We spoke to Yugen — along with her producer Kanif — about the importance of world building, the influence of science fiction, and why Kool Keith is her "cosmic pops."
Yugen Blakrok is proving herself to be one of the freshest voices on the hip-hop scene. After guesting on the Black Panther soundtrack, the South African-based MC’s latest album, Anima Mysterium, transports the listener to a mystical sci-fi realm that’s backed by moody and atmospheric beats that weave in trip-hop influences.
Can you break down what the album title, Anima Mysterium, is all about?
Yugen Blakrok: It describes a world within a world. We wanted to call it a shadow world, so it’s that side of yourself that exists in a subconscious realm, whether you want to look at it as hidden desires or your subconscious telling you things. We wanted to create a world of mysteries and explore where the hidden comes to the forefront. I actually took inspiration from Carl Jung when he talks about the anima and animus, the female and the male shadow of the human experience. This is exactly what we’re looking at: We’re looking at the unsaid, the meaning behind the movement; whether you’re looking at the stars or the human condition, there are so many different states and so much that is unexplored. We wanted to express that through the vibes, the sonics, and through word codes things that bring up questions sort of like a puzzle.
Do you have many conversations with Kanif about how the music will reflect these concepts?
Yugen Blakrok: Yeah, there are many different ways in which you can say one thing and we try to explore all those ways and make it as full as we can. Most of the things we talk about are things that we’ve read or watched and we’re into the same films. So the inspiration flows from me to him and from him to me.
Kanif: Once Yugen has got a a concept or an idea, I’ll create something and we’ll take it out and try it live a few times. It takes a while before we find the sonics to express the world the song is about. For this album, a lot of the songs had an emergency to them and we probably redirected some of the sonics and frequencies that way. Once you’re both in the world of the project, it becomes clearest to you as artists.
What was the last movie that ended up inspiring a song?
Yugen Blakrok: Actually I’m a fan of old movies, those certain classics you always go back to. I remember Twilight Samurai, that jumps to mind, I really love the existential philosophy. When it comes to movies or writing, I have an affinity to people who think that way with Eastern philosophy.
Kanif: The album has a lot of Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke to it.
Yugen Blakrok: You look at all the theories and the mysteries, whether there’s a hollow earth, and you explore everything that’s there to be questioned.
What did you think of the Black Panther movie?
Yugen Blakrok: I saw it a couple of times. There are many things I enjoyed about it. I found some of the plot a little hard to understand for myself — but it’s done how it’s done according to Marvel Films — but in terms of styling, the one thing that jumped out to me was that feeling of being represented. It captured some essence of what I know to be Africa.
If you were both superheroes, what would you special powers be?
Kanif: Frequencies and sound sonics. The whole world is frequencies and waves so I think it would be pretty powerful to control them.
Yugen Blakrok: I always imagined myself as like with a Medusa kinda power, like dragons for dreadlocks! Some really extreme mythical vibe.
Kanif: Just destroying worlds on a whim!
Kool Keith appears on “Mars Attacks.” How did that come about?
Kanif: We were working on a remix of “Morbid Abakus” and it just reminded me of Kool Keith.
Yugen Blakrok: He was like, “You know, Kool Keith would probably sound great on this. Why don’t you hit him up?” Just like that! I love Kool Keith, but Kanif just kept pestering me about him. But one day I hit him up and he was so down that I was shocked. He gave such good vibes, like, “Yo, you want that Octagon flow?” At that time he was also dropping the second Dr. Octagon album so it worked out great.
Kanif: These worlds Keith created with Black Elvis or Octagon, for me hip-hop has always been a storytelling art and you can say so much in a 16 bar space. These dudes presented these new worlds we could explore: Octagon really changed my understanding of what you could do with MPCs and 16 bars.
Yugen Blakrok: For me, also, as much as the aim is to try and express yourself as honestly as you can, you also want to use words in a creative way and make the mundane seem like something extraordinary — and that’s one thing that guy can do. He can count to ten and make it sound like the best verse you’ve ever heard! It’s a skill and it’s a magic. I do feel blessed he saw himself in the project and that he gave us what we love about him. He’s a true master and my cosmic pops, probably.
Yugen Blakrok, Anima Mysterium (Cylid Sarl DBA I.O.T Records)