In conversation with Inferno Williams
The Revivolution emcee sheds light into the very brief history of an overlooked, yet important, movement in Jozi and Mzansi's musical landscape
On his latest release titled Code Breaker 2099, the lyricist Inferno Williams sounds like an artist moving closer to the version of themselves they've envisioned for ages. He paints broad-based brush strokes through words, while the production allows him the freedom to explore the outer limits of his creative potential.
I wanna rap about things that other people aren't rapping about.
He sing-raps on "You" and “Flight Mode”; unleashes a lyrical smackdown on "Fresh Out the Jet" (assisted by Eon and Meda4z) where he spits, matter-of-factly, "I am the sculptor/I am the imagery that symbolizes the culture"; and shifts the time-space continuum on the cerebral "How Many Times", with bars such as "I had friends, I know many who sell/ through fucked up ends/ Saw plenty who fell/ Don't know heaven, but I've been through hell/ and the plug wanna sign me a deal". The song highlights the plight of a gifted kid growing up in a city that refuses to allow all your bold and beautiful parts to shine eternally.
"My story is a lot of stories. It's about growing up in a rough neighbourhood; it's about going through the most and putting yourself through the most; it's about being black; it's about being woke; it's about being rough around the edges. It's my background, [the stuff] that always shines through the music. I wanna rap about things that other people aren't rapping about," he says.
Inferno Williams is London-born and has lived in Jozi his whole life.
"I've got family all over the show, of every race. I grew up in Yeoville, then I grew up in Bez Valley. I grew up in the city; I was in Braamfontein before Braamfontein was hot. I've been outchea forever. I've lived the lives that rappers wanna pretend that they've lived," he says.
"I used to rap at Ghandi [Square], where everybody used to rap. I used to see ProKid before he became [who he became]. I battled [Snazz D multiple times] when I was a kid."
He's both truth-teller and assassin; a lyrical mastermind whose self-image and vision are as sharp as the multiple switch-ups when he raps. Code Breaker 2099 is a fully-formed foray into glamorous, the funky, the unscrupulous, and the uninhibited tales that occur within the inner city’s limits.
His arrival isn't without precedent, however; he's part of a greater circle of art-makers – emcees, producers, designers, and videographers – spread out across the world, some of whom feature on the release.
"Whipping the Sauce", for example, finds Revivolution crewmates Tony Dangler and Illy Amin, who are forthright battle rap champions and acclaimed lyricists in their own right, lending their brainy rhyme schemes to the fourteen-song project.
The camaraderie on display is a result of countless cyphers and recording sessions dating back a decade, along with a heightened level of skill hardened by a battle rap circuit which at times pitted crew members against each other, for the culture.
"Revivolution is a mixture of the two words Revive and Revolution," said Tommy ills in an earlier interview.
Inferno adds: "We all grew up around each other, in some way or the other. One day we were just kickin' it, still very young, must've been 2009. That was at the very beginning before there were any tracks."
They started messing around with recorded music, a long, drawn-out process that has since produced bangers like "N.K.M", "Toast" and "Rimshot".
Running parallel to the group project are solo efforts by crewmates Illy Amin, Tommy ills (Tommy's Pizza and Pussy Parlour, produced by Vez Fullstop), fuSion, Impropoe, and Tony Dangler (Nautica Challenge, with Irrelevant Papi on production). Unpolished, daring, and resolute in their makers’ commitment to quality lyricism, the releases are a fine exhibit from a group of outstanding gentlemen whose mastery of craft improves every time.
Take Impropoe, for example. His Ascension Level 43.2% release builds upon 2015's Body of Proof and 2018's Certain Delusions in subtle ways that prove substantial in the long-run. The skill level is better, and the overall feel – how the emcee sits on a song, how they manoeuvre to find pockets in the music – sustains the listener’s attention span.
The thread tying these worlds together belongs to the visionary Mister Makonga and his righteous illustrations. He explains the inspiration behind Illy Amin's detailed Straight Out Of Grimetown artwork on his Behance:
"The concept for the album is centered around three elements. The first is his name 'Illy Amin' derived from Idi Amin (Ugandan dictator). The second element is represented by the golden pigeon and bear head. The pigeon is the symbol/ mascot/ logo for grimetownsa.com. The bear head is the mascot/ logo/ symbol for Revivolution Clique, the collective/group that iLLy Amin is from. The third element is taken from the idea that hip hop lyrics exploit women. I explored the idea of a dictator who exploits other people in order to make himself and his own people rich."
Like his rapper and producer homies, Mister Makonga has ventured outside of his immediate Grimetown/Revivolution family to work on projects for artists like YoungstaCPT, and for brands such as Red Bull.
“It’s better if your visuals can match the music because then people can actually see what you’re trying to say and can understand what you’re about,” he said in an interview.
The multiple familial connections running within the Revivolution clique can send one running up the wall. Inferno Williams breaks down the Bounce Theory record label/Revivolution Clique connection thus:
"I'm out in the East [of Jozi], and I meet Major Bounce (also known as A-Major), and me and him start working together. Eventually, there was a crossroads. I said to Revivolution guys 'hey, I want you to meet the Bounce Theory guys,” he says.
“[Revivolution] met with A-Major, and our first track [from that session] was "Toast". We released it, and people felt it."
Responsibilities of adulthood mean that the crew no longer gets to hang out, cypher, and make records as much as they used to. But don't get it twisted, though; "Revivolution is forever. It's not like I'm [no longer a member]. It is always gonna be like that," he concludes.