ASAP Shembe & Fireman give the township narrative a voice - Photography by  - Chris Nkabayezwe
Photography by Chris Nkabayezwe

ASAP Shembe & Fireman give the township narrative a voice

Long-time friends and collaborators ASAP Shembe and Fireman_r5 met more than 10 years ago in Vosloorus in the East Rand when ASAP Shembe moved there in 2006 and they both connected over a shared loved of hip hop and creating music. Both were surrounded by music at a young age, in ASAP Shembe’s case, it came from his parents who sold alcohol to friends and neighbours to earn extra money and always had music playing. They played the local club music of the times such as Teenage Lovers and Zamalek on heavy rotation. For Fireman, it was his grandmother that ran a shebeen filled with music by artists such as Bra Hugh & Bob Mabena.

For both artists, the release of Eminem’s ‘Marshall Mathers’ EP was their first introduction to hip hop and what sparked their love for the genre. This led ASAP Shembe to initially producing beats and later rapping over them. “I started rapping on my own stuff because I couldn’t find people to rap on my beats because my beats were so obscure.”

Their first collaboration, 2016’s ‘Butter’, was produced by ASAP Shembe and came about from frustration and unemployment. “We were both not working, sitting in the road, trying to figure out what the next step in our lives [would be]. Surrounded by people who are not working. This was giving a voice to the frustration of people who were just trying to find a way out. Something more than sitting on the corner with the homies just talking. It’s a release, a therapy session,” explains ASAP Shembe.

Three years later the two decided to collaborate again on the follow-up EP ‘Butter 2’. “We’ve really matured. In terms of life and who we are as individuals. As much as it’s still township stories, it’s going deeper instead of being on the surface, deeper to the root of the problem and no longer just talking about the symptom and finding the cause of these problems,” says ASAP Shembe of their evolution since their first EP.

The EP’s title is a reference to the struggles of township life says ASAP Shembe. “In any house in the township, there’s bread. No matter how poor you are there’s bread in your house. The bread represents all the issues that affect us. The butter is how you chose to escape. A bit of flavour to try and mask the problem. Making it a bit smoother to swallow.”

While the intro and outro tracks are produced by ASAP Shembe, the rest are produced by xSipping, who they connected with on social media. “We were sending each other beats and he sent me a couple while I was working on my album. I was with Fireman a lot and he said we hadn’t done a collaborative project in a while,” says ASAP Shembe about how ‘Butter 2’ came to life. “In December 2018 we were both in the township, so we sat down [and wrote the EP],” explains Fireman.

With a physical release and merchandise coming up, the two want this release to connect with their audience. ASAP Shembe expresses, “the people we’re trying to talk to speak in vernac. So the person I’m talking to can hear what I’m saying and it doesn’t go over their heads. It’s easier to connect if someone is talking to you, not over you.”

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