Real ‘no gimmicks’ rap

Cape Town born rapper Uno July began his career by attending open mic sessions.

Now he is giving local MCs the chance to do the same at his monthly hip hop events.

The rapper, whose real name is Unathi July, originally from Gugulethu, holds monthly hip hop events at the Waiting Room in the city centre.

Every month, he gives young artists a chance to shine through a competition he came up with four months ago. Artists can submit their SoundCloud links and get the chance to perform in front of a live audience.

The reason for this, he says, is to give young artists in Cape Town a chance to shine.

The rapper, who is now based in Johannesburg, said: “I grew up in the Gugulethu township, and one of my early childhood role models I went to high school with was a rapper.

“A lot of influence in terms of the hip hop lifestyle came from him. Only a couple of years later I developed the idea of writing and creating my own music, which eventually saw me starting to attend open mics.”

But, he said, it wasn’t an easy industry to get into.

“It definitely was difficult because back in the early days most rappers who were already active on the scene took pride in the skill aspect of it.

“Gimmicks and mediocrity weren’t allowed. (I’m) not saying I was neither but I had such an individualistic approach and a different element which was unusual and threatening too many. I felt doubted so much that I had determination and was driven to prove myself and push way further than they’ve ever expected.”

The rapper has been active on the scene for more than a decade now. He was part of the hip hop group Ill Skillz and has shared the stage with several international acts including Kendrick Lamar, for the Cape Town stop on his 2013 tour.

“In Cape Town, we’ve always promoted our own alternative sound and aesthetic which has never been mainstream-friendly.”

In Joburg, he said, a well-developed media infrastructure played a huge part in generating lots of interest and focus on their industry.

This, he says, contributed to Cape Town hip hop becoming stagnant in many ways.

“Our problem we are facing though is that we tend to misrepresent ourselves by modelling what Joburg artists are doing, which honestly doesn’t reflect our own struggles and identity.

“So far I’d say YoungstaCPT, Driemanskap, Jitsvinger and myself have preserved that even though it comes with a lot of obstacles breaking through the national industry.”

He added that it was important to support the live hip hop scene in Cape Town – and vital to give a platform to young artists to shine.

“The saddest reality is that being a rapper is so watered down, it became very monotonous and saturated. If only we promoted quality.

“Nowadays it takes more than just being a rapper because trends have used the hip hop bandwagon to show that you can be less talented, use a gimmick and promote it via social media to a point where the uncultured and average listeners participate in all that mediocrity.

“My aim is to promote quality acts; hence the competition selects winners based on the dopeness of their song and their package as artists.

“I introduced this concept and competition cycle four months ago and so far it’s been going well. Plenty of submissions flock in every single month,” he said

For more information on Uno July’s upcoming events, check out his website at