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WORDS ON THE STREET

Battle rapper Tee Starz’s verbal war is pure musical mixed martial arts

Battle rapper Tee Starz’s verbal war is pure musical mixed martial arts
Battle rapper Tee Starz. (Photo: Supplied)

Hip-hop artist Tee Starz speaks to Daily Maverick about his enthusiasm for battle rap and why he believes it deserves respect.

Battle rap – when two or more rap performers take each other on to see who can create the best verses – may still be fairly obscure or underground in South Africa, but Tee Starz plans to change that.

When did you first identify as an artist?

Since I was about six. My mother used to play music every day and most of it was hip-hop and soul from when she was young. From the moment I understood what music was, I had an interest in how it was created – the beats, the vocals for the verse and the hook. It all felt like magic to me when I’d hear different songs and all the concepts were different from song to song.

Soon my older brother started rapping. I went to visit him at my grandparents’ house so I could learn too. Seeing where I am today proves that I knew where I needed to go from early on in my life.

What branch of art most stimulates you?

Battle rap. I find the format of writing and performance thrilling. A verbal war with skill, technique and a raw lyrical feel is my version of mixed martial arts. I enjoy the professionalism that has been found in battle rap in recent years. A skill that was mostly used on street corners and in classrooms during break time has now become a profitable and reputable sport worldwide.

During every battle the contestants create new material, and it is usually more captivating than the given battler’s previous material. This inspires me to always have a new approach to my writing and to dissect and explore concepts deeper than normal songwriters do.

Which artist in this discipline has inspired you, and why?

Tay Roc. He’s an American battle rapper who’s been in the sport since the age of 16 and is one of the most consistent and respected performers in the field. He has competed in 50 battles and they have amassed more than eight million views. His hard work and continued dedication to giving great performances inspire me to be as impactful as he is.

Tee Starz

Battle rapper Tee Starz. (Photo: Supplied)

What, to you, is art’s most important function?

I believe art is how we can capture memories, emotions and experiences sonically. There’s music for happy moments and happy memories. There’s music for sad moments and sad memories. Art can teach you how to carry yourself, how to fix your life and how to move on from what you can’t change.

On the flipside, it can also teach you how to give up, how to ruin your life and get yourself into ­situations you aren’t supposed to be in.

All this is in the power of words and frequencies. The same mind can heal or hurt. Artists who know the power of their influence and creations can shape future leaders through motivation and knowledge, whether in religion, science, nature or technology. Art shapes the world.

Which local creative, in any medium, excites you?

Lethabo Sara Khunou. She’s a model and actress from my neighbourhood. The things she’s achieved and the places she went through following her dreams are inspiring to me. Hard work inspires me. If she could do it, maybe this place isn’t so inescapable after all.

What specific work, be it in literature, music, or visual art, do you return to again and again, and why?

The Amateur by Robert Littell. I appreciate the way he structured the storyline. I stole the book from school when I was a teen and I’ve been in love with reading more than ever since I read it.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rosey’s rap opens the door to sweet-smelling success

I taught myself storytelling starting with this book. If you follow greatness, you will learn to find the path to your own. Of all the great books I have read and all the amazing writers who authored them, this remains my favourite.

Tee Starz

Tee Starz says ‘art can teach you how to carry yourself, how to fix your life’. (Photo: Supplied)

What are your thoughts regarding the artificial intelligence revolution?

I stay away from what’s happening in the technological world as much as I can. I just hope we don’t lose meaning in every new advancement that is created. I feel like everything is moving too fast.

Are there any projects you’re unveiling or wrapping up soon?

I am preparing for a few major battles that are guaranteed to change how this part of rap is received and respected in South Africa. Two of my music projects that will be released before the first half of the year are done and some fresh new merchandise is available for followers of the Tee Starz brand. DM

Mick Raubenheimer is a freelance arts writer.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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