Father of Zen, a play on words.
Lyrical genius and a consummate musician, Bonginkosi Mahlangu, popularly known as Kid X has released his highly awaited body of work, 'Father of Zen'. True to his dexterity with words, Father of Zen not only refers to the title of his album; it also speaks to him being a father to his daughter, Zen, as well as his spiritual journey that has not only helped him find a sense of inner peace through meditation, but has also inspired his latest album.
Those who have heard the album said it feels like a journey of mindfulness, self-introspection and authenticity. The release of Father of Zen has been highly anticipated because audiences were eager to hear the direction Kid X would take with this album especially because he is known to explore with different sounds which always results in hits such as Caracara and Mtan’Omuntu, both different sounds and genres but equally skillfully made. Furthermore, with conversations about SA hip-hop dying, hip-hop fanatics have said Kid X is one of the artists who could save SA hip-hop. Kid X says Father of Zen is rather evidence of his growth as a person but also as an artist- he has become more intentional with the music he releases.
“Kid X today has grown and uncovered more layers of himself. Caracara was a learning curve for me. We were experimenting what hip hop would sound like as a genre. We’ve done many other experiments since then. The Kid X now is more certain of the things he’s doing and he’s more intentional”
Art is someone’s else’s expression- respect it for what it is
Being intentional with his music has shifted Kid X’s perspective on how art should be received. In a time where social media has given people a platform to voice their opinions, it has also created a monster of judgmental and negative people who are quick with their fingers. People no longer take art for what it is and see it as someone else’s expression, instead, people feel entitled to how creatives and artists should express themselves. Kid X expressed that art is an expression for someone else and therefore, the next person should use that art to understand the artist as opposed to being judgmental about the art. Music as an art is a window into an artist’s life and if people listened with that in mind, they would be less hurried to be judgmental. People would realise that music is an expression of someone else’s life and because there is no master of this journey called life, everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.
I vow to not let any man’s opinion of my work to ever affect my truth
“I wanted to make it clear that when I create music, I create from a different place. When Picasso pours his heart into a canvas and has an exhibition to share what he’s been working on. People come with their wine glasses to witness what he has expressed. There is no place for judgement, you’re there to soak it in and seek to understand the expression more than to critique, question and poke holes at his work. I create music from that perspective. When I listen to my favourite artist, I see it as a report card; to find out where the artist is at, his head space, what is he telling me and what am I picking up from what he's not telling me. That’s what music should be about.”
Perfection doesn’t exist but you can try get close to the idea of it
Obsessed with perfection or being close to it, as most creatives are, Kid X often takes his sweet time when creating his music. When in his Picasso mode, altering, tweaking and rephrasing is part of his creative process which sometimes leads to him holding onto songs for a long time before release. Holding onto songs for too long can sometimes result in a song not being as relevant as intended by the time it is released because things evolve. However, this has not been an issue for the rap whizz as most of his songs have been made for incredible timeless music. That said, he is intentional about becoming better with his creative process and Father of Zen is a prime example of this.
I might be obsessed with the need to rewrite
“I might change a word that is a connecting word, maybe to broaden the meaning of what I’m saying. I edit a lot simply because sometimes you live with the music and you realise that what I’ve said traps me into a specific reality and maybe I want to free myself from that and I want it to mean more than that. I’ve sat with the music for a long time. I realized that the more I play it, the more I want to tweak so at some point I decided that I needed to let go.
Sitting with songs is my process. That’s how it’s happened for the past couple of projects but ideally, I want to explore being locked in for 2 weeks, give you my thought process at the time and walk away and let engineers take over and we put it out.
Being able to capture my real time thoughts is important. Putting out music that speaks to ideas from 3 years back in today’s climate is not always ideal but it’s not all that bad, it reflects your journey. It captures a specific stage of your life and for me the whole journey is important to capture the whole journey, not just moments up the podium- people need to know how you got there.”
Puzzles inspire Kid X’s creative process and outlook on life
Different people unwind from the hustle and bustle of their work in different ways. Some play video games, others sleep but interestingly for Kid X, puzzles to date, relax his mind in a way nothing else can. Who would have thought that playing with puzzles could instill important life lessons such as understanding that life in itself is a puzzle and that everything else around it is a piece that we need to fit in the correct place? And as we grow older, life moves from being a 600-piece puzzle, to a 1000-piece puzzle, a 5000-piece puzzle and we are here to constantly figure out the pieces in our lies and find their correct place - reaching a state of zen.
