Article By: Craig Duncan 26.02.2010

A Friday Ripple special, on of one of modern African music’s biggest success stories: Ghetto Ruff Records. It’s a story that takes us from the notorious ghettoes of Mitchell’s Plain on the Cape Flats, through townships all over South Africa, all the way to the top of the South African music scene. 

In this week’s show, 27 slamming tracks of kwaito, hip hop and urban pop – and the real Ghetto Ruff story, as told by label founder/ CEO Lance Stehr and resident urban superstar Ishmael (Jozi/Skeem/Prophets of da City).

Click on the link above for the whole story, with interviews recorded inside Ghetto Ruff’s Cube studio compound in Johannesburg (that’s right – to bring you the hottest stories, Radio Wave visits the places where American rappers are scared to go).
Everything you wanted to know about the hits, the hustles, the beats and the beefs that have made Ghetto Ruff into South Africa’s best-known urban music label. The full playlist’s at the bottom of the page; here are some highlights of the interviews:

Lance on how Ghetto Ruff started…

“Before actually getting involved with other bands, we were trying to set up a studio to record our own stuff that we were doing. That was around 1988. I was writing, and my big aim was to get a group together that could say something against the government”.

After a year and a half, two years of finding out that, in actual fact we didn’t have any talent – myself and the producer I was working with – I stumbled across Ready D, who had produced a track; he was from Mitchell’s Plain in Cape Town… I was like ‘Wow, who is this guy? I’d like to meet him.’ Ready D was a DJ from Cape Town, and he was one of the founding members of Prophets of da City. I actually didn’t even listen to them – we put them straight in the studio, and over a period of 6 months we recorded the first album.”

Ishmael on his move from rapping with Prophets of da City to forming Skeem, Ghetto Ruff’s first platinum-selling Kwaito act…
“How Skeem started, it was like, me and my friends while I was in POC, me and my friends beside – OK, POC was my friends, but I had other friends that I grew up with. We used to live together in Yeoville [Johannesburg]. So obviously we’d just like mess around with music, we used to DJ around Yeoville, stuff like that. And one time, we were like, ‘you know what…?’ We did a track in the studio, we came back to the house, we played it over and over and the people just liked it, and we’re like, ‘Yo! Let’s do something about it.’”

Lance on Zola – Kwaito gangsta rapper, actor, TV presenter, entrepreneur and former Ghetto Ruff artist, once polled the second most famous man in South Africa after Nelson Mandela…
“Zola’s an incredible speaker. Zola’s got a lot to say. Where I think he gets a lot of his ideas from is obviously tracks that have really made it in English. He would be able to very cleverly translate the lyrics that would make sense in Zulu. He’s got an amazing talent in terms of language. Because the township or the area that Zola grew up in was called Zola, that’s where he got the name. He called himself Zola from the hood that he was from. And it’s amazing because, in actual fact, there’s no real gangsta in Zola. Zola comes from a very level, well-educated family. What he was really good at doing was mimicking what he saw. And that’s what made him this huge gangsta in [hugely successful TV drama] Yizo Yizo 2. And that’s why the public were like, ‘Yo, this guy is heavy!’”

Lance on the birth of Jozi – Ghetto Ruff’s first urban pop supergroup…
“I semi-adopted Brenda Fassie’s son, Bongani Fassie, and he came to live with us after Brenda died of an overdose. That was in 2004. And Ready D had phoned me in 2004, four weeks after Brenda had passed away, and he said to me ‘Listen Lance, you have to hear this kid.’ And it’s quite amazing when another artist phones you to say, ‘Hey, take the spotlight off me and point it over there, because that’s where the next sound is coming from.’ And that was Bongani Fassie. So, Bongani was an incredible producer, and he came and he was staying at the studio, and slowly there was a sound that I introduced them to in terms of trying to get that old-school South African flavour but mixing it with hip hop. And the first producer within the camp who managed to hit it spot on was 37MPH. 37 just hit it spot on, and then Bongani went ‘Is this what you’re looking at? This isn’t a problem.’ And he produced the rest of the album. And that was the album of Jozi [debut Muthaland Crunk].”

Lance on certain high-profile beefs and breakups of recent years…

“We worked on the whole soundtrack [to Oscar-winning 2005 gangsta movie Tsotsi], and then, from that we started to concentrate on Z – on Jozi! I nearly said Zola!”

“But at that point, as Jozi started to grow, Zola became very pissed off. And Zola believed that he should do things by himself, and he left. Now, the big problem that came in was that, as Jozi grew in popularity, the different members in the band didn’t really have the same amount of patience that it requires when working on this thing called music. Cos this thing called music – like I said earlier, it took me, to get to this point, 18 years, and I’m still looking for that sound. And I’ve found the sound; I’ve found the group of people that I believe can actually do it globally. And just when you’ve found it, after you nurture it for two and a half to three years, certain members in the group go “I’m out.” And that’s what happened.”

Lance on Ghetto Ruff’s twice-lost classic, Prophets of da City’s Age of Truth (1993): banned by the apartheid regime for its political content, banned by the new democracy for its potential to incite racial hatred…
“I can very confidently say that the group that deserved to win a Grammy in the hip hop category for their album in 1993 was Prophets of da City. The Age of Truth album was the album. It’s one of those genius albums, that happens at a point in the country’s political history where the country’s going through turmoil, the voting hasn’t really happened yet, we’re recording the album in a police state. The masters actually get confiscated, I happen to have copy of the masters in my pocket; it’s the only way we get out of the studio. And it’s amazing; it’s all those things that made that album, Age of Truth, one of the most incredible albums for me. That is the album of the last two decades. Over 16 tracks were banned from the album – actually, that album was banned in the old South Africa and the new South Africa!”

Here’s the playlist:
Zola – Ghetto Scandalous (Ghetto Ruff)
Mapaputsi – Izinja (Ghetto Ruff)
Jozi – African Worldwide (Ghetto Ruff)
Jozi – Muthaland Crunk Intro (Ghetto Ruff)
Prophets of da City – The Struggle Continues (Ghetto Ruff)
Brenda Fassie – Vul’indlela (CCP)
Pitch Black Afro, Morafe, Bravo, Ishmael – Remix Waar Was Jy? (Ghetto Ruff)
Kaybee – Ndodandoda (instrumental) (Ghetto Ruff)
Zola – Ghetto Fabulous (house remix) (Ghetto Ruff)
Kaybee – To You – music (Ghetto Ruff)
Zola – Bhambatha (Ghetto Ruff)
Zola – Ngudu (Ghetto Ruff)
Kaybee – Mavovo (instrumental) (Ghetto Ruff)
37MPH – All In The Name Of Fun (Ghetto Ruff)
Ishmael feat. Bongz – C.R.A.Z.Y. (Ghetto Ruff)
Jozi – What’s with da Attitude (Ghetto Ruff)
Jozi – Da One (Hiyo Le) (Ghetto Ruff)
Prophets of da City – Understand Where I’m Coming From (Ghetto Ruff)
Prophets of da City – Mahalla (Ghetto Ruff)
Kaybee – Beatbiter (Ghetto Ruff)
Pitch Black Afro – Zonke Bonke (Ghetto Ruff)
Mgarimbe feat DJ Jabzeen – Sister Betina (Ghetto Ruff)
Skomplazi – Zulu Love Letter (Ghetto Ruff)
Ishmael – Soccer (Ghetto Ruff)
Da L.E.S. – Intro Music (Ghetto Ruff)
Zola – Mavovo (Ghetto Ruff)
Morafe – The Whole Thang Remix (Ghetto Ruff)