight-forward honesty and storytelling, which wasn’t really a feature of much of the pop music I’d been exposed to up until that time. When local hip-hop started getting a bigger stage, though, with those series of workshops and performances at the Baxter (around 89, 90) that’s when I was hooked. But honestly, I didn’t respect the power of hip-hop until I heard Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet. Until that point, I hadn’t really comprehend the power of hip-hop as a medium for more than just entertainment, but expanding consciousness and encouraging revolution.

It appears that 83, 84 are very important years for SA Hip Hop because this is when many of us old farts first found out about it. Do you remember as a kid they had these 70’s New York movies where occasionally they had background scenes of graf on the trains, and I was maybe 5 or 6 years old thinking to myself, “Who is doing that, I wanna do that too”, but this is like before the bboy movies, before 83. Do you remember the era where bboys would wear the VW sign around their necks on a chain. It was big here in Cape Town.

I can definitely relate to some of what you’ve just told me. Cool memories, man! I definitely remember the VW and Merc tjappies.

In fact, let me tell you about my schooling. I went to a private high school (after being schooled at St John’s in Kensington). And this wasn’t just any private school – it was a German School. Now, when I got there, I was maybe 1 of about 40 black kids in a school of just under 1000. Needless to say we were a minority. But we had some cats who were very passionate about hip-hop and they helped to put me on to a lot. I certainly didn’t know where to find music. But back then, there was a huge borrowing (ahem, ahem, copying) culture – so when someone got Ice Cube’s Death Certificate it was quickly passed on to everyone else interested.

In one year, we were encouraged by our class teacher to put on a performance, so we had an MC at the school, who was down with a crew from his suburb, to help us out. His name is Haydn (HMC) – haven’t heard from him in ages, and he had a dude called Jam Box D, who was wicked on the beatbox. Anyway, we performed with this crew in the Gardens (I can’t remember the name of the festival now) and I still have the pictures. Man, it wasn’t particularly good – ’cause we were never the world’s best dancers, but I’m proud that we showed out and did our thing. It’s all a laugh now though!

Have you heard the Kallitz album yet?

Yes, I have. From a hip-hop head’s perspective, I think it’s important that they’ve pulled this off with their own drive and motivation. They’ve truly done for self. In terms of production, I was surprised by their leanings towards elements of the southern scene in the US. The beats bounce and there’s generally a synthesised quality to the production. Lyrically, I thought they borrowed quite a bit from BVK – not biting precise lyrics, but certainly rehashing some of the concepts and possibly even the styles. I mean, Sturvy Kinnes is obviously a nod to Jy Smaak My off BVK’s first album.

Top 5 producers? But you must tell us why you like them…

My top five producers:

DJ Premier – Stylistically, some might consider him simplistic. He relies heavily on chopping and he often will select fairly obvious sources (so he’s not always digging up rare gems), but it’s what he does with the samples. He has an incredible ear for what will sound good to the listener. And, really, what he produces is sparse but oh-so-beautiful. I still think he represents the sound of the streets, though commercially he has become increasingly less relevant.

Organized Noize – I consider them underrated, but I’ve never understood why.  People frequently complain about the lack of soul in modern commercial rap music. And, here you’ve got a top-notch production unit like Organized Noize, who aren’t getting the kind of work they should be in the industry. What I like about their production is that it can be melodic, but it’s always, inherently funky. Ask OutKast about them.

Prince Paul – His productivity levels have decreased over the last decade.  But his early work has made such as an impression that I can’t NOT mention him. I think the appeal of Paul is in his (musical) sense of humour. His tongue is never far from his cheek. And the results? Three Feet High & Rising, and conceptual masterpieces such as De La Soul Is Dead, Six Feet Deep and A Prince Among Thieves. I don’t think those standards have yet been trumped.

Paul is a rare breed today: He produces full albums, works of art, not hot singles. And that I really appreciate.

The Bomb Squad – I’d like to explain this choice simply by stating that It Takes A Nation Of Millions… and AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted are two of my all-time favourite albums. But that would be doing an injustice to Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler and Chuck D. The Bomb Squad have done a lot of things – including the samplestravaganzas I’ve mentioned above – but most importantly, they have an ability for encapsulating anger or chaos (sometimes both) in a four-minute song. And, it’s *that* sonic anger and frustration with which a lot of young black people can identify.

Marley Marl – He is to production what Rakim is to MCing. Without Marley, there probably wouldn’t be a Pete Rock or a DJ Premier. Some people credit him with inventing sampling – which is dubious. I think his production of the classics Ain’t No Half Steppin’ and The Symphony speaks for itself. Do I even need to mention that for about four or five years no one was touching his drums (check the ‘sonic dirt’ sound of Marley Marl Scratch – featuring MC Shan).

What do you consider to be the most important rap albums released in SA?

Our World gets it because it was the arrival of rap music on a commercial level. By that, I don’t mean the music was commercial, but that for the first time local rap artists were showcased in the mainstream.

Age Of Truth is important in so many ways, least of all because it was the first totally politically-motivated release in SA rap music. There wasn’t a local album like it before and there hasn’t been one like it since. For me, it hints at the music’s potential – a potential that few have even tried to harness since.

The Muthaload was far from being a top-quality comp, but it’s important to me because it signals the arrival of Johannesburg. The album dates back to 1997, the year POC released its last album, and you could read it as the moment that Joburg started to gain sway. It opened the door to artists like Amu, Mizchif and Spex – who two years later broke into the ‘mainstream’.

The Skwatta Kamp album is there on sales alone. I’m iffy about it because it is still early days and we can’t tell what will happen from here on out. But I do think SOME people will remember this album the way WE remember Our World.

Interview conducted by Milk

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