In addition to it being a classic Nas song, the phrase One Mic is now a reality television competition on SABC 1. But it’s not the standard tried and tested talent show formula where a bunch of hopefuls are crammed into a house together.
One Mic is all about the art of battling.
In hip hop, rappers go toe-to-toe in a war of words called battling. Often, the rhymes are free styled – when a rapper only rhymes about what he’s literally just thought of and not previously prepared – and the point is to obliterate your opponent.
On One Mic, there are four parts to this half-an-hour show. Four contestants get a go at The Written Material, The Lyrical Subject, Pass The Mic and The Freestyle Battle.
They are judged by veteran emcee, PRO (formerly known as Pro Kid) as well as former battle rapper turned crossover artist, Aewon Wolf and hip hop trailblazer, Big Zulu. It is hosted by the colourful DJ Doo Wop and tonight is its second episode. Aewon Wolf, who is a founder of the RUN DBN movement, says he was thrilled to be asked to be a part of One Mic. “I’ve always been a hip hop head,” he tells me. “Since I was a kid.
So it just felt natural for me to be a part of the show because I’ve studied all facets of hip hop since I can remember.
So when I found out there would be a hip hop show on SABC 1 I just knew I had to be a part of it so when they asked me, I said yes.” In terms of the show itself, Aewon Wolf says it is a reminder of how far hip hop in this country has come. “What I’ve learnt is that the state of hip hop is very strong,” he exclaims. “This is an aspect of hip hop that hasn’t gotten a lot of the light in SA. The battle rap aspect. So to see kids who can battle and are able to compete means that hip hop is very alive on the streets and on the underground.
That makes me feel good about what the show is doing: exposing the battle rap side because that never had this type of platform before.”
One Mic is the first time in recent memory that a mainstream platform like the SABC supports battle culture. But avenues like Scrambles 4 Money – which now streams the battles on a pay per view basis – have kept the culture alive for a long time.
The only thing that’s missing from all battle culture showcases is a strong emphasis on women in hip hop. When I ask Aewon Wolf why there is no woman on their judging panel, he says:
“I don’t know. I am guessing maybe since there are only three judges and the main host is female. Maybe if there was a male presenter there would be a female judge. I think with hip hop in general, female representation in the battles is not a lot because, from what I saw, a lot of females are not into battling per se.
I’d be very keen to have a female judge though.”
As for which one of the three is more Randall or Simon Cowell, Aewon Wolf says there’s a little bit of that tough guy in all of them.
“To be honest, I think we all have moments where we become Randall or Simon,” he laughs. “I can’t say any specific judge but I can say that PRO does vocalise his issues with certain contestants when they really irritate him.
I could say the same about me but with all of us, whatever we say is always constructive. There’s constructive criticism all around.”Aewon Wolf can dish it because he learnt to take it at a very young age. Ten years ago, he decided to hang up his battling bootstraps. But that’s not before he became a reigning champ.
“My most memorable moment on the mic was probably when I won a battle of the year competition at BAT Centre in 2004,” he giddily shares. “I quit battling in 2007 and decided to pursue and just focus on music and not the battle aspect.To battle really is a full time thing – you really have to do it every day. I don’t think people fully appreciate how much work goes into it.”
* Catch Aewon Wolf judging One Mic every Thursday at 6pm on SABC 1.