25K breaks down Pheli Makaveli and the street code
Leaving the streets for the trap life.
Hailing from the streets of Attridgeville, west of Pretoria, the talented Lehlohonolo Molefe, popularly known as 25K, recently serenaded his audiences with a few singles from his very first album, 'Pheli Makaveli', set to drop at the end of July.
The 27 year old broke into the hip hop scene in 2019 after releasing his debut hit single, 'Culture Vulture', that saw him rise as one the hottest “new school kids” in the hip hop arena. The single not only garnered him an incredible fan base, 25K also received respect from industry peers and OG's including AKA, who was later featured on the 'Culture Vulture remix' alongside Emtee. Culture Vulture became one of biggest songs of the year and the remix won the Best Remix at the 2019 South African Hip Hop Awards. 25K’s journey is a story of a young boy who learnt his business acumen from the streets. This along with all the lessons learned, later served him in his music career, a career he says saved his life.
Getting album ready.
In music, producing an album or full body of work is deemed as the hardest thing to achieve. Between deciding on the right sound for the album, the right producers, artist collaborations, synergy, ensuring that there’s a story audiences can appreciate and listen to over and over again, whilst managing timing of the release and marketing the project, producing an album can be quite a mammoth task filled with immense, and sometimes crippling, pressure. 'Pheli Makaveli' is the epitome of things all coming together organically at the “right time,” resulting in a body of work 25K’s fans and the industry at large, seem to be greatly excited about.
25K told Slikour that Zoocci Coke Dope was the genius behind his debut album. “I met Zoo at the time when Culture Vulture was starting to create waves in Pretoria and I had just dropped the video. I played him the video, to which he replied that the song was his favourite and was the reason he’d hit me up. He then sent me a few beats, we had a studio session and we knocked out one out the park, that same day.”
Impressed by 25K’s unique skill set and street version of Motswako that gives 25K a different edge to his peers, Zoocci initiated the conversation about 25K dropping an album. Although he initially wasn’t for the idea, in fact very hesitant, it was after hearing the playlist of songs they had made in studio, allowing each song to transition into the next, that eventually saw 25K gradually buy into the idea of making an album.
“One time he sent me a random text, out of nowhere, saying "‘Pheli Makaveli'. That’s the name of the project." "I pulled up on him in studio and asked him to explain. I got what he was saying because I reference 2Pac a lot in my music. He said this was a combination of me being from Pheli and being highly influenced by west coast hip hop- so that’s where the name came from. I started doing my own research on Pac just to see what he went through. I wanted to know his whole philosophy and thinking. After that I was more comfortable with calling the project 'Pheli Makaveli'. After that, every song we recorded, after putting a title to the project, just started making sense.”
Who’s on your contact list?
“Contact list yaka e botlhoko, as’net a ke dronke fame” - 'Pheli Makaveli (Intro)'
A trajectory of growth, in any career, can easily be identified by the rooms you have access to and are able to occupy at any given time, the hands that you can shake, shoulders you can rub with, and in the music industry, OG's you can call for advice or even collaborations. Whilst many people have argued that OG's need to sit down and let the “new school” artists take the baton, run the game and take it to newer heights, opposing views suggest that OG's in fact have a very important role to play in the game, now more than ever.
In the interview, 25K touched on how OG's enabled him to dream when he was much younger and can today, lean to them for advice, deeming mentorship in the game crucial to one’s growth. OG's sharing their stories and experiences could inspire the new school and possibly help them going through the same bad experiences they have had.
25K’s come up has been a journey that many younger hip hop artists have looked to for inspiration in the hip hop game. His trajectory has positioned him in spaces that enabled him to dream, manifest, meet and form relationships with some of the industry’s biggest artists, which was always a high school dream for him.
“Me being in high school and thinking I want to be on a song with Da Les, Cass, AKA, Riky was just me saying it, but I really believed it. It manifested into a real thing- some of these people are not even on my song but these people get to know you. When you’re at a show, they actually recognize you. Since my entry into the game with my hit, Culture Vulture, I’ve met a lot of people. Sometimes I call on them to have a conversation. I’m talking like big dogs, big names.”
Rappers are synonymous with adding click baits to their music. While many call it controversial, it certainly helps get audiences to listen to music for what it is and possibly explore the thinking behind each bar in a song. 'Pheli Makaveli (Intro)' was not short of its own bars that had audiences wondering if 25K was throwing a jab at an OG, Sjava.
Quick to clear the air, 25K said he has major respect for Sjava, that the line in question was in fact a continued reference to his contact list and the relationships he has built over the years since breaking out from the streets and making it to the commercial scene.
“When he did One Night with Sjava, he actually hit me up- no management stuff. Yes, the venue was in Pretoria but it wasn’t a Pretoria thing. The whole thing was live recorded and it played on TV- it was more of a national thing. When I pulled up to the show, it was genuine vibes. It’s always been good like that with Sjava, genuine conversations and phone calls. Those kinds conversations are important to me because they keep me grounded.”
The street code is the business code
Business principles come as harsh lessons for some, many others take years to grasp the business code well enough to build relationships and leverage them for their growth and business acumen.
“I got my business knowledge off the streets. It’s a supply and demand thing, and funny enough this applies to the music too. When I left the streets, I told my dude that I think I want to try this music thing out. I feel like I’m still selling product but the music is the product this time. People are yearning for this project and I’m enjoying my roll out.”
25K learnt the importance of working on your brand from the streets because he had to have some street credit to be able to move his product. Today, that is one the most important aspects of building a career that brands and people can back 100%. Knowing how to mix your product so that it becomes the best in the streets is certainly a trait that enables you to sell more. The same can be said about music where artists work hard and at some point bag the hottest collaborations with the hottest and sometimes established producers at the time, and as a result are able to put out music that that becomes bigger than what anyone could imagine.
The street life and the hustle in general often comes at a cost to us and our families. Some lose family members to the street life, others do well in business even at a corporate level but never have time for family. In pursuit of financial independence, the ability to be well off and experience the finer things in life, there often has to be a sacrifice.
Fortunately for 25K, though having had gun point experiences while he was pushing the street hustle, he still has his life, family and music to fall back on. Many others never make it out the game- alive.
“Those are the things that actually today make me be grateful the gift of music. I feel like it saved me from a lot of stuff. I feel like when I was that deep in the streets, I brought my momma so many tears. She would say ‘with this life, it’s either I’m going to lose you due to you getting arrested or I could lose you forever and you might not come back. Seeing her see me get all these deals and make all these moves in the industry is very humbling for me.”
Beautifully written by Katleho Selwadi
Watch the interview here: