Hope, fighting doubt and rap with 11Eleven - Photography by - Thapelo Mahlangu
Photography by Thapelo Mahlangu

Hope, fighting doubt and rap with 11Eleven

The hustle and bustle that is attached to me as I walk in the concrete port of Johannesburg known as ‘em tee en’ with the advent of everything being sold, anything you can get your hands on you can find legal or illegal. After passing the performance space on my left gathered with numerous amounts of people as they gaze at the magic that takes place before them I head across the road into a building that is semi-tranquil. As I enter I find a fly-by night college, Christian gift shop and a fashion studio. The building is called the drill hall that used to be a military base, constructed on the ruins of a prison that marks Britain’s victory in the Anglo-Boer war. Now home to a new breed of soldiers fighting for the realization of their dreams, 11eleven are the city’s backbone to the future.

As I enter the makeshift skate park I am greeted by skater Kyle Kheswa wearing a black SSS hoodie. I settle in as we sit for a while until we decide to go out into the skate park and breathe in the CBD’s morbid ambience. As we wait for an absent member of 11eleven we play some trap music to the sounds of thumping metal and the rapid rolling of skateboard wheels as Kyle skates the metal ramps. Marko Morachin ultimately suggests we start with the interview.

“011 remove the zero coz we don’t take losses,” a phrase said by Marko Morachin as he describes what’s behind the name 11eleven. Being from Johannesburg this group has based their artistry on this city and not for its geographic’s but for its destructive and horrific persona that screams survival of the fittest. This is not Mobb Deep, group home or Wu-Tang this is 11eleven and they‘re here to tell you what really goes on in Joburg, no cap!

One who wouldn’t understand would understate that 11eleven is rude, misogynist, unruly and violence driven by the way they punch their street aesthetic into their rhymes and rhythms. With cold minimal melodies, trap programing, east coast style sampling and lyrics that go “experience the cruelty/ I swear this crazy shit ain’t even supposed to be new to me/ victim’s what you soon to be/cuming for your pride but then they leaving with your jewellery…”

This was taken from a song called “Backwoods” from the groups debut ‘Experimental Equations’. The death of a fellow brother of theirs who was known as Kb, who was stabbed in the neck by someone they knew, “who took his own life later on,” left them in agony, despair and unfathomable depression as the post-mourning of their beloved gets harder each day.

As the condensed clouds of pain create this brutal storm of depression for the individuals that complete 11eleven, something quite divergent happened. They somehow grew closer as people and this maturity within union disassociated with the pain and brought forth this sense of enlightenment that ignited their collective consciousness to define their presence and its marriage to their surroundings. They decisively pulled all their resources to obtain studio time and studio equipment.

Their true Joburg hustle spirit is in no way doubtful as they relay a time where someone they anointed ‘Mr Anderson’ helped them sell scrap metal that was all over the ‘drill’ to invest into their ideas as young black youth aiming to escape the juvenile quality of downtown Johannesburg and make a better life for themselves.

They did all they could and poured it all out on these records and that’s how their first tape came together. “If I can remember we didn’t plan ‘Experimental Equations’ it was just a bunch of tracks we had” Swiss Lu says. The coalescence of their brotherhood is highly evident in the mixtape’s composition with the likes of Bakersman, Lucho, Dirty native and Sixfi known for other disciplines yet still their comradery manages to provide an exceptional hip hop mixtape about the hard knocks Jozi jolts us with.

With lyrics that reflect on prostitution, guns, muggings and the indissoluble criminal hegemony of Johannesburg’s CBD one would misjudge the rappers for romanticizing the CBD’s shadowed aura but what they do is relay a reality people are aware of, although people choose to escape through the agency of what we now know as Johannesburg rap.

Expressing their truths as they navigate their existence no matter how personal and dark it is. Deep meditations on game plans and escape plans, witnesses to the true Johannesburg with all the darkness and danger surrounding them they confront the city’s antagonization no matter what. By always maintaining their honesty they automatically trash the plastic facades transported by social media hype and continue to work towards a prosperous future by keeping it real.

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