Classic Corner

Now And Still After:

February 8, 2022
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A story of collaboration by Mohale Molefe

Stream N.A.S.A on this link:

N.A.S.A Cover Art

Before I delve into the why, where, and how, I’d like to acknowledge every single person involved in the final project you know as NASA (Now and Still After).

Artwork: Unbranded Cow.

Producers: Instro, Mo Katalyst, Hopemasta.

Vocals and Live Instruments:

Tshwarelo, Nathi Banda, Tshitso Makunyane, Rasekgantsho Matsabu, Olehile “Freeky” Afrika

Rappers: Mothipa, Poltagyst, Instro, Mo Katalyst, Golden Shovel, Saint U know, I Amaze, Arch Angel, Kat, Leeroy, Thabang “Veron” Matlhare, Steezy Stylish, Savvy Sosa, X-Rate, Shem, Msolomba, Helen Herembi, BattleKat, Naked Eye, Wizardry, Nthabi, Reason, Big Ben “Benson N. Hedges”, Mr. Beef.

Mastering: Khoeti “Rustic Ras” Maile and Lee “Roach” Brune.

Usually, any blockbuster movie would start with the studio that made it, followed by the title and the superstars that headline it. This is a different kind of story. I first had to acknowledge everyone who borrowed us their time and God-given talent.

The year is 2008; I’m at home in Vereeniging on recess from varsity. I remember Instro had set up a meeting for later that day; he wanted to speak about a project that had been on his mind and in his heart. By the time the meeting convened we both had a task, to produce a compilation where he and I would produce an equal amount of tracks and select our favorite emcees to collaborate with. Two weeks later I gave him a call with a name for the tape and a list of people. We ran down the list contacting everyone listed and by the grace of God, everyone heeded the call. The tape was recorded at 36a Botha Street in Vereeniging at Lee Brune’s house which had a Studio in the back cottage.  At the time, Lee lived with his Mom a librarian and his father a stage manager who looked exactly like if you imagined Santa Clause but with the demeanor of an understanding father and former war general.

The sessions would vary, sometimes starting early in the morning and some ending way past midnight. A month passed and the tape was done; ready to be printed, pressed, and released. I remember sensing a tad bit of insecurity about the final product, we had listened to it over a hundred times trying to make sure our offering was at a standard good enough to not only compete but to break new ground. This was at a time where rap as a genre was mildly accepted, not celebrated, and especially our kind of rap. It represented where we were from, told our stories, and validated our existence as sentient beings who dared to deviate from the statuesque.

Lee Brune’s Home Studio

Before I get into the still after, I must mention that by 2008 we had already curated several compilations in high school collaborating with various emcees from in and around the Vaal triangle. From “Beautiful Hell on a record”, “Pill-grim-age” to “The Fundamental Mixtape” we had already begun flooding the high schools of the Vaal triangle with mixtapes almost annually. All of these were recorded in a bedroom at Intsro’s house in Sebokeng who at the time lived with his entire family (we were in high school). The tapes funded themselves, we were able to print, package and sell among our peers and trust me when I say they would be sold out within a week given we had to service the entirety of the Vaal with a very limited number of tapes.

This was an age before the internet, a time before Myspace or any other digital platform; ours was to record and hope the music will travel further enough to represent us where we could never imagine being heard. And travel it did, tossing our names into the cosmos where the gods would spread rumours about a new coming and a sound supreme. At the time, Optical Illusion and Trinity were the only groups that represented the Vaal in terms of Hip Hop, they had made it past the veil that covers our small town and made it through that impenetrable force-field that we had put up. The only way to get music in that era was to exchange tapes with fellow connoisseurs and to do that you had to be on the playing field at the ciphers filling that and willing to open your ear. This is how I was introduced to our predecessors who were still active in the game but were charting new territory in the city of lights and around the country where Hip Hop was a thing. While they were broadening the road ahead we were left with the responsibility of filling that vacuum and did we fill it!?

Inaudible Poetry Crew

Okay back in 2008, NASA has just dropped. The more I heard it the more the insecurity dwindled; it actually evolved into a sense of pride. When I told Instro the name I had come up with I had no idea he’d come up with such a beautiful intro, well written and expertly sung by Tshwarelo.

Track 2 had to be a Six Feet song in honor of the journey from then to now and in typical fashion, it was an entrée for what was to come.

The third song featured Golden Shovel and was produced by Hopemasta who was only twelve years old at the time, it was a remarkable combination because you had one of the veterans rapping on a beat made by a kid getting ready for high school. Someone who had already mastered his craft collaborated with a kid only beginning to understand his and it was indeed divine fury.

