This is a tribute I wrote to slain rapper and social activist, Mario Van Rooy AKA Mr Devious…
You don’t have to be into hip hop to know that great rappers die young. You know the old Biggie and Tupac tropes. Rapper has larger-than-life charisma and unquestionable skills. Rapper gets killed tragically at the hands of violent attacker(s). Rapper’s body of work and legacy lives on decades after their accomplished albeit short life.
Today we pay tribute to slain hip hop activist, Mario van Rooy aka Mr Devious, who would have turned 34 last Friday. A conscious emcee from Beacon Valley, Mitchell’s Plain. I’m wary of using the label “conscious”. Nowadays “conscious” rap is that ubiquitous banner many emcees try stand under. Give a rapper some Swazi section and an Eckhart Tolle or David Icke book and soon they’ll be spouting some hyper-paranoid esoteric kak in the name of elevated consciousness. These cats want to school you on transcending to unknown realms and shape-shifting politicians who possess reptilian tails – if only you would open your minds, man. Problem is these abstractions can only be made in fantasies or at the end of a very long blunt.
Devious’ sphere, however, was not supernatural hocus-pocus, but the very tangible issues that people in his community, and the Cape Flats at large, face on a daily basis. Through being actively involved in his craft he, in his own words: “started getting aware and passionately angered by the system”. A political and economic framework designed to keep the poor and uneducated fucked on drugs and alcohol and confined to segregated ghettos.
The documentary entitled Mr Devious: My life is one of my most prized Mzansi rap keepsakes. This posthumously released DVD tells the story of the ghetto spokesman and icon comprehensively.
To dodge explaining something my middle-class white ass knows very little about, let me just say that it’s not hard to understand that growing up in one of the Cape Flats’ roughest hoods places you in a difficult predicament. You’re pretty much fucked from the get go, easily sucked into the quagmire of gangsterism and drugs which lie just beyond your front gate. Where for many, the only legit choice is to become a factory worker and the only default – join the gang.
Determined to find a way out through hip hop, Devious took on all the forces pitted against him armed with his unforgettable high-pitched voice and razor-sharp mind for constructing meticulous, high-energy rhymes. His venomous bars, or “insidious” as he liked to call them, were born out of sheer anger and frustration, of which he had no shortage. Unlike most underground rappers who instinctively hate and shoot bile all over the industry before ever recording a track, Mr Devious had had his taste. In ‘98 he signed to Ghetto Ruff, leaving his family for six months to record an album in Jozi. In the doccie his wife, Natalie Van Rooy, explains how he returned physically and mentally fucked, sunk into despair as he found out the album’s distribution would be canned.
Feeling dejected by the failed deal and pressure from the news that his wife was soon to bear them a child, the 25 year-old plunged into lower depths of despondency. He would soon be running with his old clique, carrying guns and swallowed up by the evils of street life.
It was at this stage that filmmaker, John Fredericks, came across Devious which would mark a big change for them both. Inspired by the young man’s brazen voice and influence he had on people, Fredericks invited Devious to record for the soundtrack to gangsterism films Shooting Bokkie and Tomorrow’s Heroes. This got him back into the recording booth with his crew, Untouchable Fellows, as well as working with the likes of Godessa and African Dope.
With a rejuvenated supply of energy and direction Devious got a job at CRED (Creative Education for Youth at Risk) and put his gift to good use teaching convicts and awaiting-trial prisoners at Pollsmoor prison and doing youth guidance counselling in Heideveld.
In January 2004, Devious’ life came to an end at the age of 27 with a knife to the neck when he tried to rescue his father from stick-up kids on the corner of the street where he lived. He dedicated his life to being a role model, mentoring youth who faced the same obstacles he had overcome with persistence and determination. The documentary also covers his family life; from being a husband and father of three (two girls and a boy he hadn’t had the chance to meet), to inspiring his younger sister, also a musician, Blaq Pearl.