South African label Iapetus Records drops dark and heavy beats.

South African label Iapetus Records drops dark and heavy beats.

Iapetus Records have never seemed all that comfortable in the South African hip hop industry. They’ve always set themselves apart a little. They’ve never compromised on their core sound, and while other labels can sometimes be nothing more than individuals joined by tenuous threads of text messages and emails, Iapetus have always been locked tight.

They tend to push one project at a time, every artist stepping in to help. They’ll converge on Yeoville, a Jo’burg suburb where Kanif has a flat and a home studio. With a beat playing and some good smoke going around, they’ll sit down and start writing. And you can hear it in the music; you can practically see the smoke drifting out of the speakers. Close the curtains and cut the lights, and you could be right there.

The label has been around since 2006 – a product of four friends at different high schools who met at the Saturday afternoon sessions of Le Club, a legendary Jo’burg hip hop venue. By the time Kanif, Shorty Skillz, Gin-I Grindith and Sothemba started making music, they’d all realised a couple of things: they didn’t like big labels, and they wanted to make music their way. That meant booming drums, eerie atmospherics, and lyrics that twisted and turned like a snake. They called their label Iapetus – a term referring to one of Saturn’s moons, an ancient ocean, a mythological Greek Titan.

In eight years, Iapetus have only gotten stronger. “The change has been in the organisation,” Grindith says. “In our ability to shoot videos ourselves, to do things on our own. We can do things in-house, we don’t need to ask anyone to do things for us.” In this playlist Huck presents a selection of videos that provide an entry point to discover what Iapetus are all about.

Robo the Technician – HipGnostiks

The death of Robo the Technician in October 2013 had a huge effect on the label. Every Iapetus artist we speak to says that Robo’s death hit them harder than they could ever have expected. “He was a mad cool cat,” says Blakrok, her voice cracking a little. “A lot of the drive, we got from him – as much as Kanif is the heart of the label, Robo was the soul. Everyone’s a little lost without him.” In this video for HipGnostiks, it’s easy to see Robo’s immense talent and see why his death was such a loss for Iapetus and SA hip hop as a whole.

Hymphatic Thabs – Fire Fables

Iapetus’ first project was by an emcee named Hymphatic Thabs. The album, Age of Horus, was everything Iapetus wanted to be: lyrically dense, sonically complex and utterly brilliant. It’s an undisputed South African hip hop classic. This track ‘Fire Fables’ gives a good impression of what to expect from the rest of the album. Checking out Age of Horus is strongly advised.

Izulu Lelam – Driemanskap

Iapetus have faced plenty of challenges. The South African hip hop landscape has a metric fuck-ton of talent on the artist side, but it’s mighty poor when it comes to industry figures. Ironically, Grindith says, one of the few labels he considers on the same level as his own are Pioneer Unit, a Cape Town indie run by UK producer DPlanet. Like Iapetus, they make dark, heavy hip hop, and like Iapetus, they stick together. This video by Izulu Lelam shows their game is tight.

Yugen Blakrok – House of Ravens

Yugen Blakrok joined forces with the label in 2009. She comes from Queenstown, deep in the Eastern Cape province, and moved to Jo’burg after university. Rapping, she says, was always part of the plan. “I got some recording time, paid for a studio on the East Rand and put together a little project – I’m too embarrassed to even call it an album, it was so badly done.” But there’s nothing amateur about her slick video for ‘House of Ravens’.

To read more about Iapetus Records grab yourself a copy of Huck 43 – Street Photography with Boogie