My relationship with hip hop culture started in early high school, around 1996.  I started skateboarding and hanging out with some older kids at Uthongathi High School on the KZN east coast, about halfway between Durban and (back then) a small surf town called Ballito that was about half and hour up the north coast from the city.  This crew was a mix of boarders (kids who lived at school, including me) and day kids, and the boarders would often hang with the day kids on weekends if they couldn’t get home to their respective families.  One of those cats, also a boarder like me, was Nathan “King Babar” Redpath.

Nathan KING BABAR Redpath
Nathan KING BABAR Redpath

At the time we met he was starting to explore digital beat making.  I remember some of his earliest forays into Drum and Bass on a cassette tape.  He was mad proud and I was suitably impressed.  Years later we would meet up again in Durban.  I had moved there to finish up high school, and he came through to see which way the wind was blowing after matriculating.  He had done some time in Johannesburg but his family was relocating to KZN and he was leading the way.  He hooked up with a digs mate of mine and we were hanging out again, skating and socializing and schooling.  While I studied on at the University of Natal, he was getting his diploma in Sound Engineering from Damelin College.  Prior to that, Nate had down a stint over in Taiwan teaching English.  While he was there we decided that our mutual love for hip hop music and our mutual distaste for commercial rap should manifest in our own music.  We decided to call ourselves Illuminating Shadows.

When Nate got back he quickly put his finances into setting up a home studio.  We recorded three tracks together, back room style, raw, full of attitude, and with those in our back pockets we had a claim to stake on the local scene.

Hip Hop in KZN was coming early to the late game in terms of the national movement of the genre.  Cape Town had started it, all the way back in the struggle days.  Jozi had picked it up post-94 and properly put it into play as a commercial genre, creating an immediate space for the culture to expand nationally.  Durban was still that raw untapped live “Open Mic” market, and we started to work it hard, making a name for ourselves as being “those two white boys”.  Just before taking it to a new level a number of elements came together that would give us the boost we needed to sustain our ambition to be an established crew.  SA hip hop icon and legend DJ Explode, otherwise known as READY D had started to penetrate the Durban mainstream club market with his blend of technical turntablism and masterful club mashing mixing.  Suddenly hip hop, REAL hip hop, was the order of the day and all of the mainstream venues were looking to cash in.  Around the same time, the movie 8 MILE came out and introduced the commercial world to aspects of the culture that were as yet unknown to the main market.  Ciphering and freestyle battling became a hallmark of any dope real hip hop event in the city.  If it was happening then the heads would be there, and if the heads would be there then the ciphers would kick off without a doubt.

The Castle INQABA Sessions were a direct result of a corporate connecting with some clever heads who used that cold Castle cash to create one of the most solid platforms for the expansion of the culture in Durban.  Illuminating Shadows were right there in the thick of it, hitting up ciphers, promoting our music, being seen on the scene.  It was around this time that we threw our first show.  A homeboy by the name of Nic Lewis had returned to SA after some time in the UK where he had been totally into the underground hip hop scene.  This cat had plans beyond plans and we were all well stoked to welcome him into the scene with all the energy and ideas he brought.  He opened THE LAB, Durbans first all elements lifestyle store, with vinyl, a chill room with a turntable set-up, and he even let me have a small studio in the back where I could sketch and make stickers and generally keep active as an aerosoloist.  It was this dude who put money down for Illuminating Shadows to hire a venue and host our own show.  We called it “The ILLSHAD SHOW”.  By this time we had incorporated two more heads into the crew, a turntablist Rob “Mr Min” Hannah and a second laptop controlling beat writing sound wizard Tristan “Tryst 1” Horton.  We hired out a local underground alternative joint called BURN on a thursday night, roped in some extra heads to phatten up the line-up, and launched ourselves onto the scene.

Since then (2003) ILLUMINATING SHADOWS has gone through more motions then a car guard, adding and subtracting members, splitting up and reforming, recording, touring overseas and round the country, always maintaining a real love for the aspects of the culture that brought us together: attitude, style and professional conduct, with plenty of messing around to keep it all loose at the seams like sagging baggy jeans.

Illuminating Shadows presents THE PSYCLES E.P.
Illuminating Shadows presents THE PSYCLES E.P.

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