Hip-hop has once again come alive with new music, fresh collaborations by young and established cats in the game. September is seemingly a good month for Hip-hop in South Africa as audiences are spoiled with new music from the likes of AKA and Costa Titch, Big Zulu, Nasty C and Indigo Stella, the list is endless- very much proving the fact that Hip-hop is indeed still alive.
One of the most anticipated projects to be released in September is In the Trap by Die Mondez where he features Zoocci Coke Dope, Blxckie and Flvme, quite a lit lineup of artists and producers. The hip-hop rapper from Pretoria, recently dropped a teaser from his EP, When I’m dead, featuring Flvme and Blxckie. Although the song is argued to not be the best single, Die Mondez says that it was intentional and was part of his grand roll out plan - he encourages audiences to listen to the entire EP before making a judgement.
“That was intentionally done. When people drop singles, they usually drop the best song on the project- the team and I decided to flip things a bit and give people the song they want first. So, we dropped ‘When I’m dead’ and saved the other ones for later.”
Collaboration over competition.
A key factor that has kept hip-hop alive is not only the unexpected roll out plans but the features. Established artists coming to partner up with younger, hungry, up and coming artists helps keep everybody on their toes and pushes everyone in the genre to want to do better, thus elevating the entire game. Speaking about his collaboration with Flvme, Die Mondez noted how their coming together created a perfect balance of music as they are both different in the delivery of their music but have immense respect for each other’s craft.
“Our contrast in styles is what draws us together. I’m the fast melodic rapping guy and he’s the singing artist and when you put those two on a song, it’s magic. It’s the perfect balance. The fact that when we linked up, we became real homies is just one of those things that makes this work. Whenever we’re in the studio, it’s always a vibe. He respects me as an artist, I respect him as an artist. It’s always dope to be in the same space as him- we inspire each other and build and feed off each other’s energies.”
While collaboration enables growth, it can sometimes pose challenges when an artist pulls a different direction to further advance their careers, especially where creativity and the business element are linked. An example of this was in the 'Backyard Sessions' interview we did with Nadia Nakai where she said that her mentor, Cassper Nyovest stopped talking to her after she pulled in a different direction that arguably served her goals at the time but didn’t align with Cassper’s ideals. Although their relationship seems to have survived that knock, not many do.
Die Mondez who works very closely with Zoocci at PiFF Audio says his growth has never been an uncomfortable conversation for him and the renowned and award-winning producer because they started this journey together and share the same vision. He says his growth was organic and therefore easy to manage because it was all part of a long-term plan. Loyalty and brotherhood are traits Die Mondez values about his relationship with Zoocci.
“When this thing started, we were together. It’s a matter of loyalty and brotherhood. When the idea of PiFF Audio came about, it was literally just me and him. Everything leading up to this point is something that we both planned for. Believed in what we were doing as much as he did.
My growth was always organic. Zoocci and I are very open with each other and we believe in individuality. We also understand that we are pushing the same thing, the same brand and we believe in the same mission. We believe that we need to be our own men, even when divided but when we come together, we are stronger than apart, but you should be able to still stand on your own.
We always have those conversations and it’s never about being under his shadow. He puts me on and shares his advice and perspective which helped me get to where I am but he’s always encouraged me to be my own person and artist, and that’s why now I can get called out for interviews and features on my own.”
Die Mondez’ versatility is something he is proud of and continues to reveal in the music he makes, and something that makes him different. As trends and sounds change over time, it is important for an artist to stay versatile and adaptable to be able to sustain longevity in their careers. Not one to be boxed into a genre, flow or wave, Die Mondez says there is so much more to him than what people have seen and that there is a lot more to come.
“A lot of people don’t really know that I can do a lot. I’m not just a trapper- I could surprise you and drop an RnB or Afro or backpack song where I’m rapping for four minutes straight, no hook and nothing.
That’s the intention with my Die Mondez series with the EP. The first one was a taste of what I am able to do, that’s why you have backpack joints, the trap and RnB joints. Now, I’m focusing on trap entirely throughout the whole project. As time goes on, I’ll keep on expressing what I am capable of doing with the Die Mondez EP series. That’s the intention, to show you EP by EP what I am capable of doing.”
” I saw my reflection in the lean” - Demons.
In the song Demons, Die Mondez talks about being able to see his reflection through Lean, a concoction people should generally not be consuming even though many artists have claimed that it helps them with their creative process - Die Mondez is no different. Die Mondez says lean helps him see his inner-self and express his internal thoughts which become the amazing music we all love and enjoy. Whether artists should take substances to be able to produce good music remains with the individual as each artist is generally an adult who is responsible for their own lives.
“I saw my reflection in the lean’ means that when I’m in the studio and I’m going through something and sipping the zip, I get a lot of inspiration and it helps me project certain things the way I want to. You know when you look into a cup with ice and you see a glimpse of yourself? That’s it. It’s like lean is a part of my music career to that extent. It helps me express the things I am going through.”
