Today we’d be rolling out our interview and the concept was to go through your way of making music and hear the sample notes or references you’d share with the Megacy band.
I had numerous opportunities to hear the album before it released from different people but I declined cause I wanted you to play it for me expecting your - what you think, actually fuck what you think I know this is hot attitude - interview that’s become synonymous of your presentation.
So, I’d rather use your life as a case study for a new generation of artists who are looking to be great as I’d had the privilege to meet you in the early days of your career.
Now, on to the five things to take from AKA’s journey.
The most important words for an artist that were mentioned at AKA’s memorial service were by Yanga Chief. He said, “I on the other hand, only rapped on songs for enjoyment, I was not built to compete at the level this industry requires. This industry is very unforgiving, judgemental and, most times, very unfair.” These words are very important cause, even though Yanga has built a solid name, there’s a level of sacrifice you need to be ready to take to become a mega star, remember AKA said, “See me in the club, I'm in my office clothes, no plan b, this is all I know.”
Here are a few things AKA taught us in that journey:
1. 10, 000 Hours-Plus Of Crafting A Branded Sound
If you think about AKA’s approach to music production, it hasn’t changed. He started collaborating with producers when he was still with IV League. Then, the sampling influences were still inspired by American Hip-Hop with songs like ‘Touch & Go’. It seems, as AKA started referencing who inspires his music, his pops, his choice of samples became informed by what he grew up hearing as a youngin.
You listen to songs like ‘Bang’, ‘Big 5’ and ‘Snakes and Ladders’, all those samples seem to come from a personal place. This was only the beginning of his music production approach cause those beats were still not sampled in a way that would make his production stand out, so he gave us ‘Levels’, not losing the sampling approach but now using songs that were once popular in South African urban culture.
This moved AKA to urban superstar musician level, but he knew that South Africa is bigger than that, so he dug deeper to sounds and artists that South Africans loved as icons and legends.
The trigger from urban superstar to mass is started with songs like ‘Jika’ and ‘Caiphus Song’ on ‘Touch My Blood’. By the time he gets to ‘Bhovamania’, he’s comfortable and doesn’t seem like he values the gift he’s mastered completely.
His grand closing with ‘Mass Country’ is the combination of all his production experiences, this time his production collaborators are not using Fruity Loops like IV League but it’s a band of professional musicians.
The common thread from IV League days to now is that he stuck to one approach and improved on it, eventually creating what is now dubbed as an AKA type of record.
The lesson: Be inspired, find something personal that links to your inspiration. How is that personal thing linked to something that everyone South African can connect to? Invest in evolving the sound, eventually, create your own signature sound.
2. Craft Your Own Narrative
It never escaped AKA that he was a coloured brother playing a game where mostly artists from black townships led. I remember during the height of his Cassper beef, he once mentioned to me that people will prefer to side with Cassper regardless cause he’s black.
Fortunately for AKA, he wasn’t a front, he not only loved the music but he was a person that loved South African culture regardless of race.
He’s looked up to artists like Pro Kid and Khuli Chana but he wouldn't win running in their lane. He then was adamant to do the English well and fight that battle with no compromise in his ‘Altar Ego’ project and previous mixtapes.
He also realised that if he couldn’t speak the language then he’d incorporate township catchphrases or quote vernacular lines from legendary songs, but what made this not come across as fake was his reverence for the culture. He was one of the few artists that would find ways to mention politicians, political parties, legendary artists and local brands in a knowledgeable way that heightened these entities.
He paid homage and, though he always made sure he was the centre of attention, he knew there were people who walked so he could fly. One of the things music will miss is this.
The lesson: It's cool to rap in any language but identify the nuances of the audience, authentically integrate it into your content. Don’t let success remove you from the people who you need to source your inspiration from. You might be bigger than every artist but you’re still the fabric of a greater culture.
3. Bigger Than Music But Always Come Back To The Music
AKA knew that music is not enough; once you can prove yourself from there what are people talking about? He built the persona of pressing the button on Twitter i.e. speaking his mind.
Eventually, on social media, you just end up being a nuisance or a troll, so AKA did a bit more, which was to associate himself with people who were popular for everything else except music, so how about a celebrity relationship?
His relationship with Bonang moves him from being a musician to now being a public figure. He ties that relationship back to music on ‘Touch My Blood’ with the song ‘Beyoncé’. His next relationship is with DJ Zinhle and they have baby Kairo, making him a whole household brand.
His next relationship is with a less famous lady Anele. At this point, AKA has built his star and the unfortunate turn of events probably gives him the attention he probably never signed up for. He’s now not only bigger than the music, but this event leads to the idea that he won’t be able to grow the trajectory of his music added to the underwhelming response to ‘Bhovamania’.
AKA could have easily given in and lost everything but he fought back by first acknowledging he was in a dark place and, even though he needed to be bigger than the music, the only thing that could save him was the music again.
The lesson: If you build a fanbase, they’ll trust and probably buy into your diversification into other fields. This can possibly move you from being a successful artist in a genre to success in an industry. For example, if you launch a vodka, you’re automatically competing with vodka companies who are able to pump cash into their marketing. Your fuel will always be able to remind audiences why they loved you in the first place, and if it’s music and that’s subpar, you become a celebrity vodka owner competing with companies with big marketing pockets. You beat them when you do what they can’t do make a smash hit that will get mad rotation. If AKA dropped a Lemonade Vodka next week, it would have moved off the shelves simply cause he reminded us why we loved him when he came back with the hit single. Never underestimate the music if that was your entry point in the hearts of your fanbase.
AKA was sure of himself against not only individuals but business. His confidence bordered on a discernment that ensured his name was never secondary to any artists or brand.
This headstrong attitude eventually broke the brand endorsement deal landscape to the partnership deals where we saw AKA pioneering with Vodacom, Cruz,Braai Show and Reebok.
This level of partnership is obviously not sensible for every artist, some still need to do endorsements and influencing but there have been many artists of AKA’s stature who’ve settled for just endorsements.
The lesson: Not just your worth but, most importantly, calculate your growth so you can have value. It’s not enough being around famous people, what are you bringing to the table besides being associated?
5. Don’t Follow The Wave, Immerse Yourself In It
What Da LES, Anatii and Costa Titch have in common is the break that AKA took from his creative process to immerse himself in other artists’ creative processes. As we already know he was already planning a joint project with K.O, possibly after ‘Mass Country’ had been dropped.
In his own way, he never feared being a student in others’ creative processes, and one can argue that Da LES and Anatii are his peers, but the Costa Titch collaboration was really pushing him outside his comfort zone from the music right down to the content creation that Costa accompanies with his music.
AKA's willingness to immerse himself in waves always made him a leader cause he never got into the collaborations from a point of expecting to benefit from his collaborators’ hype but more to learn from what made them hot. In this way, he was genuinely embraced by these artists’ audiences as a part of a creative contributor rather than a superstar trying to ride on another artist’s wave.
The lesson: Don't do collaborations for hype, do it cause you truly respect the artist you’re working with, with intent to eventually make something great for both audiences. Creative relationships that are built on clout and not true respect create short-lived creative output. Do you remember AKA doing ‘Heaven’, ‘Real Stuff’, ‘Don't Forget To Pray’, ’10 Fingers’ and ‘Super Soft’. Some of these songs are already classics and they’re not even from his personal catalogue.
A lot of stars have been formed but please remember Yanga’s words when you say you want to be a star, then remember the misconceptions you had about AKA when he was alive; these are things that made him great. Now, ask yourself how you’re going do it when you are trying to be or please everyone else?
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