Tongogara “Battlekat” Ntlokoa was the most sought-after producer of his era. As in-house soundcrafter for Outrageous Records, he oversaw production duties on a handful of the indie label’s releases, many of which now occupy classic status in the hearts of many a South African rap fan.
His work on Maximum Sentence and Expressions, two compilations released in a period of frantic output between 2002 and 2003, stand as testament to his ability to hop from chopped-up and pitched-up loops backed by hard drums and crusty snares, to soulful cuts with deep, pervasive and enduring basslines. He contributed music to Zubz’s Listener’s Digest and Proverb’s Book of Proverb — debut albums by revered emcees who’d cultivated a small but cult following. This helped further cement Battlekat’s place as a noteworthy producer in South African hip hop’s broader context. Add to that his work with Optical Illusion (or Optical Ill), the four-man rap clique in which he was both rapper and chief producer, and it becomes evident that this cat single-handedly ran an era.
We meet with Battlekat at Flabba’s memorial service. The two had worked together on a song called “Accelerate” which appeared on Skwatta Kamp’s Khut en Joyn album. Flabba, an emcee who’d figured out how to mix street smarts, cut-throat lyricism and shock value to astounding effect, passed away after being stabbed following an altercation with his partner on 9th March 2015, a Monday morning. The woman accused of his murder shall stand for trial in August.
Below, Battlekat speaks about the session which bore not only the Flabba track, but a feature on Optical Illusion’s pre-label project called Thoughts Illustrated.
Wasn’t there an album between you and Flabba that was supposed to come out?
Well, it was a thought, not an album. It was a thought that we had.
So the “Accelerate” joint, was that just a single cut?
What had happened with “Accelerate” was, it wasn’t even a single. At the time, we weren’t even planning albums or anything; we were in college. At the time I wasn’t even…I was still practicing, you know, beats and everything. It was just a matter of ‘yo man, I’d like to give that joint a beat.’ He [had recorded] over a Cypress Hill beat; I think it was a Wyclef/ Cypress Hill beat. It wasn’t necessarily for Skwatta; it was just me knowing him from college, I just wanted to lace his joint with a beat. For that, he gave me a verse for the Optical Illusion album. Since I knew him for being vulgar and extreme, there was a song I wanted to do. I got influnced too much by Eminem, and I knew Flabba would be…we just went crazy. He was just too bare man, and for that song I knew [that] he was the dude. On the day that we did the song for Optical Ill, I gave him one of the beats that I had for that joint. He was also looking to do a solo [project] at the time, before Skwatta.
Were you in the same session, or did you just give him a beat?
He came to the studio with Initial M on the day. [Initial M] was supposed to be on another Optical Ill joint. He recorded the verse, [we] actually lost the material for that song. It was called “Impossible to picture.” Initial M was on that one, and then Flabba was doing “Crack a finesse” and his joint as well on that day. It was a cool session; everyone was there! Well, except for Opticall Ill — it was just me, Jerrah, Intial M, I forgot who else.
Where did you record that joint?
Braam. There was some…I think it was an NGO or NPO called Joint Centre for Political and Economic studies. My dad worked for that company and he’d persuaded them to have a studio there, because I was doing sound (at Allenby College, where Proverb also studied). After school, that’s where I would go and record with dudes like Optical Ill, Mad Scientist, everyone!
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