How Kwesta Wrote One of the Biggest South African Hip-Hop Songs of This Era
Kwesta breaks down the process behind "Ngud'," his massive South African anthem alongside Cassper Nyovest and DJ Maphorisa—and one of the biggest SA hip-hop songs of his era.
Kwesta's "Ngud'" is massive.
The rapper's breakout hit, which also features Cassper Nyovest, was easily one of the biggest South African hip-hop songs of last year. The single spent 14 weeks at number 1 on the EMA Local Top 10 charts and was the most playlisted song on South African radio in 2016.
With large help from the popularity of the track, Kwesta has six nominations at this year's South African Music Awards for Best Album of the Year, Best Male Artist of the Year, Best Rap Album, Best Collaboration and more.
For "Ngud'," producer DJ Maphorisa slowed down Joakim's remix of "Camino Del Sol," a 1982 house track from the French-Belgian group Antena, into "an old school kwaito tempo, making it a woozy beer anthem for the shebeens," as OkayAfrica contributor Sabelo Mkhabela describes it. "Kwesta’s baritone gave the song an x-factor and fits the mood perfectly. It's definitely one of the biggest hip-hop songs of this era."
Below, Kwesta tells us how he wrote the biggest South African hip-hop hit of last year, in his own words.
Represent your home.
Kwesta: First let me explain what ngud means. It's what you'd call a 40 oz—a 40 ounce of beer. It's a term that's used in places we call kasi, which is what you'd call the hood. It's a township.
I just picked it up because it was the drink to have whether you're celebrating or you're just chilling with the boys, whatever the situation. So "Ngud'" represents how a lot of people in the townships feel.
Let it happen organically.
Kwesta: I was already working on the DaKar album, DaKar II, and we'd made a couple of joints with DJ Maphorisa in his studio in Johannesburg. He's also worked with the likes of Drake, Wizkid, and stuff like that.
We were actually done working on some other songs and I literally passed out on the couch. I fell asleep and when I woke up, he was messing with the "Ngud'" instrumental. He was just messing around, writing on his computer, doing his thing, and I woke up to that.
I said, "Yo, what are you doing?" He's like, "I'm just messing about." "Yes, okay, slow that down little bit," and I literally went to the mic and kind of mumbled a bunch of things, just mumbling 'cause I had just woken up so I wasn't sure. But I took a little sample of it home with me.
I listened to it on my drive home, playing it over and over. And then the following day, in the morning, I played it again and thought: we might be onto something here.
So I hit Maphorisa up like, "Yo we need to finish this joint." So I go back to the studio and went in. Then I got on the mic and I started putting the words on it, starting doing the verse. I did the first verse, I did the second verse and left it there. Now, everyone in the room was agreeing that this some hot shit, you know. Everyone kind of felt it.
The process was very organic. I didn't walk into studio with the song. I mean, I literally woke up to it.
Make it authentic and fuse your sounds.
Kwesta: What we found was very authentic about it was that it samples a French-Belgian song [Antena's "Camino Del Sol"], but the beats and everything are very kwaito-like, then there's also a hip-hop bass line. So it's a fusion of everything.
It was crazy, as we were listening to it while it was taking shape, we realized that this is not a song for black people, it's not a song for white people in South Africa, it's not a song for any color, any sort of race of a people in South Africa. It could represent South Africa as a whole.
Once I started playing it for different people, everybody was vibing to it. Like, what is this, what is this? That's what was dope about it. I think it caught the essence of what being a youth in South Africa was like. It was the soundtrack of that time. It is the soundtrack of the times right now.
Get a good feature on it.
Kwesta: How Cassper got on the joint... he'd hit me up to do something else with him. I went to his studio and worked on his verse, finished that. He started playing me some of the songs he had for his album. I'm like, dope, dope. And naturally I also started playing him some of the things I had, and when he heard "Ngud'" he went crazy.
He was jumping, he was like a little kid, he was jumping up the room all over the place. "Yo I think you got the sum of this, that, and the third, you know," and I literally said, "Dude, if you like the song so much, why don't you drop a verse on it then?" Because it had two verses, just my first and second verse.
He literally was like, "Yo dude I ain't trying to mess with your vibe." But I'm like, "Hey dude, just mess with the joint... jump on."
