Hip hop for Wakanda: This is our voice
Yugen Blakrok’s music goes beyond entertainment. Her sound advocates for freedom and black pride. Inspired by 90s hip hop and musicians who used their craft to share powerful messages, the poet began rapping to make her voice heard. Competing alongside mainstream artists with bigger budgets had its challenges. But Blakrok saw it as an opportunity to explore unique sounds without the pressure to conform to a label’s expectations. For over a decade she has contributed to the underground hip hop scene. The result? She was featured on the Black Panther soundtrack, rapping alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar.
Blakrok worked on the track as part of a mystery project, not having a clue where it would end up. “I wrote from a standpoint of, ‘What defines the spirit of rebellion for me?’,” she says. “It was a wake up call to my people who still feel squashed, a reminder to continue the fight.” She only found out much later that the song “Opps” would appear on one of the most revolutionary movies in recent years. Rather than chasing fame, Blakrok’s biggest concern is staying genuine. “There seems to be a struggle for authenticity,” Blakrok says. “A voice that is not influenced by anything other than its own truth.” Her music contributes to Afrofuturism, a movement countering dominant narratives that portray Africa as backwards. Blakrok is ensuring that her music celebrates the best of South Africa and its people. “We do need lyrics that portray our living conditions,” she says. “Not to make our story a struggle but a story of overcoming.”
Blakrok released her debut album, Return of the Astro-Goth, in 2013 and is currently working on her latest. She has performed around the country, completed three European tours, and received three nominations at the 2014 South African Hip Hop Awards. Despite this and the Black Panther feature, she remains committed to her purpose and isn’t waiting around for others to validate her art. “We need to find our own spaces, make our own platforms where we can represent ourselves in our own way,” Blakrok says. “I think that’s the most authentic way we can do it.” She doesn’t play into the expectations of mainstream hip hop to be noticed as a young, black, female musician. Being different comes with its own challenges, but Blakrok would do it a hundred times over if she had to. “Continue the fight,” she says. “The independent route does work.”