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Kicking it with Khuli

by Tseliso Monaheng / 18.02.2014

In October last year, rapper Khuli Chana was just about shot to pieces by some seriously misguided coppers. His vehicle was punctured seven times by the trigger happy police, who supposedly mistook his Beamer for the vehicle of a kidnapper on the run.

“A private forensic ballistic report is currently being conducted and will be made public once received,” asserted the rapper’s PR in a widely distributed press release sometime afterwards.

Khuli Chana’s life nearly ended in the same week that he got nominated for his snappy dress sense as a GQ Best-Dressed Man, and the same weekend that he gave yet another impressive live performance in Soweto, just hours before the shooting. It was another glitch in a long trail of police-related fuck-ups. A trail that his perpetrators even tried to cover up by charging him for attempted murder.

The investigations have been finalised, and the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office shall reach a decision soon.

These are the events leading up to my chat with him, at his recent video shoot for a song featuring Da Les and Magesh. Instead of discussing the particulars of his case, we tripped out over 90s hip-hop, broke down the science behind his lyrical flow, and discussed the recent resurgence of Morafe – the group he’s been a part of since the mid-90s. It seems being shot at is just a part of the game. Don’t they know that hip hop won’t stop!

How did you manage to get Magesh on the song?

The song is inspired by a Magesh classic joint from his second album. That’s been my favourite joint, so I kind of merged ‘Hape le hape’ with ‘Time and time again’ which is a Magesh hook. I used to always freestyle on that beat.

Let’s talk a bit about your 90’s influences. What shaped Khuli Chana?

The 90’s kwaito, the 90’s feel, the 90’s boom bap, the hooks, the colours – I’m all about that. The 90’s music was so authentic and so timeless. I’m down to experiment and try out some new things, but I’m still stuck in the 90’s!

The Motswako movement wasn’t always as lauded as it is now. What did it take to get here?

Having the end in mind. If you don’t have a vision, you’re screwed, and that’s what we had. Today, I just wanna say that we’re living HHP’s dream. Everything that’s happened, he predicted. It sounded like all kinds of gibberish back then. Big up to him.

khuli chana live

There seems to be a Morafe resurgence going on, not that you guys necessarily left. What’s the plan with that?

Like Towdee always says: “Morafe never left the game/we just changed how we played the game.” It got to a point where we were like ‘We’re not gonna be predictable.’ You’ve got three geniuses, three talented cats. Let’s start to dismantle and experiment. They experimented with me, I guess. That was fuckin’ awesome!

You had no label support when you came out, and resorted to releasing the music independently. Can you tell us about that experience?

When we started up, I wasn’t really down with the idea. It made sense, [but] I wasn’t down for it because I was scared. I just didn’t think I had it in me; Towdee was pushing for it. The guys that gave us that head start – big up to Skwatta Kamp, big up to Slikour and Ventilation. When we dropped ‘Futhumatsa’ on that Sprite Hip-Hop mixtape, that was when I found that validation; that’s when I got that “Whoa, you could do this!” That was pretty much Towdee’s experiment. We worked on the joint, we sampled one of his verses. We did it, put it on that mixtape, and then boom, we were touring! We hit all nine provinces. That was an interesting time.

You’re one of the few mainstream hip-hop artists who never sacrifice when it comes to lyrical content. What’s the importance of lyrics, and how do you stay ahead of your own game?

Words, man. Words have power; they can either destroy or build. I don’t write every day; I wish I could, I wish I did. I put so much thought into that process. I never really know when it’s gonna hit me, but when it does…it’s a spiritual thing. Big up to the lyricists: Reason, Tumi, Jabba, Tuks, Towdeemac! Ba re lefoko ga le bowe, go bowa monwana – words stick. If you’re gonna talk out of your bum now, think about how it’s gonna impact the next generation.

Who influenced your flow, and how did it develop?

In the beginning, it was the pioneers of Motswako, [the likes of] Baphixhile. There was this rhyme pattern that was popular; everybody who was down with Motswako had that same rhyme scheme. I was like “Okay cool, I’m down to switch,” because Prof (Sobukwe of rap group Baphixhile), was always saying “You’re dope, but I want you to try it ka Setswana.” But I didn’t like this pattern, this rhyme scheme. I’d like to hear a guy that has that Mos Def delivery, but spitting in Setswana. That’s when I started experimenting. I remember it was a day, [Prof was] like: “Listen, I’m off to Jo’burg, and when I come back, if you put me a hot 16, I’ma put you on it.” I spat him a hot verse, and that’s when it started. I’ll be honest, ka Setswana is always more challenging. I’d go months without writing because all I’m doing is I’m finding new slang; new words. Just trying to find an opening line sometimes takes me a month, and it depends on where we’re at.

You’ve had a very successful run over the past 18 months or so, plus an unfortunate incident with the police. What’s your state of mind right now, and going into the future?

It’s a new chapter, we were talking about that with Towdee, ke re you know what; sometimes you get to this place and you just have to acknowledge that everything you wanted to  achieve, a whole list of goals, you’ve literally scratched them all. I’m just starting over; it’s a whole new journey now. Running a business is not an easy thing but that’s where I’m at right now. A lot of musicians blow up and become businessmen, and then the talent suffers. I wanna be just like a Jay-Z; who still raps like an 18-year old but the business sense and hustle is just crazy. That’s where I’m at.

What goes into preparing your live sets?

I’ve become so busy trying to balance fatherhood, work. I treat every show like a rehearsal; I’m always learning something new. Big up to my band – J-Star, Raiko, Maestro.

All images ©Tseliso Monaheng

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