“Picture the Pro rhyming/ sharing the mic with Jo’burg’s finest/ representing the capital cities of gold and diamond/…” Who doesn’t remember the opening lines of Amu’s “Attention” jam off his The Life, Rap and Drama album? Spat with an innate twanging accent by a brim-hat-rocking then-skinny ProVerb at a time when a local dude rapping in English was as taboo as homosexuality is in Uganda, the verse would go on to serve as an introduction to one of the most potent lyricists Africa has ever seen.
That Tebogo Thekisho was born and did some growing up in Kimberley and moved to Jo’burg where he introduced himself to the hip hop scene as a ferocious battle MC is a story we’ve all heard many a time – either through his music or interviews and the likes. And one that I find unnecessary to reiterate even though the purpose of this article is to look back at how far The Verb has come.
Today – March 4, 2014 – marks nine years since he “marched forth”. His Outrageous Records debut, the classic The Book of Proverb was released in 2005. That is an album any local hip hop fan or head (there’s a difference) who doesn’t know about deserves a thorough check and blatant judgment. The album was a display of virtuoso punchline-induced lyricism by a ‘fresh off the streets’ ProVerb. He was hungry – it was overtly exhibited in his delivery. He was passionate – his album was what he wanted it to be; no flirtations with pop (or kwaito – which was the ‘in’ thing at that time) to chase TV and radio-sanctioned popularity and he was not afraid to put it out there that he loved and revered the artform. He was extremely gifted – his penmanship and wordplay were – to deploy the cliché adage – in a league of their own.
The Book of ProVerb revealed a well-off and well-read kid who had his own battles to fight and a skeptical-towards-homegrown-
Looking at hip hop as a movement and thus assuming the position of one of its representatives, on “I Have a Dream” – one of the album’s singles and most memorable songs, he expressed his wishful visions for the art form. Nine years later, I ask a grown Pro in an email interview I did with him between his busy schedule – shooting Idols, shooting music videos and parenting, among other stuff – if that dream has come true. “I certainly believe that the dream is still very much alive. Much of it has come true and SA hip hop is getting a lot more respect, recognition and exposure. Naturally we still have ways to go, but we have definitely made strides. We’ve secured our place in the hearts and minds of South Africans and our presence can be seen on radio playlists, charts, television, in media and even on film. The wheel turns slow but it definitely turns. We still have a lot to achieve but I feel like we’ve made substantial progress,” he expands.
With a few (at least that we know of) mishaps, ‘Verb has unabatedly continued to consistently dish out gems while being a radio and TV presenter and a lecturer, among other things. And that is not the end – he’s planning on veering into business.”Too premature to elaborate at this stage but let’s just say my sights are set on business and I’ve begun taking the steps in that direction. All will make sense in the next year or two,” he reveals subtly.
He has evidently done a lot of growing up since then. On ProVerb’s growth, he says, “I have diversified my portfolio since then and have explored other elements within entertainment including radio, television and production. As apposed to just limiting myself to music alone, I believe I’ve evolved and expanded my horizons. As far as my music, I have matured and my content has matured with me. I’ve taken ownership of my sound and my career. Everything from image to style and delivery and content has come of age.” And that he has – he produced most of his latest album FourthWrite, has been a brand ambassador for Volvo, had a relationship with Converse and has hosted TV shows such as Head Rush and recently, Idols and All Access. He has also been sporting more suits than baggy jeans, t-shirts and – one thing he’s been known for not being seen without – a cap.
On Tebogo’s growth, he says, “It’s [almost] a decade later so I’ve grown in age, in understanding and I’ve had a lot more life experiences. I’m now a husband and a father of two wonderful kids. My perspective and priorities have also changed. My personal developments have also changed my approach to everything I do and a sense of focus and fire now burns furiously with my endeavours.”
And hip hop has done a lot of growing (and some essential depreciation too) too ever since. Unlike most old school heads who get left behind and opt to being bitter and anti-progress, ProVerb has effortlessly managed to thrive and co-exist with and without even being fazed by the new school. “Hip hop, like any other genre of music has also evolved and everything has changed – styles, flows, beats. I may not subscribe to it all but I support change and think it’s very necessary,” he affirms. “I still do me though and refuse to follow trends. This is purely because I believe there is a market for everybody and being a purist myself, my work is geared to not only the purists but to those willing to engage.”
And that is evident in the collaborations he has done. On Write of Passage – his most criticised album – he collaborated with then-less famous AKA and then-next-best-thing, Morale. He exchanged ardent bars with his then-protégé, then-up-and-coming East Rand MC, Reason on the D-Mongz-produced “Street Music” off his solid sophomore, The Manuscript – which has grown to be perceived as better than his debut.
He has crossed borders – he has collaborated with Nigerian MCs, Modenine (on “ProMode”) and recently Naeto C (on “Higher”) and M.anifest (on his latest video single “Proverbs Manifest”). He has crossed genres – on his biggest song to date, “Blessed and Highly Favoured”, he featured South Africa’s darling acapella group, The Soil.
In our interview, I ask him where he stands in the gust of hostile rants by the elite of South African hip hop – the likes of AKA, Tumi, Kwesta etc. – on how the industry is unfair to locals. In typical positive ProVerb fashion, he states: “We have to make it work. If there are challenges, we must find creative ways around them as we always have. The days of complaining are over. Now you must rise above them. We have enough of a market to bypass obstacles to the point where they are almost forced to play ball. Take radio [for instance], we can now maximise the online platform to reach a market directly and create such a buzz that radio will literally chase you for the material. Same with music videos; there’s plenty avenues of exploitation. Events and gigs are also up to us to create and not only wait for bookings and calls. [The] point I’m making is: we run the industry now and not the other way around.”
Now-evidently more than just one of the best MCs Africa has ever seen, ProVerb is living proof that the streets can grow and that one can only be a backpacker for so long. He is a proud husband and father of two, a host of one of the most reputable TV shows in the land – Idols and M-Net’s All Access, a former Highveld FM radio host and an ambassador for positive and healthy living in general and still handles himself with a level of humbleness rappers not even half as successful as he is do. And that’s just what I could think of off the top of my head. As echoed in his last words in our interview: “More music coming soon, I will never stop recording,” the Verb keeps marching forth!
Check out ProVerb’s website: http://www.proverbmusic.net/
All new images courtesy of ProVerb
Old images sourced online