Being real is hard, because everybody wants you to be like something else.”
Hip hop teaches. It affects change and gives hope, and the technical ability of the emcee can dazzle and entertain on a purely objective level. C-Scripture inhabits all of these qualities — the Malawian rapper is forging a path for the younger generation to walk down, creating hip hop that changes perspectives and gives listeners hope, understanding and empathy.
This is a man who saved his money for 10 years just to buy recording equipment to even begin his career. For whom it takes two years to save up the money to shoot a music video. The passion and motivation is fierce, and the message is just as potent.
I caught C-Scripture at an interesting time. Struck down by COVID in January, he endured days where he wasn’t even sure if he’d survive. Off the back of that he dropped Lost Tapes – a project that collates music from his entire history, and brings it all together with the life-affirming glue that binds his content to his spirituality. In the April 30th interview below, C-Scripture’s words are presented in italics, lightly edited for clarity.
‘Lost Tapes,’ that’s music from different periods of my life. It’s from early times when I was rapping as a kid back in secondary school, and there are also some songs there that I made in college, and there’s some songs there that I made just recently — you know after recovering from COVID. Just going through all of that, it kind of awakens you, when you have a near death experience, you know? You want to reflect on all of that, and that’s why you hear some of the songs in there, they sound more praising God, because I’m coming from this situation where I’m like ‘damn, I could’ve died.’ You’re just thankful to be alive, and that’s what comes out.
Sadly, this is not an unfamiliar situation for C-Scripture. Hip hop is a relatively new phenomenon in Malawi that is prompting new and exciting conversations, but for years his content had to walk the tightrope between being evocative & informative, but secretive enough to keep him safe from those he was critiquing. Through the lens of an addiction to Tramadol, the tragedy of everyday life for C-Scripture and those around him unfolds on his 2020 album Sketchy Notepad.
I had that song “Tramadol.” I’ve had a little bit of experience with addiction with painkillers, because there was a point in my life where I just wanted to feel numb. I didn’t want to feel… You end up using every single day, and that’s how I came up with that skit of Tramadol, because I was trying to link the pain that we feel in this country, living in this country, with just trying to numb it.. Sometimes I just take the Tramadol cause I don’t wanna feel it. I don’t want to feel everything that I go through every single day. So that was the approach to ‘Sketchy Notepad’… you’re just saying this is how I feel about these issues. But it’s the same issue, you can’t just come out straightforward and say ‘this is what I’m saying.’ Because in the society that I come from, you’re not going to be accepted — in fact you’re going to be persecuted. So you don’t want to go early, you want to keep doing what you’re doing so you become creative and crafty in bringing out your message and hoping that somebody somewhere will actually listen closely enough to actually unpack and say, ‘yo, hold up, he said this he said that, I think this is what he’s talking about.’
I kept all of that quote because it’s harrowing. We’re often shielded from the everyday realities when we consume mainstream news sources, and it turns into a lack of understanding and acknowledgement of the struggles others go through. Hip hop has always played a pivotal role in delivering stories from people in a struggle to people who have no lived experience in that struggle. It’s the bridge between cultures, between countries, between social groups. The added challenge for C-Scripture is to hide his message deep enough so that only the people he wants to find it will. His is such a nuanced process and when he gives you the key to unlock his content, the entire landscape reveals itself: a hidden undercurrent that transforms into a rich tapestry of unrest and agitation.
Well life’s a bitch, who taught her who to fuck with?
My painted picture perpetuating your politics
Perverted principles penetrating your policies
Now point a place I put my pilgrimage to providence
If I ain’t rapping, I’ll be jogging up your common sense
Like how the cops raping women, we ain’t starting shit?
Now take a stand, tell me how we fighting this
It’s frightening cause y’all ain’t seen your life in this
It’s buried quick, y’all ain’t seen a vice in this?
