Photography by Lebogang Tlhako
Okmalumkoolkat, Mfuture Mfana, Dj Zharp Zharp – we all know who these cats are but who is Smiso Zwane? Born eThekwini, eMlazi, he is the first born with two sisters following shortly after. Believing that he attended multiple ‘bantu’ primary schools, he matured into Imagination Lab to harness his graphic design skills. Like a true hustler, Smiso juggled two jobs by interning at the Department of Finance and utilising his graphic skills by working on newspaper design and layout at the Sunday World…BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. What I want to know about is the creative juice side that got him to where he is when the mic is unplugged – This is what he said:
Q: Ok! Shap! You hustled hard and all those sweaty things, but why choose Joburg over Cape Town. The Mother City also has it’s own hella productive creative synergy?
A: At college, the system was designed to pitch the ‘think out of the box’ concept and they hooked all the students up with agency interviews but I was on some, “Nah, you guys said we must think out the box”, so I didn’t go to any of them. Another big factor is that I have been dancing since I was 6 years old. So I have been dancing all my life and illustrating since I was 2 years old but all the schools I went to didn’t offer Arts. So there I was in this creative communications college with all these kids from Fine Art schools and drawing classes so when I started working as a designer, I was offering a raw product. In 2001 I graduated from school and partied for 2 years. Then I went to college and partied again for another year – then I went up to Jo’burg. I had never been out of Durban and when my friend Sanele went up to Jozi to see his brother [Zamani aka Dj Spizee] he called me and said, “Yo, these cats are balling up here!! they have 2 fridges – 1 for food and 1 for booze!!” I was like, Yo!!! I’m coming!! [He laughs]
Q: But people always go to Jozi with the perception that everything is just going to fall in place and it really doesn’t work out that way….
A: No, it doesn’t. We had to hustle hard for what we wanted. Like with illustration, I decided to fuse it into my love for fashion and so I designed the Ama Kip Kip brand. This is also when our home got broken into and we now had to look for legit jobs because ni***rs were getting hungry out there. As a result of our street wear/ kicks kulture – I started working on Nike Sportswear South Africa’s strategy marketing team when it first kicked in. Whilst doing that, at night we would manage the gallery and I started with my first blog, Okmalumkoolkat, and Nike started recognising it and my potential based on the traffic that the blog pulled in. Nike then appointed me as Digital Co-Ordinator and I was always online so after some time I realised that actually I have to do this for myself and not another company. I also had the music thing going on at the same time – on my day off I would be rapping and invite other cats to free style with and just be creative musically.
Q: Today, the new rappers and MC’s on the block would probably get excited to perform at events like Back To The City and Arts On Main – back when you started; where did you want to perform that made you feel like ‘ja, our music is getting recognised now…’?
A: I don’t know, man. I have never looked at it as the stage is going to get us there. Thing is, I’ve performed in all these cool places and thing is, you get all excited then when you get there you realise that actually – this is all Bulls**t. I just try to have fun wherever I perform and not make it about the place or the ‘crowd’.
Q: What nominations and awards have you achieved?
Q: Really?? There’s no room for modesty here. I was reading your twitter feed and there is a lady that tweeted her disappointment in you having not made it on to GQ’s Top Successful and Stylish Men Under 30. You then reminded her that you actually made that list 2 years ago. Is that not an achievement?
A: The people who conduct those things are doing a good job and all but the only thing that came out of that award is that I can still talk to the other guys that made it onto that list. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me either but now as a result of that list I can still talk to them because a new network has been formed. Actually, I’m not sure how I feel about awards because for me its more about getting kids to be comfortable in their own skin. Where I come from – growing up and attending hip hop gigs, the MC would have to be some galactic type guy instead of a Mzansi cat doing cool Mzansi things. I feel that I’m still just shacking things up here on the ground and yes, we do want to get onto radio and the traditional media channels, but all in due time.
Q: Do you feel that you are part of PopUp culture?
A: I dont know what PopUp culture is but I am definitely am part of pop culture.
PopUp culture/ Pop Culture – its all a culture that makes you go POP. From the second Smiso’s alarm goes off, game face on and he is ready to conquer. Reminded by the leopard tattoo on his forearm; each spot represents each talent as that is what man needs to survive. Talk about survival of the fittest! Hectic! Hala at this #KwelKid on Twitter @okmalumkoolkat and check out his swazzing okmalumekoolkat.tumblr.com blog to find out what’s what with the smanje manje!