Die Mondez says he is careful with the lean because he loves the clean brand that people know him for. This is particularly important for artists because being associated with substances can close or limit doors of opportunities as some brands and people also have an image, built over many years, that they want to protect.
“I’ve been on the lean for a while. It gives me the vibe when I’m in the studio but at the same time, I won’t necessarily glorify it and promote it because at the end of the day, it is a substance. I try to keep it away from cameras as much as I can, to protect the brand and protect myself and to keep the clean look. I like presenting myself in a clean manner. I like being presented in a clean manner. I like everything around me to be clean.
Die Mondez’ creative process.
Those who have heard his music say his songs sound like one long song that is compiled and called a project or EP. However, Die Mondez is not one to conform and this can be seen in the decisions he makes when he comes to his music, how it’s released, created and packaged. Everything seems to be intentional and well thought out. Audiences can expect a lot of switching of sounds, flows and melodies but all in a synchronised manner that makes his music pleasant to the ear.
“That’s something I wanted to continue from my first offering. The intro on my first offering switches up - I had a few songs that switch up somewhere in there. With this EP, I wanted to keep that feeling in there and make it something my fans can always expect from me. I enjoy playing with different sounds and combining them into one thing- it’s always a fun experience for me. It also gives fans a lot more than they expect.
In the post production process of my music, we tracklist and add extra melodies or keys onto the beat so that there’s a transition into the next song and so that the whole project sounds like a loop. You don’t have to wait till the end to hear the next song, we jump in while the beat is still fire.”
Die Mondez’ ability to design flows is inspired by some of the greatest artists to ever do it which include Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and J. Cole, artists who happen to be his favourite rappers too. Their precision with every lyric, rhyme, melody, flow and overall delivery is what has garnered them the massive fan base they boast but also, sustainable careers.
“I enjoy designing flows. My favourite rappers are also heavy on that- Kendrick, Big Sean and J. Cole just to name a few. When you listen to how they rap, they literally take time to design their flows, they pick the perfect flow for every section of a song.”
Average rappers getting the bags.
With the level of hard work that Die Mondez puts into his own craft, it is no wonder why seeing other artists who he feels are average would upset him when they get paid more. Speaking to Siya Metane, he argued that the bar in hip-hop was low and that rappers were barely even trying- basically saying “A re repeng bafowethu” as Priddy Ugly would say. He argues that artists are now chasing money and neglecting the music, thus making the genre as a whole suffer because it gets saturated with people who are mediocre.
“’So many average rappers be getting the bag’ because you have rappers that aren’t really good at rapping but you’ve got brands running towards them. Artists these days are focusing towards the business side of music and neglecting the music. So, it feels like people are just in it for the bag and that makes the average rapper get the biggest bag when there’s people behind the scenes who are more focused on the music and are not getting what they deserve. If a brand is going to ask a rapper to represent something, it would be nice if they got someone who knew how to rap or sing- someone who is actually good at that thing.”
While this is true, it cannot be ignored that there are artists who have figured out a different way of getting to the top, after all, people pursue careers for different reasons. Thus, as brands see value in collaborating with artists whose brands align with theirs, the more artists are able to catapult their careers beyond just the music space. These collaborations enable artists to be businesses and brands in their own right. Remy Martin partnering with Riky Rick, AKA partnering with Cruz Vodka, Nadia Nakai being featured in a first of its kind Netflix series etc are just a few examples of the opportunities that artists can lend themselves to when they invest in their personal brands.
“In the space I’m in, I’m starting to realize the need for that balance, doing the music right and doing the marketing right. You learn things over the years, and I’m only starting to get on my feet now. I’m realizing that you actually have to pay attention to the business side, as much as you do to the business side. That said, I still feel the same way. It just seems like the bar has been set to average, and if you can do just above average, you’re good enough.”
Be brutally honest with yourself first.
As he grows as an artist and as an individual, Die Mondez has learnt the importance of being honest with yourself even before anyone else can share their views about your craft. This is a trait that has enabled him to produce quality music that he can back up and be proud of, music he can be certain is of a high quality. In his close circle of co-creators are people who are like minded but never shy away from honesty, and this is how they know without a shadow of doubt that their “shit slaps.”
“I try to theme my projects and make them sound, look and feel a certain way. When I was doing this project, I was sure of every beat and song on there, I was certain of it. In the studio, you have to be brutally honest with yourself. If something is not working, you have to be able to hear it first before someone else tells you and then try something else. No one in the studio is going to lie to me or be a yes man and say a song is fire when it’s not. We’re like that amongst all of us, we share the same sentiments and the same taste in music. You always get the most honest answer from the homies in the studio - so there’s no anxiety, just excitement because of that certainty that we have in our music.”