Playing with puzzles has also moulded and wired Kid X’s mind as a creative- hence taking his time before releasing a project. He observes, watches the game (music industry) and every piece involved (artists to potentially collaborate with and sounds to play around with), and at the right time, picks up the correct pieces (matches a sound with the perfect artist for that song) and fits it into its place (releases the music). This can be applied to family bonds too. Everyone in a family has a different role to play and with the right level of support and united vision towards building and keeping the family together, the importance of each puzzle piece or family member becomes very obvious.
When you’re this bliss, you hardly need the hype
“I wrote that song during early lockdown. I’ve got a 6000-piece puzzle at home that I haven’t touched simply because I don’t have the right size board to build it on. Puzzles are is fun for me. It’s relaxing. There is a lot of fulfilment that comes from finding the right puzzle and it connecting perfectly. I got my first 500 piece from my grandmother. She got us into puzzles from when I was 4 or 5. One day we completed a puzzle, drove from Cullinan to Mamelodi where she stayed, to show her the puzzle and as we drove into the yard, the puzzle got shattered. I’ve never gotten to show her a complete puzzle until 4 years ago when I took a 2000-piece puzzle, framed it and gave it to her. She was pleasantly surprised. She’s late now but she’s taught us so much value through puzzles.
These taught me a certain level of calm, analysis and patience that I apply to my music. I see music as a puzzle and I’m constantly looking for the right pieces to get project done. I think that’s what my grandmother was trying to teach me that life is a puzzle and you need to find matching pieces to piece together. From a family perspective, family tends to scatter due to family feuds so she was just trying to teach us the importance of keeping the family together through whatever happens.”
Moozlie, a perfect puzzle piece
Finding a perfect puzzle piece in Moozlie as a co-collaborator in music has yielded incredible success for both their careers and music catalogues. With great songs such as Vatel and now Jukebox, a single on Father of Zen, their music chemistry is simply one for history books. The two artists are simply able to come together and seamlessly make music that represents a boy and girl from the hood who have extremely high ambitions and are determined to achieve all their goals. The fusion of hip-hop of Kwaito is a sound that localised hip-hop, taking it from being something of the west, to something that can achieve greater success when given a local feel. Audiences have embraced this fusion and have lauded Kid X for his good ear for fresh new sounds that work. To audiences’ delight, Kid X revealed that he and Moozli are working on a 5-track EP and are on their 3rd song of the project.
“Based on our foundation and the school that we come from, when I tap into that pocket of records, it becomes a no brainer to work with Moozlie because I will appeal to a certain demographic and when I need someone to speak to the opposite of that; someone to speak to the young girls who like dressing up, dream big and have that feisty energy, for me she captures that perfectly.
The chemistry in the music is there, it works. I’m able to understand what she’s going to bring on the record and she’s able to understand what I need her to do on a song and she always delivers. The 3 songs we’ve done so far speak to that.”
Not many artists open up about things they struggle with in life or even in the music industry, especially in the hip hop and rap space where artists are incredibly competitive and want to be the best without a fault. Sharing challenges allows for people to always remember that artists are human rather than figures who are removed from reality, being normal or human as they are sometimes perceived. It also serves as an opportunity for people to be inspired and realise that if Kid X can struggle with something and overcome it, they too can do the same. Controlling his thoughts is something Kid X constantly works on to be able to deliver the form of perfection we find in his music. In Hay’kancane, his control, his way with words and precision make the trap song a song of note on the album.
“I struggle with something - sometimes my mind and how I want to flow is way ahead of what I’m able to enunciate with my mouth. I have to do certain exercises to get into the flow. I trap myself in how I write, meaning that when making music, I’ll write so many words that when I have to deliver, I don’t have the lung capacity.
It puts me in a tough position because before I step into the studio, I have to train to make sure there’s no gap between what my thoughts want to do and what I’m able to do.
I retook that song so many times because it needed to be seamless. I needed to be able to breathe in pockets whereby you wouldn’t pick it up and so that it sounds like an instrument that’s constantly on.
The trend with trap songs is how fast you can go and I just needed to bring that to the table. I think the audience that enjoys trap really enjoys the rapping and they want to hear what’s being said. I just wanted to put that in a record to tick that box and do a trap song the right way. I enjoyed making that record.”
The use of substances in the music industry has become a norm whereby the substances change with time but habit stays the same. Some artist’s careers have gone off the rails due to the dependence and overtime, the abuse of different substances. The habit alone is problematic because of the impact it has on artist’s careers, personal lives and relationships. Artists have been seen performing drunk or too high to give fans the live experience they paid for. To make it worse, artists have it fixed in their minds that substances enhance their levels of creativity, however, one can argue that “it is all in the mind.”
In pursuit of a state of zen, purity and being touch with the inner being in its most natural state, Kid X has decided to end his relationship with alcohol. He has had his fair share of experience with lean and weed from 2012 but has discovered that consuming substances poses more harm than good for his health and music. Although the years where he consumed lean and smoked weed produced amazing hits, Father of Zen that was released at the soberest time in his career, has been well received and can be expected to get incredible streaming numbers with time.
