Waiting at Museum Africa in Newtown, we get a call from Kash, who does PR for the Cashtime Life clan, telling us to look out for a white Chrysler.
We turn our heads to face the parking lot of Mary Fitzgerald Square. K.O hops out of the lavish car like Kanye with the paparazzi are around. Slowly walking up to us, he takes a few swigs from a juice bottle.“Where shall we do this? Let’s check if we can do this inside the museum,” he asks, and answers, before we can respond. We sign ourselves in and despite some grief from the guards for no reason make our way to the side of the museum featuring the Rise and Fall of Apartheid exhibition.
Ntokozo Mdluli, popularly known as K.O to his audience, recently dropped an album that is slowly changing the hip hop game and carving out a new sound for the South African scene. The Skhanda Republic album offers a touch of futuristic nostalgia: it’s got that old school kwaito flavour, mixed with hip hop, creating a sound that will last for years as a reference for good local hip hop.K.O is from one of SA’s biggest hip hop groups Teargas, which made a strong impact in cultivating the local sound. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that K.O has his eyes set on doing the same thing. On the direction of SA hip hop, rapper Reason says, “Teargas was taking old school choruses and using them on new school hip hop beats. It’s only now where I feel like it’s becoming more natural and comfortable discovering this sound because hip hop is having a flirt with something cool, and that’s kwaito.”
When K.O hosted a listening session for the new album a few weeks ago at The Zone 6 Venue in Soweto everyone who attended was blown away. “I got a go ahead from the big guy Tumi, so, if you don’t like this song f**k you,” he stated confidently before playing his current street anthem “No Fear”. The song is accompanied by a video shot on the streets of Alex. K.O walks around the streets looking fresh in shorts, a vest and a bucket hat complemented by gold chains and rings. He is followed by a group of children as he raps, all while wearing pink slippers (who walks around the hood in pink slippers!).
“You know while we were shooting this video, the kids started walking with K.O and we just decided to keep rolling,” explained Cashtime Life CEO, Thabiso Khathi, as played the video on his laptop for his industry friends seated at his table at Zone 6.
Then there’s “Benithini”. At the listening session, the Principal himself, Amu, was very impressed with the banger. Like majority of the songs on the album, it has that kwaito touch. It’s the kind of track that “will have the legends like Mdu actually appreciating this kind of sound that I’m bringing back through hip hop,” K.O confidently stated.
During our chat at Museum Africa, he explains the creative process behind “Benithini”. This song is not only his personal favourite, it is a song also favoured by self-proclaimed Prince of SA Hip Hop, AKA.
“It’s got all the kwaito elements to it but it’s not necessarily kwaito. If you listen to the drum pattern, they have sort of an offbeat-ish type of pattern to it, but you can still get the gist that it’s a hip hop record,” says K.O, standing in front of a picture of Robert Sobukwe.
“Also, the way that I jumped on it, my flow, my overall approach, I was literally embodying the ghetto feel, sort of like a kwaito artist attitude – a rapper with a kwaito attitude,” he adds, elaborating on the recording process of lacing verses over the “Benithini” beat.
K.O hasn’t been working alone while creating his piece of art. He has a partner in crime when it comes to production – Mnqobi Nxumalo, better known as Lunatik. He worked with Lunatik on the entire album and their tag-team has proven a formidable collaboration when one considers songs like “Caracara” and songs from K.O’s label mates: Kid X’s Pass N Special and Ma-E’s Ugogo.
“I met Lunatik early 2013 and he had a whole lot of dope beats but like, uhm, they were all American-influenced. They were on that 40, T-minus or like Mike Will and all that other sh*t,” says K.O.
“The kid had nice sounds, nice kicks, nice samples and everything else. The sh*t he’s doing is something some of these rappers here would like. But I don’t think the market would still…” he pauses.
“I mean we’ve been doing it for years in local hip hop, taking all these American sounding beats but the only difference is we’d jump on them using vernacular, and none of these songs were actually breaking the ceiling.”
K.O is all about creating an authentic, local sound and not recycling the American style. He and Lunatik developed a closer working relationship from all that time spent in studio, creating something that resonates more with what the local market and with “Caracara” hitting over a million views on Youtube, making it possibly SA’s biggest record this year, it shows he knows what he’s talking about.
“I sat there with him and I was like, ‘Yo let’s create something that sounds South African. Let’s just make it an effort that we go out there and try and create an actual South African hip hop sound.’” Listen to “Son of a Gun” and you’ll know what he’s talking about.
Skhanda Republic is going on tour and next year promises to be a great year for the Cashtime Life clan. You can expect albums from the other members including their newest signee, MTV Base Africa’s bald-headed beauty Nomuzi Mabena – yep, she is apparently “set at becoming the voice of Female Hip Hop since it has been a little quiet lately,” says K.O.
But Cashtime aren’t the only crew on the new sound. The leading female voice in SA hip hop, radio and club DJ Ms Cosmo says, “K.O is not really the first person to try fusing kwaito with hip hop. We’ve seen and heard it being done before.” She adds, “K.O stood out because he also adopted the culture more and pushed really hard. The recent success also surprised him too though he knew it would catch on, but I doubt he knew it would do this much,” says the DJ over the phone.
And yet K.O is the most successful. With the SA Hip Hop Awards coming up in December, you’d expect him to be leading with nominations – but nah fam. K.O asked that they don’t include any of Cashtime’s music. He didn’t want the clique to be part of the awards because he felt the nomination procedure is not transparent.
“I mean they are privately owned and the guys, what they did was, they took the name South African Hip Hop Awards. If you gonna go with a name like that you need to involve all the stakeholders and everyone else that is within the industry – so that they can have a transparent process,” K.O states, rolling his eyes after the comment.
“I mean for me it makes no sense for a great artist like AKA who’s in the mainstream to be put in the same category as some artist we don’t even know and that guy wins album of the year and we like, ‘Haa but who’s the f**k is this guy?’. For me essentially it’s devaluing AKA’s hard work and the artist that he is.”
K.O walks past the images of the Rise and Fall of Apartheid. The photographs and what they represent are being forgotten and diluted by the media. We never really hear about June 16th until Youth Day. But it’s important to acknowledge history, understand it and work with it.
Kwaito legends like Brown Dash, Twista and others are also being forgotten. They told black stories when democratic South Africa was still young, but their narratives are never told until they pass away. K.O is slowly preserving that content, the elements of real kwaito, packaging it and making sure it reaches the right market.