Local filmmaker Dylan Valley’s documentary, Incarcerated Knowledge, was well received at this year’s Encounters Festival. It follows the story of MC Pote from the day he was released from Pollsmoor Prison after serving a six year jail sentence for the murder of his stepfather, to the everyday struggles he faces on the outside attempting to earn a decent wage while striving to fulfil his dream of becoming a successful musician at the same time.
In the doccie MC Pote is charismatic and mostly forthright in discussing the hardcore circumstances of his upbringing and former life of crime. His will to turn his life around and leave the 28s gang while in jail is admirable and his message gives hope to those sucked into a quagmire of gangsterism and drugs who think there’s no way out.
However, when we meet up with him at his home in Fisanterkraal, a sprawling township in the farmlands just outside of Durbanville, he’s not willing to touch on any of those subjects. Awaiting us in an armchair in the corner of his room, his demeanour looks grim and his stare drills straight through my skull onto the wall behind me. He’s visibly frustrated and my nerves immediately start to kick in. As we take our seats MC Pote suggests we get a beer. It turns out to be the most expensive quart I’ve ever had because I receive no change from the R50 I handed his brother Sidney (who also features considerably in Incarcerated Knowledge). I’m too nervous to enquire further about it though. While Sidney and Mads, our photographer, were out grabbing the brews MC Pote lays down the law. He will not discuss his past at all – this includes Incarcerated Knowledge, which is also the name of the album he recorded after his release from prison.
As my shaky hands fumble with the pages of my notebook trying to find my questions I try break the ice with a staple journalism question: “So what’s the story behind your name?” He refuses to answer, simply saying that it’s too sentimental. Many more questions I pose are met with tense silence, one word answers or are simply evaded by talking about some entirely different topic.
I sense MC Pote’s disdain toward the media which is why he’s initially a little frosty towards me too. After a three year process of sharing the most sensitive and personal facts of his life, Incarcerated Knowledge goes on to garner critical acclaim (Encounters Film Festival added it to the Joburg line-up after its success with the Cape Town audience), yet still no opportunities have arisen for him to gain any material benefits from the film. Even from this interview, he wants something more tangible than just exposure. While planning our meeting on Facebook chat he says, “Well, you better bring some chicken along from Primis or something, cause fame is nothing if I don’t have fortune to share with my neighbours.”
Here in Fisanterkraal, it’s obvious that MC Pote is running the show and he will steer this interview to suit his agenda which is mainly to make clear that he has tons of new material and he needs a record label to get him into a recording booth ASAP. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. As you can see we are still building, still working, still writing, never quit. So I would just now love to get an opportunity to get into a facility where I can get it out there. I mean Incarcerated Knowledge, the album, came out in 2010 and a lot has happened since then,” he tells me.
In the course of shooting the documentary, MC Pote earned a record deal from a label called Jamsync Records after being scouted at a talent show in Westgate Mall, Mitchells Plein. He dove in head first, borrowed R3000 to place as a deposit for the studio and quit his job at a paint store to follow his dream of becoming a rap star. Then unexpectedly the label went kaput and was unable to fulfil its obligation to distribute the album. Pote subsequently had to buy back the rights to his music and has been faced with the problem of trying to distribute it on his own, with scant resources. He claims to have sold around 700 copies over the last few years, printing up batches when he can afford to and slanging them out of the hand. But that’s not enough to bring home the bacon and now he’s starting to get despondent. “No one knows everything. I’m just an artist and a rapper. That’s what I do. If there’s a manager out there who has got the balls, a record label that’s got the balls, a marketing whatever you call it that’s got the balls. You know where I stay and I’ll do what I have to do and you do what you do,” he says.
It’s sad, because if there was any justice in the world, MC Pote would have reached his dreams by now. While Waddy Jones jumps around on stage at Coachella pretending to be a coloured rapper called Ninja, this guy is the real deal. A rap label A&R’s wet dream. A killer turned MC, with a troubled family background, who nurtured and perfected his craft in the cells. “What don’t kill you makes you stronger. It can also become an upliftment, an ispiration, a solution. We need to make the best of what life throws for us… No one will understand what an inspiration it was for me to be at Pollsmoor Maximum,” he tells me.
Elaborating on how he began writing rhymes he says, “it was while serving my sentence in Pollsmoor and I just started writing. I’m a lover of music since forever, you know, it resonates with me. I went through a bit of depression while serving my sentence. I got a bit of a nervous breakdown or whatever they call it, but someone gave me very good advice. He said just take time out and forget about everything around you and try figure out what you love doing. So I took some time out and ja… you saw the documentary.”
At the end of our interview, MC Pote steps outside for some fresh air which allows Sidney to share the most revealing evidence of his music we’ve heard all day. “Just to put everything in a nutshell, most of his work comes from the domestic violence that we went through. In a way my father was very religious but behind closed doors he was another man, you know? He was hitting my mother, smacking her around, accusing us of using drugs. But at the same time we were not actually doing that stuff.” He says matter of factly. “But from the way I listen to his lyrics, most of his experience comes from the jail and the domestic violence we went through.” He reiterates. “Because why? The message that he sent out is that you can be a better person if you must listen to his CD. You can be a better person no matter what circumstances you come from.”
Check the published version over at Mahala here.