I take a Tramadol gotta put my mind at ease” – C-Scripture, “Tramadol” (2020)
N.W.A. are pioneers for the bravery in their message and method, but imagine if N.W.A. had to hide their message behind metaphors? Imagine if Public Enemy had to tell their story through a constructed metaphor in order for people to hear it? The immediacy of hip hop is something we take for granted — Killer Mike saying “I’m glad Reagan dead,” YG rapping “Fuck Donald Trump,” Chuck D calling Elvis racist and blaming “rednecks” for 400 years of oppression. This is instant knowledge if you allow it to be, but without that ability C-Scripture has had to deliver his message in a way that’s at first palatable, but upon deeper listen, is actually quite anti-conventional with regards to the society he grew up in. The movement he helped to pioneer has now effected real change. This is the enduring story of C-Scripture, the energy and passion and care he puts into his music career. The numbers of barriers he’s had to hurdle just to keep creating would stop a lot of artists in their tracks – not so C-Scripture – his dedication to his craft is palpable.
We consider hip hop to tell the story of a group of people. During the ‘90s when hip hop exploded into the mainstream and stories from ostracized and oppressed communities began to hit the charts, they connected with other communities across the country who felt the same but didn’t have the platform to speak about it. As these marginalized communities began to link up and consume this content, hip hop grew into a global force, transcendent enough to touch anyone suffering under harsh conditions.
Hip hop has now spread to every corner of the globe, but why did it take over 20 years from its origins in The Bronx to start charting with the same impact as other genres? C-Scripture delivers a possible answer via his own experience creating rebellious & honest hip hop in Malawi, and the path he’s now trying to forge through a culture that wasn’t ready to hear it when he first began.
In terms of hip hop being positive and impacting lives, the biggest challenge has been coming from a conservative culture. You’ve got this brand of hip hop that people like to call gospel rap or Christian rap, and then you’ve got this brand of rap where people like to be more realistic. So these have propelled forward, because you’re coming from a conservative culture, you see that people begin to think that that music is having so much impact. But it simply aligns to a culture that’s already there…
In terms of artists like me, who just don’t give a fuck and are just going to say their opinion, I think we’re those artists that are beginning to rise up, so we have that small following, you know the ghettos, the schools, and you’ve got these young *****s who are growing up with independent minds, where they’re saying ‘yeah we’re in a conservative environment and culture, but I don’t agree with that shit, I’m not gonna do it. I’m not gonna go with it just cause you say I’ve gotta go with it.’ And that’s the impact that we’re having right now. At the same time it’s very confrontational, but at the same time it’s positive in the sense that people are beginning [to] stand up for what they believe and who they are, without fear… If you come from a conservative society, one of the biggest things is that being real is hard. Because everybody wants to be like something else. Sometimes that’s just not you. I think that’s the impact that our music is generating right now.
Hip hop is a gift to everyone — the license to speak your truth and have it heard by everyone with a speaker. The issue in Malawi has been the lack of propagation of hip hop as a defining sound in the local scene. This means more than just “someone has to be the first to do it.” It’s far deeper than that. We take for granted the avenues for artists to create in modern times — cheap recording studios, access to cheap production equipment and recording equipment, a wealth of producers willing to sell their work, rappers in your physical vicinity you can link up with at shows and begin to network and create relationships with. Record labels, management companies, videographers, sound engineers who specialise in hip hop, stable and reliable internet to upload your music, an established royalty system so that if your song does blow up you’re compensated for it and you can reinvest that money into your music. Even just the ability to make and receive online payments is something we take for granted.
Remove all of this — how many rappers are left standing? This was an issue in the ‘70s and ‘80s for hip hop in North America, where the barriers to entry were almost too much for artists to overcome. C-Scripture has had to overcome all of those barriers, his story is unbelievable and the definition of self-motivated and passionate.
When you talk about recording, I’ve got so many crazy stories. I’ve walked close to 20 kilometres just to record. Because that’s the only ****a that’s going to allow me to record. That was the kind of environment. That got to a point where I’d save up money, and it took me close to like 10 years just to save up, just to buy recording equipment. And that’s the recording equipment I use to this day…
Even though the issue of recording and releasing music is slowly being overcome, the problem of getting paid off it remains. You can argue that art doesn’t need a monetary value to be created, but we live in a capitalist society, and unfortunately the reality is the less money there is in something, the less motivation there is to engage in it.
