Mass Dosage: What made you decide to come all the way out to South Africa from the States?
Absolut: Originally I came here in 1997 as part of a group from Oberlin College to look at post-apartheid, democratic South Africa. While I was here I saw all this Hip Hop happening - I was driving through Joburg and saw graf murals of all kinds of stuff and I was like "yo what's Hip Hop doing in South Africa?" Prior to coming here I knew nothing of Hip Hop even existing in South Africa, so this was a whole new thing - I was totally shocked. I went into clubs and couldn't believe that they were playing all the latest stuff. I hooked up with some rappers from Guguletu in Cape Town and talked with them and I knew there was something strong here. I had to find a way to come back. Back at school I applied for a fellowship which provides people with money to live for a year and do research on a topic they choose. I was chosen as one of 60 people and my project was to explore Hip Hop in South Africa. I had had radio experience prior to coming here, working at radio stations at my college and at Nine FM in Philly. Through a friend I got connected to Y FM over here in Johannesburg and that set it all off.
Mass Dosage: What exactly were your first impressions of the South African Hip Hop scene?
Absolut: Going to places like Cape Town, and meeting b-boys and seeing all this graf work around - that was a heavy shock, just to know that all this stuff was happening, and that it was as vibrant, as lively as it is in the States, or getting to that point. It was definitely positive. The one thing I did find kind-of disheartening was that for all this culture that was around, and for as much as people seemed to be into it, none of the MC's had deals, and there were very few DJ's, especially in Joburg. There are so many MC's out here with skillz, I would say better than a lot of kwaito artists, but somehow the kwaito artists get deals and the Hip-Hop MC's don't.
Mass Dosage: Did you experience any culture shock? I lived in Atlanta for a while and when I came back I couldn't believe how different things were over here.
Absolut: I don't know necessarily if it had to do with Hip Hop, but maybe just South African life in general. When I had to bribe a cop to get off from a parking ticket, or when I played at a club in Thembisa and some guy walked in shooting - that's when it hit me that I was somewhere different. But at the same time I've gotten a lot of love and respect from people, so that eased any awkward times. Some people in America still have this whole Tarzan image of Africa where people are swinging on vines and riding elephants through the jungle - a lot of bullshit you know? I myself didn't know you had great cities like Johannesburg which I consider to be similar to New York in a lot of ways.
Mass Dosage: What about racially - how do you see things here, as opposed to how you expected them to be? You had obviously heard all about apartheid in America but here you could see its after-effects firsthand.
Absolut: Racially, it was deep, when I came in '97 it was a real shock, especially going to Cape Town, to understand this whole notion of coloured versus black. For us in the States, when you're black you're black , there's this kind-of one-drop rule where if you have one drop of so-called black blood and you're black regardless of how dark or light your skin is. I find a lot of coloured people have a very strong pride about being coloured as opposed to being Zulu or Xhosa or whatever. In terms of the Boers, and Afrikaners - I've seen their attitudes, in terms of black Africans here and it has often been really disheartening. Many of them still have this superiority mentality in their heads, where they address you like you're not on their level. That's been difficult to see because there have been times when I've had to hold myself back from saying something, because I see it as being wrong. But I've also met a lot of people who are the total opposite of what I would have expected.