“I just felt like as a creator whatever you ingest has a spiritual component to it. For me, I wanted to create from a perspective of my spirit unaltered and not dashed with anything. For the longest time, we dabbled in lean. In 2012/ 2013 lean was the studio ingredient. You were wasting time if you stepped into studio without lean. It had its effect. My dental situation will never be the same. I live to see the scars of that every day. The effect on my health. It slowed me down in a lot of ways and affected so many things.
I left it in 2013 but there were still other things like liquor. Liquor played a huge role in the music that we made and the energy that we gave off. Then there was weed that played a huge role whereby you’d start doubting yourself when you’re in studio without smoking. It became a crutch. I felt like something was off. I felt like I needed to be in a position where if I got a call tomorrow that I was being flown out to work on a new soundtrack for Black Panther 2 or to be in studio with Rihanna. ‘You’re touching down and we’re heading straight to the studio.’ I can’t be looking for a weed plug first. I need to be self-sufficient and ultra-confident and believe that in my natural state, even if you wake me up at 3, we should be able to go. I need to protect my tool.”
In the song, Umraro, Kid X gives the Ndebele culture and language a platform to show off. In the single, he features both established and developing artists, allowing the song and album to resonate with audiences from different generations, like he did with Mtan’Omuntu which featured Makwa and Shwi Nomtekhala. Umraro, loosely translated, means riddle and is a blend of an urban upbeat rhythm with a fuse of a Ndebele traditional sound. It is often said that when you speak to someone in their mother tongue, you speak to their heart. This is true for Kid X who loves traditional music because it taps into a part of his soul, no other sound can.
“It taps into a different level of what the person identifies with. The pocket of songs like Umraro became more appealing to me when we did songs like Umfazi wephepha from the previous album with an upbeat but also kind of cultural vibe. Yonke imali also has a Mahotela Queens aspiration- the voice doesn’t get there but you understand where it’s going. On the previous album, we did Mtwano Muntu and Mama which borrow from the traditional sound.
For Umraro, I got to link up with some Ndebele artists who I thought were insanely talented. Lilo NTK is the next in terms of Ndebele artists. Thokozani Kabine is featured and he’s 14, already a SATMA nominee. He’s the future. Bab Malahlela from eMalahleni is a senior statesman who had a viral moment during COVID and I’m grateful to have featured him. I’m grateful for how the song is able to appeal to so many people. Tshego AMG is also on the song so it’s a big moment for the Ndebele culture.”
Reaching and maintaining a state of zen
Throughout his conversation with Slikour, Kid X spoke about being at peace and finding peace in each area of his life. Discovering what peace looks like in every area of his life has enabled him to also find tools, habits and things that help him maintain that inner peace so that he can function at his most optimal level. In his personal life, naming his daughter Zen has helped him achieve this. Meditation has helped restore order and calm in his spirituality, emotions and overall mental state. Achieving this mindset during Covid-19 has possibly served him well and kept him going through tough times when artists could not perform.
“I named my daughter Zen because in 2016 after working on 3 Quarter Pace, I struggled with being present. My writing process involved me writing in my head up until that point. In every situation, I’d always be in my head until I was unable to be present. There was too much going on in my head. It was cluttered.
Sakhile introduced me to meditation and I haven’t stopped since then. On a good day, I do 20 minutes and it allows for me to create the gap between my thinking self and my observing myself; to not always identify with my thoughts or feelings but to just be an observing self and to realize that when I feel happy or sad, that’s just an emotion that’s passing. When I found out I was having a child, my wife said I could name her. Zen felt right. It allowed me to live it once I named my daughter Zen.”
— FatherOfZenOUTNOW! (@KiDXsa) October 1, 2021
In Vuka esofeni, Kid X shares his morning routine, a habit that restores zen in his life. This includes a 20-minute meditation session before conquering his day. It enables him to control his thought process for the day and guide his focus onto things he wants to achieve that day. More importantly, it allows him to connect with his inner being, so that he can take charge of that and show up in the best way possible as a husband, father, artist, creative and citizen in the broader society.
“I wanted to put in a language most South Africans can understand. I wanted it to be a conversation. We place little value on how we wake up and how that determines the rest of our days. We wake up and start getting busy with life without grounding ourselves or connecting with self, reflecting and setting our goals for the rest of the day. Meditation sets me up to have a champion day.
Our primary reality is internal. I approached this album with that understanding. There is so much going on in the world but I wanted to internalise it because I realise that if I want anything to change in the world, I need to start with the man in the mirror.”