Now you got radio shows that want to represent those neighbourhoods because everybody from the hood got a song, so it starts to blow up… Everybody’s just coming to one spot, they save up a little bit. It’s this guy that’s recording me that’s making money, but everybody else is not making money, because nobody is buying. Everybody just want to be heard on the radio. And they only started paying royalties like five or seven years ago. So nobody was being paid the whole time they were playing all of this music. Nobody being paid.
Someone has to do things first and carve out a path for others to walk down. For most of us, the internet is a luxury we’ve never lived without. We’ve always had the ability to upload our music, write articles and publish them, create a fanbase online in whatever realm we choose to pursue. C-Scripture had to look outside his own country just to put his music on Spotify, and in the process create a lane for other Malawian hip-hop artists to reach a worldwide audience.
It was only artists like me who decided to step out, and say ‘you know what, fuck the local scene, I’mma be everywhere,’ so you put your music on streaming platforms. I was the first Malawian artist to have a digital release. Before me no-one had actually had a digital release. And I had to talk to a ****a in Zambia to put it up for me — that’s another country. ‘Cause that’s how hard it was. I knew that he knew how to do it, so I talked to him and I was like, ‘yo I know you love my music and everything, but I know there’s these platforms like Spotify and everything, I want my shit on that.’
A lot of [people] was fascinated — like ‘yo how did you do that?’ This was before people knew about Distrokid and Tunecore and all of this. So this guy would actually text me and teach me, like you gotta log into this site, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. And that’s when the bank started opening up to online payments and everything, because before that it was regulated, so you couldn’t even make an online payment. Once they started opening up, everybody started wanting to put their music online. That has also changed the industry because that’s where people are going. It’s just recently — I think last year — where people started putting their music on, and now we have got a whole wide range of listeners.
It’s important to pause on that section briefly. C-Scripture is an artist who broke down real-world barriers in order to keep making music. Who walked further than most would walk in a month just to record music. Who saved for 10 full years to buy recording equipment. In a generation of consumerism and instant gratification, the idea of having a passion but not being able to fully realise it for an entire 10 years sounds antiquated and unnatural. This is the power of music, the power of hip hop, and definitely the power of C-Scripture. You hear his passion when he speaks, whether on the song or in this interview.
No more so is this evident than when he speaks about his faith and spirituality. This is often a difficult topic to bring up as an interviewer — everyone has their own view on spirituality. Sometimes it can be quite rigid and unyielding, and it’s never certain where the conversation will lead when the question is first asked. C-Scripture — whose clever name phonetically reads “see scripture” — dropped some of his heaviest gems in this section, centred around the misconception that Christianity has about the self needing to be perfect, free of sin or contradiction.
First of all, I don’t believe in anything termed gospel music. I don’t believe that’s a real thing… The moment you start saying gospel music, [or] ‘I’m a gospel musician,’ for me automatically you’re not really. Because there’s nobody out there that’s perfect. I want to connect to you as a person. So you’re gonna come off and say ‘I don’t cuss, I don’t do that.’ I’mma look at you as corny. ‘Cause sometimes I’m gonna feel fucked up and I’mma cuss. That’s being real, and being real is not about being perfect, it’s not about always having it figured out.
That’s where people get it wrong, because everybody wants to come out figured out. And that’s why I think this spiritual section of music ain’t doing so well, because they’re trying to be what they’re not. They’re trying to come off as perfect, it sounds corny. Tring to come off as if they’ve got no wrong, or ‘I used to do wrong but I’m not wrong no more, so you gotta be like me.’ But I always tell people that wanting to be something does not necessarily mean you are that. It doesn’t make you that. So I’mma come off and I’mma be real, and I’mma tell you this is how I feel.