Track number four was a bit of a hustle to record, we had to get “Sake of Skill” to come to the Vaal for the first time. Luckily we had Jabu “Jabba Jaw” who went to high school with us and was also a member of the crew so he hooked the session up. It was fire, Six feet versus Sake of Skill, the Vaal versus the East rand. I had to share recording responsibilities with Instro that day, I don’t think I’ve had so much fun behind the desk like I did that day, I thought Six Feet had put it in the bag until Zibusiso “I-Amaze” recorded the last verse, I made him rerecord it about eight times just to fully fathom what he had just done.

Mo’ Katalyst at the studio

Track five is a fringe record for me, “The Bomb Squad” featuring Kat, Veron and Leeroy (R.I.P) were General Smuts alumni and we (Six-Feet) went to Riverside but they were like brothers (Bomb Squad). Veron (R.I.P) was a person I had worked with before and was someone who was as good with the pen as he was with the ball. Their song “Anything” carried a dope message but I feel like they chose the worst beat I’ve ever made.

Track number six “Finders of lost children” is my outright favorite; I made the beat immediately after my meeting with Instro. The sample came to me while I was attending a Diwali celebration which a Hindu friend of mine in philosophy class had invited me to. I went to the deejay and bought the CD off him after the set, it was some Tamil song about retribution, or at least that’s what I remember from what Ashfram told me. The song featured me, Savage, Steezy Stylish, and Mothipa and I had to go first because in my mind this was the flagship for the tape until I heard “Cure for the pain” but on second thought I did “hold the hand of life firmly and successfully armed wrestled Armageddon”. 

Track seven was “Live on stage” by Poltagyst; great jam and a bit of a break from the lyrical onslaught that was the first six songs and it introduced the musical pivot to come. All six feet members were commissioned to do a solo track, we worked best as a unit but we all accepted that challenge gleefully. Being a member of “Six Feet” taught me group dynamics and coherence, a skill very important in music-making but I’ve always felt different; for example, my favorite rapper growing up was “Mase” and underground rap was not ready to hear that from me. I sampled a song by Lynden David Hall called “If I had to choose” and to be quite honest I’d still choose” Mase”. I named track number eight “8 days in a week” as a testament to the amount of work it took, to travel, to set up, to write, to record, and still pop a beer or three or roll up and smoke up.

All of this would not be possible was it not for the breaks we spent in ciphers much to the discontent of our then girlfriends. NASA would not be possible if it was not for Mr. and Mrs. Brune and their son Lee. If you’re reading this as a rapper, you know just how unruly we can be and an elderly white couple was willing to assist us with Lee juggling his job and still staying awake with us in the studio ready to lock up when we leave past midnight.

I don’t know if Instro did this deliberately but yet again “Hopemasta” would team up with another veteran in the form of X-rate who I think was dating Nthabi at the time but the mighty X-rated checked the dam mike and yet another notch under Master’s belt. I had produced every track from six to ten except for “Live on stage” but the sequence was not in that order.

From then on Sthe took over…school was in session. Rifts, guitar tuning, vocal preps, and setting up the mics to record instruments. I actually got to see Sithembiso Herimbi do what he went to school for. All the years we had spent in Braam, learning, picking up new skills, and making new contacts amalgamated when I got to understand the amount of work it takes to bring something to life. You have to realize that Sthe was the glue because he came and suggested we do this project, he was there for every recording and walked it through to the end.

I am yet to find another compilation with that amount of talent and pure desire to express we had on that tape.

I could go on forever when it comes to NASA; honestly, I could write a book but what have we learned? It’s simple, music is a collaborative effort. It is why I have never enjoyed making music by myself. I recognize the strings, I know how to pull them, I recognize the drums, I know how to beat them. I recognize the words, I know how to say them. But if it was not for every individual soul that contributed to the making of Now and still after it would not exist today. We live in the era of “self-made people”, a time of self-focus but if there is anything I learned from the creation of NASA is that music is made best when made with other people. To me it is timeless because it is honest, it is a clear reflection of the time and intent. Special shout to “Reason”, “Nthabi”, “Wizardy”, “Mr.Beef”, “Helen (H.O.M.E), “Big Ben” and many more.

Tongogara did Track twelve with Tshitso, Nathin, and Rasekgantsho speaking on the importance of recording. We must know that it is not the victor who writes the history, it’s the person that dares to tell their story. NASA belongs in a capsule that can be left after we have inevitably destroyed the planet, it speaks volumes to a time but what I love most is that time and time again it has spawned so many who rule this generation and at its core, it is an example of how when our powers are combined we are captain planet. Everyone is on the precipice of greatness but the one thing they will always need to cross the threshold is music.

-Written by Mohale Molefe

Original handwritten script by Golden Shovel for Track 16 – The Streets