Tumi laments the death of the long-playing album concept.
TUMI AND THE VOLUME at Yonge-Dundas Square, Friday (August 1), 8 pm. Free. And at Revival (783 College), midnight. Tickets $15-$20 at all Big it Up locations.
I'm on the phone with Johannesburg's Boitumelo Molekane. At least that's the name on his birth certificate, although he's better known as Tumi, a moniker that gets bandied about in "who's the best MC?" conversations across the globe.
Comparisons between Tumi and the Roots and Dujeous are apt. They are all tireless performers able to deliver authentic live hip-hop, funk, samba and other genres at any given moment. And Tumi has the verbal dexterity of Pharoahe Monch and the lyrical clarity of Nasir Jones.
"Every sector and sub-genre of hip-hop in the world exists in South Africa," he says. "You have pure dance club hits but with a distinct South African swing. They either rap in Zulu or another traditional language or the music is influenced. There's even an underground style, more left of centre, like what Aesop Rock and them are doing.
"Then there's a culture of hustling and trying to make it out of the 'hood. Also, there are people who are influenced by the history of the country, who are political and socially aware. It's very diverse."
Tupac was right: all around the world, the same song.
Tumi had a specific goal with his solo album, though.
"I wanted to bring people closer to who Tumi is and the things I believe in. The things with the Volume are just as strong but not as personal. There's a band philosophy behind that. But solo? This is my opus, my maxim, my beliefs as an individual.
"That said, I've been working on a new record, and it's weird, because the stuff I will be performing in Canada will be off Music From My Good Eye (Motif), my first solo, and The Volume record, but nothing off the new stuff. But that's really where I am in my headspace."
Music From My Good Eye was his first official "two turntables and a microphone" album, but it's really the third Tumi CD, following 2005's At The Bassline live CD and 2006's self-titled album. They featured the three-piece collective that provides the lush, organic instrumental tapestries into which Tumi weaves his wordplay.
A rapper's rapper, his awareness of lyricists from both continents is impressive and rare. In his youth, he was inspired by everyone from Busta Rhymes's animation to A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube and Tupac. Also "the classic: Illmatic," he says, emphasizing his love of the lost art of constructing an album.
"The way they consider Die Hard the perfect action movie, I think Illmatic is the perfect example of a hip-hop record."
Tumi laments the music industry's gradual shift away from long- players. "Constructing an album is my favourite part, after performing live."
Tumi is travelling to Toronto with Zambian-born, Zimbabwe-raised compatriot Zubz, the self-described "quantum-physics-reading freak nerd by day, MC by night," and longtime tour DJ Paperkutt.
These rare opportunities to hear one of hip-hop's best English-language MCs should not be taken for granted. Don't sleep.
Tumi talks about politics: