Who is Mr. Rex?
Rapper, singer, songwriter. Husband and father. Employee, leader, influencer, public figure. Maker of grown-folk music!
Also, you don’t want to try me in Street Fighter when I’m playing Blanka.
What got you into hip-hop?
KRS-One turned me onto hip hop before I even knew his name. I heard one of his tapes from a classmate in my early teens and the sound grabbed me, shook me, and left me wanting more!
From there I started writing my own lyrics and got involved with the b-boys at school. I’d follow them around everywhere they went, although I never danced myself.
How has your music changed since you started out?
When I started writing I would try and introduce a concept, unpack it and neatly wrap it up with a resolution by the end of the song. I’ve since learned that art doesn’t have to present all the answers. This shift has helped me write music that will hopefully provoke thought and discussion among my listeners, instead of dictating my opinion to them.
At first I would try really hard to be impressive, to prove that I could be lyrical. I’ve since adopted the belief that it’s more important to make your listener feel something than to purely put on a display of technical ability.
What do you do when you’re not behind the mic?
I work a 9-to-5 job as facilitator and learning content developer, so I’m not a full-time artist.
When I’m not at work or gigging, I want to be around my family – braaing (barbequing) at home or playing board games with my children, or taking a Saturday morning drive to explore Cape Town. I also try to dedicate set times for song writing.
I have a serious GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) problem, so when I have the time it’s great to play some tunes on my guitar or my ukulele, or to open Ableton Live and play with my collection of pad controllers.
Tell us about The Corduroy Pillows.
I work very closely with my DJ, IV Beats. We’re always trying to develop our live show so that it’s more than just him playing my songs with me rapping over them. I’ve incorporated my own DJ controllers running Ableton Live into our sets, all in an attempt to showcase the dynamic between emcee and DJ as a fluid and entertaining live performance.
When I met Shadley Easthorpe, a professional drummer, I challenged him to play drum machine for one of my gigs. It went so well that the 3 of us started playing together more often – Shadley playing percussion on drum machine and iPad, IV Beats on the cuts, and myself doing vocals and playing some leads in Ableton Push and on ukulele.
Later we were joined by Ashleigh Davids, a solo performer in her own right, and an incredible singer and songwriter.
The idea for an experimental electronic band developed organically from the 4 of us working together. We wanted to try something different and I was keen to showcase especially the DJ’s turntable as an instrument, not “just” a media player.
Our first show as The Corduroy Pillows took place at the start of July, and we’re currently talking about where we would like the concept to go from here. It’s a fun and refreshing outlet, but can be challenging to balance alongside other responsibilities as we all have music careers as solo artists that we manage ourselves.
What is the best part of your work?
Without question, the best thing is hearing from listeners how my music has affected their lives. Whether it gave someone a sense of peace while they played my songs at home, or meant something to a couple struggling with challenges in their marriage, those stories are priceless and validate what I do.
Other favourites are:
- Performing for an audience who’s really into the music and we’re all having a jol (a good time) during my set, and
- seeing people dance to my music when it comes on in the club. Ultimate!
Anything you’d you like to achieve before the end of 2017?
I’m working on an ep, which is a follow up to last year’s Fynskrif (Fineprint) ep. I’d view it as a big achievement to finish that this year, as well as all the guest appearances I’ve said yes to! I’m working on it guys!
I also want to learn how to do a handstand. It was one of my goals I carried over from 2016. I still have a few months left so I remain optimistic.
Who is your inspiration/role model?
There are so many. I draw inspiration from my circle of friends, peers and mentors. Undoubtedly DJ Ready D is a major role model to anyone in hip hop, especially in Cape Town. He’s massively loved and respected everywhere he goes, but he’s not complacent. He’s always innovating and dreaming up new ideas and concepts. He’s relentlessly creative. When you’re around him you get the feeling that anything is possible and no dream is too big.
His longevity is also a big motivator. He’s like the Bernard Hopkins of hip hop – 30 years deep in his craft and he’s still knocking out these young bucks. That’s something to aspire to.
What are your views around Cape Town hip-hop; underground/commercial?
I’ve gotten over myself since my early years in hip hop culture. At the time Puff Daddy and Mase were the enemy, the antithesis of all things good and right in hip hop. Then it was 50 Cent, then Drake. Today it’s an entire sub-genre (mumble rap) that gets the flack! When I discovered that this perceived threat to “real hip hop” is not new and has in fact existed alongside hip hop culture for decades, I adopted a much more laid back approach about it. I no longer distinguish between underground or commercial music. If people are making good music and I enjoy it, then I’m down for that!
I do take issue when artists who have no roots or connection to the culture of hip hop are misrepresented as its spokesmen. That drives me crazy. If you’re involved in the culture then you have a responsibility as an ambassador but if you’re not, just stay in your lane!
Cape Town’s hip hop scene is thriving. It’s multicultural and vibrant and diverse. Each area has its own style – Delft, Mitchells Plain, Ceres, Worcester, Kuilsriver, Ocean View – across the length and breadth of the City and the Western Cape you’ll find b-boys, graffiti artists, emcees and DJs who are influenced by international trends, but still bring their own unique identity to the melting pot. Hip hop has always been about self-expression, creativity and competition and these traits are alive and well here.
If you could, which politician would you feature?
