Talking Black Panther Music with Yugen Blakrok

As Marvel’s Black Panther takes its well-deserved seat in the Academy Awards club with 6 nominations (including Best Original Song by Kendrick Lamar & SZA), we prepare for Captain Marvel and Avengers: End Game to complete the riveting story that Marvel fans have been following for years. Black Panther was undoubtedly one of the most exciting instalments in this series of films and it is arguably Marvel’s single biggest success as it continues to break records critically and in box office sales.

Stats aside, a lot of us are looking forward to seeing Wakandans again. It’s been a cultural phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. Africans worldwide including the diaspora, embraced and celebrated their African roots in the spirit of Black Panther’s marvellous execution of African beauty and tradition. Wakanda has become the metaphor for the African spirit that connects us all.

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Director, Ryan Coogler, has expressed the level of pressure he felt while making this film, as it was so apparent to everyone that nothing like it had ever been made before. The cast and crew were passionate about honouring the image of African culture and this passion translated over into its music as well. TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) artist Kendrick Lamar was approached to produce the soundtrack for the film. In a Fader interview with David Redshaw, Coogler explains Kendrick Lamar’s evolving involvement in the film’s soundtrack.

“At first, he was just going to do a few songs for the film. Then he came in and watched quite a bit of the movie, and the next thing I know, they were booking a studio and they were going at it.”

Having explored South Africa’s rich culture and outstanding musical talent, TDE reached out to some of their favourite SA artists to collaborate with on the Black Panther soundtrack. The soundtrack includes local artists Babes Wodumo, Sjava, Saudi, Reason and Yugen Blakrok. As the standout performance on the soundtrack, we had to get in touch with the Johannesburg poet and MC for a brief chat about her involvement in the project and the creative process behind her craft.

Yugen Blakrok

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Featured on the fifth track of the Black Panther album, titled ‘Opps’, Yugen Blakrok raps alongside Vince Staples and Kendrick Lamar, proving that black women in hip-hop are a force to be reckoned with.  

Let’s start with the creative process behind your art. How did you come up with your stage-name and how does it relate to your style?

It’s a combination of sound and feeling. Yugen from the concept of awareness of the unseen and Blakrok for its weight and strength. The essence of my style is Yugen, my method is Blakrok.

Your style fits very well with the theme of Black Panther’s strong female characters. Did you know much about Black Panther before working on this feature or did you have to do some research?

I knew a bit about the film from trailers and comic books, I never imagined I’d be in any way involved with it. The idea of a strong female character is something that permeates all of my writing, regardless – this is something I identify with.

How were you approached to take part in this project?

I got an email from Sounwave, saying he wanted me on a project they were working on. I lost my mind. I was on tour in Europe, physically drained and didn’t think I’d have the time to do it but I gave it a shot anyway.

What challenges did you face working on this project that were new to you?

It was a different level of pressure. With my own work, I like to take my time and really get into it. With this project, even though Black Panther hadn’t been mentioned, it was chaotic. I wrote as fast as I could and went looking for a studio to record this mystery verse in. When I got to the studio in Berlin, LMNZ had a tea ceremony prepared. I recorded the verse, sent it and forgot about it.

Did you know who else would be featured on this track or did that come as a surprise?

It was a surprise. After I came back to Johannesburg, I received a call letting me know that the verse would be used for the movie. When that tracklist dropped, I was screaming with the rest of the world.

What do you think about Black Panther’s cast as an all-black ensemble?

It’s fantastic that the movie has a brilliant, all-black ensemble. It’s not often that you see black people in powerful roles TOGETHER. I hope it fuels, inspires and drives more people of colour to break these boxed roles we’re constantly forced into.

With Black Panther, do you think the representation of black people in media is evolving?

I think it’s changing and for the most part, improving.

Your increasing fanbase, especially African fans, are bound to be moved and inspired by how well you represented South Africa’s creative ability to an international audience. Were you aware of the impact you might make?

Well, I aim to do best at any given opportunity. The only pressure I feel is to outdo myself. The fact that I didn’t know I was working on the Black Panther soundtrack is a blessing within a blessing. I didn’t know how much the folks over at TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) knew about South Africa or if this might be their first time hearing an emcee from here, I just wanted to play my damn part.

What advice would you give to other young entertainers and creatives?

Blinders on, run your race and finish. Nothing else matters.

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‘Bozza’ by Gigi LaMayne – Music Review

by Nonhle Matsebula

Even if you know very little about the South African music scene or pay little attention to it, it is easy to see that there is a serious deficit of females in the industry, especially as women are major buyers and supporters of local music.  So we love seeing and supporting female MCs who are working to change the game and remain authentic artists no matter the difficulties. 

At Girl Boss we are all about showing appreciation and celebrating women from all walks of life who are bossing up, unapologetically. It inspires us to see one of SA’s leading female MC’s, Gigi LaMayne, out doing what she loves whilst empowering, inspiring, entertaining and being of service to others.

Gigi’s latest video just dropped, following the release of her single, Bozza, which came out last year. If you know any of her previous tracks you already know that she is a force to be reckoned with. Ice Cream is still at the top of our playlist at Girl Boss, and we’re still moved by Fees Must Fall

What stood out the most for us about Bozza is how Gigi takes ownership of the word or title ‘Bozza,’ a street word meaning ‘boss’, which is usually associated with males and seems permitted to be bestowed on women only when men say she is a bozza. LaMayne takes a stand and changes the narrative, claiming space for all women in the streets and in hip hop.

Another thing that sets this video apart is that it is about being a ‘bozza’ without needing all the flash and extravagance that hip hop videos tend to focus on.  Besides the vintage Rolls Royce which complimented the setting, nothing else was overly flashy or over the top. And to me that highlights the truth that to be a boss, to be a girl boss, you don’t need to prove anything to others or demand attention.

In the Bozza video, Gigi looks like a woman coming into herself, owning her vision, confident and humble; unpretentious and relatable, most importantly knowledgeable in her craft and the stories she is telling. I mean damn, she is all about relaying the message of women #BossingUp in the most humble and sincerest way possible, I admire that.

The track is effortless and uplifting – a track to be played in the club and also on a Sunday drive.  Her voice and demeanor are undemanding yet present, making her sound very easy to connect with because it’s as if we can hear her personality. Plus, she sings too! What’s not to love?

The video quality is an indicator of how music video production in Mzansi is improving. It’s a simple, authentically South African hip hop video that makes the video all about the music, no distractions. The frames and shots are well thought-out, bringing together the culture of hip-hop and South African black culture with an aesthetic that represents Mzansi for real. We look forward to sharing our chat with this #GirlBoss who inspires us by constantly being a bona fide version of herself and a breath of fresh air for an industry that is tough for female MCs.

Be sure to check out the Bozza video on YouTube if you haven’t already. You can also stream or buy her track on all leading streaming platforms. Definitely let us know what you think of the song and video! And stay tuned for our talk with Gigi about the state of our culture in this generation.