Authenticity is at the heart of hip hop and when an artist loses it, often they have lost their way artistically. It’s only a matter of time before the music stops connecting with fans and merely becomes a unit of consumption rather than art that fans interact with, are shaped by, are changed by. What is the connection to something that isn’t authentic? It’s transactional, it’s superficial, it’s voyeuristic. Throughout this interview series, authenticity is what I’ve sought out and it’s never been hard to find. Living outside of the major label system, outside of the constraints of popularity and contractual demands, artists are creating pure pieces of music. C-Scripture has taken it an entire step further, laying out a blueprint for living life in a meaningful way.
You end up being in this space where people have more grace towards that person who’s being honest and who’s being real because they’re not going to judge you. They’re going to be like, ‘yeah we get it, people do that, but you gotta get your shit together.’ So what matters to me is being honest and being who you are and not trying to paint a picture. I think that’s the most difficult thing — faith — because a lot of people are trying to take what they believe personally and pin it on you. They’re trying to take what they think should be the way of life and they’re trying to pin it on you. I don’t think that’s right, you know? I feel like if you have belief you have belief, that’s on you. That’s what you believe. But it doesn’t mean I can’t be cool with you because you believe something else… That’s where spiritual music loses it. It loses it right there, the moment people stop being honest, stop being real about humanity and who you truly are as a person. For me they lose me right there.
The shortcomings of organized religion are laid bare in C-Scripture’s music. He fights through mental illness and addiction, falling short of the “ideal version” of a Christian man, yet he’s actually ascending further on the path to self-actualization — to being a human who projects positivity onto the world. The message he hides in his bars relating to social upheaval and political change is often rebellious and, as he explained earlier, his music is a direct contradiction to the conservative society he was raised in. Imagine if we had someone who refused to create the paths he had because it might not be a conventional way to live within his faith? Humans are diverse, we’re conflicted, we’re wrong, we’re right, we fuck up, we hurt people, we learn. Mac Miller once said “we only grow from anguish,” so how can someone grow from living the perfect life? The self awareness needed to change opinions and create an entire lane in Malawian Hip Hop did not come from living the perfect life
At the end of the day, we have people that relate to us and they sit down and listen to that music and tell me that ‘yo man, my life has changed because I’ve listened to your shit and I know it’s real, and I have courage to say I’m gonna make it through the day.’ At the end of the day: believe in something and let it help you through life… How are you going to live your life if everybody’s business is your business? ‘Cause then you’ll never know yourself. I have a hard time just trying to figure out my own life… One of my biggest inspirations is 2Pac. I feel like 2Pac was so honest, he was a sum of contradictions, and that’s exactly what humanity is. That’s exactly what DMX was, he had that song “Damien,” I relate to it, I’ve been in that situation where this is my man, and you realise this person is taking you downhill. In the name of friendship you’re doing a whole lot of shit you’re gonna regret…
I feel like nobody has the right to come out and act like they’ve got it figured out. If you’ve got it figured out, great, live that figured out life. But don’t try to say ‘this is how you should live.’ Because you don’t know what I struggle with and go through… When you go to the bible, there’s a lot of stories of broken *****s. It’s not perfect *****s. You know you got a ****a in there who had a thousand wives. You got a ****a in there who God gave a whole bunch of commandments and he never followed one. At the end of the day they still say God was with them. And that’s exactly why I took that name C-Scripture. You might say I’m not spiritual, you might say I don’t got faith and everything, but if you see scripture, my life is scripture. That’s what I’m sharing, that’s my life, that’s what it sums up, it’s like the whole Bible man. My life is like the whole Bible. I believe some people are gonna sit down, listen to that music and learn from it, and bring out the best version of themselves.
I told you. Hip hop teaches, it affects change, it gives hope. If you didn’t come away from this interview with a new perspective, you will when you pair it with his music. Malawi hip hop is in incredibly safe and strong hands, and I hope it continues to grow, because the stories coming out of the country are pained, they’re resilient, they’re genuinely beautiful, and it’s something we will all grow from and learn from.
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