Rhyme and Reasonby Ts'eliso Monaheng / 27.05.2013
Reason Lebaka has been busy over the past year. Ever since Tumi Molekane signed him to his Motif imprint (also home to Zaki Ibrahim and Samthing Soweto – formerly of The Soil), he has been elevating his public profile, bagging a few number one spots on radio and award nominations along the way. His story is long-winded and interesting, yet firmly-rooted in the Jozi underground hip hop scene. We caught up with him on the eve of his Red Bull Beat Battle appearance to chat about his first forays into music, his deal with Motif, and his thoughts on the skothanes of Joburg.
Mahala: You started from the battle circuit around Jozi, steadily building a following as you went along. Now that you’re ascending the mainstream ladder, do you feel that the audience you started out with is still with you?
Reason: It feels like it. I mean, I never disconnected myself from them so I haven’t lost touch with them. It actually seems like they support me more coz they were the ones that have witnessed the progression.
You were kind of Proverb’s protégé; opening up for him at live shows and learning from him. What did you learn during that period of your career? What happened to that relationship?
I learnt that being an artist you need more than punchlines to sustain a career. I was introduced to the world of a musician. Endorsements, collabos, album releases, shows, concerts, interviews and even negotiations. I was exposed to a lot of things that made me realise the possibilty of having a career as a rapper. Me and him are still cool though. We just waiting for the right time for us to drop bombs again together.
You also had good camaradarie with Ms. Nthabi. Why haven’t the two of you made music lately?
Nthabi took a break from music too.
And the mixtape game, are you still involved with that? We remember you used to be heavy on it during the days of Beat Oven, when Pretoria hip hop was still a point of discussion.
Right now, no. I try make up for that with my features like with “Keep Debiting”, “Live & Dance” and “No Sleep”. It’s a time thing really. I don’t have enough time to time to make mixtape songs because I have deadlines on these album songs.
Tell us a bit about your first project, The Reasoning. What was the message you were trying to push?
The message I wanted to bring across was…. “Hi. My name is Reason and I can make music.”
What impact did Outrageous Records, a label you were signed to, and one which was known for top-notch hip hop, have on your career? Were you jaded when that folded? Did you have a back-up plan?
They taught me a lot about independence. They always did it themselves. They rose and fell alone, but they still made stars. That’s not an easy task in this country.
What happened after Outrageous?
Me and Instro worked out a plan to put out the first album ourselves through his label Promiseland. We didn’t have much, so the best we could do was release it and do some shows with a band called Future History.
It should’ve been difficult quitting a secure job in the ad industry to become a rapper. What made you confident that it’d all work out?
I actually had no choice but to make it work. I guess you can call it “do or die”, because I have family to take care of. If my plan didn’t work, it would affect too many people.
How did the link-up with Tumi and Bradley’s Motif records come about?
Me and Tumi had worked on some stuff together. I asked to use his studio to record my second album. He said yes, and even offered to help me out. That eventually grew into a business relationship and a recording deal. And well… also… a pair of Jordans.
How do you feel about being called a young Tumi? Tumi Junior?
I laugh. I mean… I don’t think they mean that I’m like him, but in terms of what he represented in his generation, many would say I represent the same things to this generation. Which is not a bad comparison. But we’re not same artist.
You have quite a strong working relationship with producer Instro. How did you guys link up? And working on your Audio3d album together, how was that?
Me and Instro have been at it since the first record and even mix tape. That guy is the reason I excel. He’s always in the studio pushing me and getting to me to where I wanna go.
You also had a powerhouse in 37mph helping out while you were making the album. What was that like?
Tumi brought 37mph in from the jump. He always believed that 37mph was the right guy to make Audio3d. And he was.
You bagged a SAMA nomination. How as that? Were you elated? What are your thoughts about awards anyway?
Its humbling. The industry recognized me. That’s important. It means the work is out there and that’s what matters right now. People knowing who I am and what I do.
Do you think that a sustainable career can be built out of rap music in South Africa?
I think so. I mean… I see it all around me. Khuli, Tumi, HHP, AKA, L-Tido, Kwesta. The all have careers and they’ve had them for a while. Amu, SHugasmakx, Slikour, Dj Bionic & Kenzhero too! All of them are professional rappers and DJs.
What’s your favourite style of dance?
Earliest dance memory?
Dancing at my 4th or 5th year birthday, I think.
Signature dance move?
I actually don’t have one…
What do you make of the rise of sbujwa and skothane culture in SA?
I wouldn’t call it a “rise”. Its been happening! We just realized how extreme it gets now. So I’m okay with it. I mean, I know where it comes from, so I have no critism or negative point of view towards izikothane. I actually find it entertaining.
What do you make of the ubiquity of hip hop dance crews at the Beat Battle and on the streets?
I think its beautiful. Dancing has come a long way to where it is now. We just need more. I wish we had 12 Beat Battles a year!
Is that a sign of hip hop’s popularity or South Africa’s lack of imagination?
I think its a sign of growth.
What can people expect during your live performance at the Red Bull Beat Battle?
Nothing but non-stop entertainment.