Da King of Rapby Mahala High Five Brigade / 07.06.2013
Kwesta started out by battle rapping, and in 2006 he started winning prizes. After being involved in a 2010 World Cup performance with the likes of Kelly Rowland, he released his first album later that year and got himself two SAMA nominations. We sat down to talk to the world’s grittiest rapper before his performance at the Puma Social Club tonight, and he told us about why he’s going to keep on making mixtapes, what’s it’s like being a father and why he da king of African rap.
MAHALA: What made you want to get involved in the rap scene?
KWESTA: I started out as a poet and when I first recorded my poetry on beats I realized that it wasn’t too different, and I fell in love with making music.
Performing at the 2010 World Cup closing ceremony with Kelly Rowland and various local rappers must’ve been your biggest show to date. How was the experience? Were there any nerves?
500 million people were watching around the world and it was the most historic moment in our country’s history so the nerves were at an all time high but at the same time there were so many people on stage and I didn’t want to be the one to mess up the night for all the hundreds of people involved in the opening ceremony. Fortunately it all went to plan, but looking back the nerves made it hard to take the moment in and really enjoy it as much as people would expect. So as big as the show was it was one of those things that happened in my career but is not really a defining moment.
Your debut album came out shortly after the World Cup and was nominated for two SAMAs. Would you say 2010 was your breakthrough year? What was the transition from underground recognition to being in the mainstream arena like?
Yeah before then it was all hype and the moment came to show and prove. I never expected to be nominated in the best new comer category and although Locnville took that award it was nice to hear the crowd cheering as loudly for them as they did for me when our names were called out. As for the best rap album award I thought I really deserved it but then again the winner Amu is a legend and the judges felt they owed him an award so I figured that my day will come and I should be happy with what I achieved with my first album, right?
You’ve worked with many of Mzansi’s high-profile rappers. How important are features to you? Who else would you like to add to that list of collaborations?
I’ve just done a collaboration with Jimmy Nevis for his latest single, which people should look-out for, and I plan on collaborating with Locnville, Donald, AKA, Khulichana, ProKID, D’Banj, Xtatic, Stella Mwangi, Ice Prince, MI and maybe even a big inter-nation co-lab for my album. Other than that I’d like to collaborate with as many artists as possible from all over the world.
How do you feel about the mixtape game? Do you churn them out to compete with other rappers or is that not for you?
The mixtape game has become a very important aspect of rap around the world and before I dropped my first album I dropped the Unkwestionable Mixtape hosted by the legendary SA Hip-hop DJ C-Live and that was downloaded by more than 10000 people. It was a great opportunity to bring my music to the masses and launched my career & I think that it’s the best way to launch a career and get fans. Artists like L-Tido, Maggz, AKA, AB Crazy & a whole lot of new faces on the local scenes careers were also launched off of Mixtapes and any artist who wants to break into the mainstream needs to at least have a Mixtape or 50 like Younsta, under their belt before dropping an album. I’m working on another Mixtape (#Rally4DaKAR) to promote my new album as well as to promote Mixtape culture in the country because not enough mainstream artists are dropping Mixtapes and hopefully I can get them to follow my lead. I’ll probably never stop dropping Mixtapes because I’m always recording music and my fans should look out for more Mixtape to come.
How important do you think it is for dudes who speak African languages to spit rhymes in vernac?
This is South Africa and South African hip-hop is different from hip-hop around the world in that we cross-code our lyrics (that’s technically speaking). If you’re not mixing it up in different languages then it’s not South African hip-hop and the sales will show you that rappers in strictly English don’t do as well as rappers who rap in languages like Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Afrikaans etc. So we’ve got to mix it up to cater for our diverse audience and remember that you won’t get far trying to sound like Drake or other American rappers because if the people want Drake sounding music they’ll buy Drake and not Fake. Drake can’t spit in as many languages as me as well as I do so I wouldn’t want to sound like his knock-off ain’t no-one got time for that.
What is it about the Joburg scene that drives you?