Y'all know I don't fuck with the SAMAs but pleaee please support SA hip hop brothers out there!! Kwesta needs to win Song Of the year too!!!
— Abuti Fill Up (@CassperNyovest) April 21, 2017
Test it out with your trusted people.
Kwesta: Once we got it, I played it for some friends of mine, just played it in the background without announcing it and everybody would go, "Yo, run that back? What is this?"
I tested it out a little bit with my closest people, the people around me. At that point I had a single that was actually doing well called "Nomayini." It was already out but I wasn't really completely done with the album. I was already trying to think about what was going to follow that up. Then I decided it's gonna be "Ngud'." Because the story was just real for me. No parts of it were forced.
Don't force it.
Kwesta: Yeah, everything just fell into place. It was really, really organic. Nobody came in with an idea. I didn't call Cassper up and go, "Yo, I like this joint. Do you want to do it?" It literally happened while we were doing something else. So this song literally, while we were busy with whatever was happening, was forming itself, bit by bit.
I think that's why people can relate to it because it doesn't feel forced, it doesn't feel like, "Oh, he was trying to talk to me but he didn't quite get there." Or he was trying to talk to this audience but he didn't quite get there, it was never built like that. It wasn't planned.
And then the joint came out and as soon as it did, it just went crazy. I experienced and saw it, from a five-year-old kid singing along, or at least trying to, all the way up to a 40 or 50-year-old doing the same.
They were playing it in the clubs in the North side and they were playing it in the townships. They loved it, and then the radio started getting into it, you know. And I just saw a whole country kind of embrace and celebrate the song because everybody vibed to it. It was playing on rock 'n' roll stations, it was playing on urban youth stations, it was playing on ethnic stations.
It appealed to literally everybody. And all of us were shocked by the response because, yes we had been playing it around ourselves, but none of us expected it to be as big and have that impact that it ended up having.
Scope out the reception in a live setting.
Kwesta: So the first time I performed it was a big eye-opener. I think we were in a small town called Mafikeng. And they speak like a different language from where I'm from. Sometimes that barrier matters, it plays a role in how big a song is in that certain region. So we did this show though, in that region. I performed that song and I saw the reaction the crowd had and I think that was that moment when I was like, "okay, it's going." Because I'd been to that city a couple of times, and every show, it's been aight. But with this one, it went crazy. It went literally crazy. And that's when I knew we're onto something.
Make the music video tell your story.
Kwesta: The song just did its own thing. Even from an A&R point of view. It pretty much did its own thing. Everybody just picked it up and played it, so we didn't have a lot of work to do there, because it literally just did that. The only other thing we did was shoot a video. We put that up on YouTube and it flew. The views and everything were just... everybody was still about it. It was like a frenzy at the moment. [The music video's currently near 4 million views on YouTube]
The video was shot in Midrand, in a small township called Tembisa. We worked on it with a company called UpRooted. And it was directed by a guy of mine, his name is Nathan. The concept of of the video is that the whole thing is in reverse.
We're pretty much telling the story of coming from a small township and ending up in boujee suburb somewhere. We reversed it so that we started off at the suburban area and then we kind of go back so you can see where it all began. It's all good and dandy that we're here, but telling the story of where we came from is something that we thought would reflect what the song has been doing: appealing to all sorts of areas.
Even when you just drive from the township to the 'burbs there's sections that you go through, so we wanted that journey to be caught. Also, at the end of the day it's really a feel-good song, so there's party situations.
I mean, Cassper and I pretty much share the same story. We're both from small-ass townships and we both went up to Johannesburg for the hustle.
Sit back and watch it influence the culture.
Kwesta: Look man, they drank champagne and stuff in the north and we really grew up on this ngud thing, you know. There was a point when actual sales of champagne went down in the clubs and some started stocking ngud. Before, some places were too prim and proper to sell ngud, but they ended up opening up because of the impact that the song had.
Even people on my social media would let me know like, "I've never looked cooler with this in my hand in the north." You understand, again it's because of the impact. People did a lot to drive the message home that it's okay to be who you are and embrace where you're from no matter what you're around. I think that's what people took from the song and that's why they were always willing to support it, because it represents them also.
Kwesta's album DaKar II, which features "Ngud'," is available now.