Gwede Mantashe is hardcore. The way he lays into the media and puts people in their place, you just know he’s got some bars and presence on the mic. He’s like the Sean Price of politicians. I’d get him on some grimy, Apollo Brown-style beats and just flip non-stop punchlines. Dope.
What superpower would you have and why?
I would love the ability to read and respond to emails on time. Is that a superpower? And also super-admin abilities that allow you to sniff out the right SAMRO representatives when making telephonic enquiries! I’d take over the world!
You’re very involved in the Expression Sessions series. Can you tell us more about that?
Expression Session is a community of creatives that aims to build, grow and strengthen connections and partnerships between artists of all kinds. One of the ways we try to accomplish this is by organising regular monthly events where artists can express themselves in front of an audience. The events are all free and family friendly, and offer a great opportunity for anyone interested in supporting the arts.
From here we’ve seen people connect and collaborate, or come back to market their own paid events which our people go and support. It’s about building a market where emerging creatives can learn, earn and (through their passion onstage) burn!
I’m curator of the Kuilsriver instalment but there are also Expression Session events happening in Worcester, George, Oudtshoorn, UWC Campus and Paarden Eiland, our newest event. Anyone interested in attending or performing can contact us via the Expression Session page on Facebook.
Do you think that commercial radio stations make it easy for artists to get their music playlisted?
Yes I do. I believe that, because commercial radio stations have a certain format, sound and target audience, it becomes easy for the artist to match their own music and sound to the station and show where they think it would fit best. This would give them the best chance of getting playlisted.
The real challenge is the sheer volume of submissions radio stations have to deal with. If a station is receiving 40 songs a day it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd.
So it’s easy in the sense that some stations make the submission process clear and transparent. The artist still has to be prepared to submit and follow up, and be open to feedback (and rejection, and being ignored), and submit again until they get the nod.
When you’re building a house, digging a trench is a tough grind but the principle behind it is easy. Getting your music playlisted can be the same thing!
That being said, I don’t believe that radio is the only way for one’s music to be heard. If that’s your thing then pursue that. But if for whatever reason you don’t want your music on the radio, there’s no shortage of alternatives – club DJs, web streaming, live performances. Radio airplay by itself is no guarantee of a successful music career.
What would we find in your fridge right now?
Dhanya chutney! I love the stuff!
If you could either rid the world of one thing or add one thing to the world, what would it be?
I’d make a TV channel that plays every episode of The Great British Bake-off over and over. That would be my gift to the world. I love that show!
What is your least favourite thing about the Cape Town music scene?
Artists who only attend events that they are booked to perform at. If we are to create a culture where people buy tickets and pack out shows by independent artists, it has to start with our close contacts. We need to be the change and build our own circular economy.
How do you prepare for a performance?
I try not to perform my songs exactly as they sound on the CD. I imagine where I’d like to involve the audience or introduce an element specific to the event, and then edit the backtracks to make room for that. I spend hours finding the right musical backing to make my set different but still add value to the show. I might even throw in a mashup or cover a song that I believe is significant. When I performed at a Mr Devious tribute event I had a lot of fun learning his lyrics in order to cover one of his songs. All that takes preparation and time.
If I’m performing with my DJ, IV Beats we’ll spend time rehearsing our interplay and trying out new ideas as they come up.
If we’re working with a drummer or bassist as well it takes even more preparation.
Every additional element requires more rehearsal and preparation time. I like to have my music and lyrics well-rehearsed so that I can focus my energy on performing and engaging the audience on stage.
What can we expect from Mr. Rex?
I want to be different, but cool different. Not just different for the sake of. I’ve released music on cassette, was the first hip hop artist in Cape Town to successfully crowd-fund a project, my debut album was a “best of” compilation! Expect more of the unexpected.
I’m planning more fun projects with other artists, similar to the Flow Motion album. IV Beats and I are busy with a collaborative project, and I’ve just agreed something exciting with another artist that I’m keen to tell you about in the coming months.
I prefer short EPs to singles, as they allow you more freedom to create an atmosphere and a story around the project. It can be limiting to squeeze a collaboration into just one song, especially if there’s great chemistry between the artists. Ideally you’d want to explore that across a wider soundscape.
I love radio. I co-hosted a hip hop show with Earl Scratch on UCT Radio a few years ago. If the opportunity ever came up to do something similar I would jump at it.
Tell us about your dream project.
I’m a big fan of Thandiswa Mazwai. Making music with her would be like a dream!
I’d also love to be involved in a project that honours the music I listened to as a young hip hopper. Something that takes the iconic songs of POC and Black Noise and re-releases them for today’s listeners. Imagine rapping alongside Shaheen on Cape Crusader. Or singing the hook of Ready D’s I Remember District 6. That would be epic!
How do you balance a full-time job, music and family life?
With great difficulty! The reality is that there’s just more work than you can practically do in one day. Often that means knowing when to give up trying to balance things and rather defer them to tomorrow, next week, or even next month!
Everything still gets done, it just takes a little longer.
Having a supportive family unit is crucial though. If you’re in studio recording all day, those hours have to come from somewhere. If your family has released you for the day with a smile and their blessing, it’s a lot easier on your conscience.
Any advice for a young artist?
All I can offer young artists are clichés. Because they’re true! Hard work does pay off. You absolutely have to be yourself. Persistence really is key.
Take time to reflect and define what you consider to be success. How would you measure it? How long will it take you? Write that down and then position your strategies to help you get there.