The hustle is real and the rat race keeps you on your toes. Only the fittest survive out here and that’s what drives me.
What are some of the everyday challenges you face as a young emcee?
The biggest challenges are getting our music to as many people as possible and changing the mindset of people who believe like Oskido once said, that rap is this American thing. Music is global and although rap is heavily influenced by America we have made it our own and people need to embrace it.
Do you think rapping as a career will ever be a lucrative as you would like it to be, do you have other ventures in mind or something to fall back on?
Rap is a lucrative business because it influences youth culture as a whole and with that power a lot of money is being thrown at us to exploit it. That’s both good and bad all we have to do is use this money to reinvest in Hip-hop Inc. and we’ll grow it to the point where people will get their money’s worth for the work they put in.
I read somewhere that you had a kid not so long ago, congrats man! Has becoming a father had any effect on your approach to the music you make or the way you conduct business?
Well if anything it’s given me more focus and drive and I realized that I always have to put myself first and make decisions in the best interest of my future and building a business that’ll pay my bills and leave a lasting legacy of my own. But other than shouting out my daughter in my tracks, fatherhood hasn’t really changed how I rap because it’s always been about staying true to myself and being honest.
You recently parted ways with Buttabing Entertainment. We’d think you’d have some wise older brothers in label-owners Slikour and Shugasmakx of Skwatta Kamp. What made you decide to leave?
It was time to grow and to take charge of my own career and also open myself up to opportunities that I couldn’t take advantage of at Buttabing. It’s also challenging to best serve your artist if you yourself are an artist and because of all the different hats you have to put on and I didn’t want that to hold me back so I decided to thank them for all they’ve done for me and put into practice everything I learnt from them over the years. Now it’s time to grow to my full potential and take my music to the continent.
Are you planning to go indie or are you on the lookout for another record deal?
I have my own indie label – Urbantainment – and soon we’ll be announcing a very exciting multi-album and Pan African Licensing with one of the Worlds biggest Major record labels… For now though I’ll let people guess who that is.
Your upcoming album called DaKAR stands for Da King of African Rap. That’s quite a bold move. What do you feel makes you Da King of African Rap?
If you were to compare my raps with any other rapper on the continent you’d find that bar for bar I’d come out on top and that’s just what I want people to go and do. Actually scrutinise every single one of my rhymes as compared to all other African rapper because then they’ll be like ‘he really is DaKAR’.
It’s no secret that the rap game is filled with alpha males; do you catch flak from dudes who think they’re more deserving of the title?
Well I guess the acronym is so creative that they can be mad they never thought of it first but as a rapper if you don’t think you’re the best then you shouldn’t be rapping and if you think you’re best then you can call yourself whatever you like and no-one’s that matters has given me any flak and the couple of non-believers on Twitter don’t matter and now the title has stuck so they can be mad at that. Like Nas says: ‘Now that I’ve said it I force you to think it’.
From what I’ve heard from the tracks you’ve put out on your online campaign, Rally 4 DaKAR, the material sounds a lot more explicit and more frank about your life experiences. Is this a result of the freedom you’ve gained from being unsigned?
Well it’s Mixtape music. It’s about really hard and grimy raps and not so much about musicality. There’s no pressure to make it radio friendly so I guess that’s why it’s so raw.
Which rappers and producers did you work with on DaKar and has a release date been set yet?
You’ll have to wait for the track list to find that out but the album will be available across the continent on the 2nd of September. Save the date.
You toured the country with Cashtime Fam earlier this year. Which show went the most buck wild?
Every show was crazy, we put that tour together with our own money and we made history for SA hip-hop with a first ever national tour. We were really on the road in our tour bus sleeping in dodgy guesthouses and trashing luxury hotels and we got all of it on camera. The entire tour was a rockstar roller-coaster ride and everywhere we went we really fucked shit up. We fought each other and became brothers and on occasion kicked some hater ass for each other. Ask East London about that, lol. Can’t wait to do it again.
What can people expect from your live performance at the PSC?
I’ll be on my worst behaviour and if you’re down for a good time then follow my lead…