Meet Early B, the Versatile Afrikaans Rapper With A Great Sense of Humor & Storytelling Skills
We chat to Early B about his latest album Aangename Kennis.
On his latest single "Ben Ten," Early B's raps tell a twisted tale. His girlfriend moves to Joburg to study at the University of Johannesburg without telling him. When he visits her at her house, her mother tries to makes moves on him "'N Jong man met energie" (an energetic young man). He suspects she's trying to get revenge on her husband, who left her for a younger woman and moved to Dubai. Like… Issa a lot. The MC sounds comfortable, with a solid and high-precision flow that doesn't falter even once.
The Port Elizabeth-born rapper, who is signed to Universal Music, keeps the same energy and virtuosity throughout Aangename Kennis, his recently released debut album for which "Ben Ten" is the second single after "Ken Jou Waarde." In the album, the MC narrates stories with both humor and emotion where necessary. He touches on light-hearted but relatable subjects such as getting catfished ("Filters), sex ("Wikkel Hulle," "Bid vir Pouse," "Potte") and relationships ("Jy Maak Eyes," "Plat Badge").
But Aangename Kennis is more than just humor and sexual innuendos. For instance, on the song "Duk vir Drugs," Early B raps about the damage drug abuse causes in his community, specifically making reference to mandrax. On "As Ek Geweet Het," he is introspective, musing about regrets and wishing he had treated some things in his life differently now that he's older and knows better. On "In Pas Early," he is motivational, touching on the importance of believing in yourself. On "Ken Jou Waarde," he tells the story of a young woman who kills her abusive father to save her mother. She coincidentally falls in love with a man who turns to be as abusive as her father.
Apart from varying subject matter, humor and a variance of flows, Early B makes sure the album doesn't bore the listener by picking different styles of beats, ranging from EDM to reggae, trap, and pop.
Early B first made a huge impact in the hip-hop scene, especially Cape Town and some parts of the Eastern Cape when he released the song "Cerebellum." The single went on to top hip-hop charts on various radio stations, and was a fan-favorite at shows. "Cerebellum" won the MC the Best Hip Hop Song trophy at the Afrikaans music award show, Ghoema Music Awards in 2017.
Prior to releasing his debut album, Early B released a four-track EP with legendary South African hip-hop DJ and producer, Azuhl, who's also one third of Beat Bangaz. The EP, titled Lyn Kyk, followed a song of the same name the MC and the DJ released in 2016.
Below, we chat to the MC about rapping in Afrikaans, the hip-hop scene in Port Elizabeth, collaborating with legendary SA rock musician Francois Van Coke, and more.
You rap a lot about relationships, is there any specific reason for this?
Rapping about relationships is therapeutic to me. I find that a lot of times, it's not easy to share what you think with another person, in person. So I choose to put it in a song and connect with the listener who might be in the same situation.
Storytelling forms a huge part of your rapping. Apart from your father's influence [Early B recalls how his father used to share "the most wonderful tales" with him and his siblings as kids]. How did you hone this skill?
I hone my storytelling skills by listening to other great storytellers. One of my favorites is the "Trapped in the Closet" chapters by R. Kelly and "Gimme The Loot" by The Notorious B.I.G.
How is the hip-hop scene in PE?
As far as dancing, which is one of the elements of hip-hop, I know it's alive among the youngsters. I haven't heard a lot of music coming from PE rappers recently, but I know of guys like Loufi and Biggy that are pushing the art. The PE rap scene is not what it used to be, but as long as I am here representing, it will stay alive.
Photo by Nic Burger.
You've spent some time in Cape Town. How different is the Cape Town scene compared to what's happening in PE?
Cape Town is where it all started, and I feel the city has much more platforms for hip-hop artists, and a bigger following for the art, which leads to bigger shows and interests from cooperates and promoters. The different forms of hip-hop are also exposed and celebrated much more than in PE.
How did you get to work with Francois Van Coke?
We met at an event where both of us had to perform, so we had a chat about our careers and our plans forward. He mentioned that he had an EP that he was about to work on, and I was about to record Aangename Kennis. Both of us were interested in working with each another, the timing was right and "Altyd Lief Vir Jou" was the song we created together. We just connected creatively and I work best when there is a mutual appreciation for the work.
Your music has a lot of pop in it, and you didn't collaborate with a hip-hop artist on your album, was this intentional?
I would say my music has a lot of everything in it, Aangename Kennis is a body of work to show my diversity as an artist, and it's also an extension of my self-expressions. The beat selection and features were chosen from how I felt at that moment, it wasn't intentional not to have any hip-hop artists on the album, but Jack Parow is a hip-hop artist, and one of the most creative and forward thinking cats out there.
How did the Universal Music deal come about?
After seeing my performance at the 2017 Ghoema awards and then a feature on one of their artists' songs, the head of Afrikaans music at Universal contacted me for a meeting and presented a deal. I first thought it was a practical joke. Thank goodness it wasn't.
How did you get to work with DJ Azuhl?
I met DJ Azuhl at the KKNK Festival a few years ago, and we had a chat about doing a song together. "Lyn Kyk" on the EP was the single we first created, and after attending a few cypher sessions on The Ready D Show on Goodhope FM, the idea of an EP came about. I love the beats he produces, and his work ethic is on point. The relationship was just dynamic from there.
How was it working with him?
Connection with a person is very important to me when I work with someone. I had the honor to sit down and chat over a meal with Azuhl, and I found him to be a very humble, educated and a respectful being. With that being said, his nature as a person made it easy for me to work with him. It's very important for me to be able to express myself freely and for whomever I work with to be able to do the same. I choose to work with people I can build relationships with because I want to deliver the best product possible. Azhul made that so easy for me.
And on the Lyn Kyk EP, you rap a lot in English, is there a specific reason for that?
The Lyn Kyk EP is predominantly Afrikaans, but with the dialect we use in PE, we tend to mix English with Afrikaans. So the switch between the two languages is me still staying true to who I am and how we talk where I'm from. I believe that the truer you are to yourself, the better you become.
Why is it important to you to rap in Afrikaans?
I'm from a predominantly Afrikaans area in Port Elizabeth, and in many instances, kids grow up feeling less worthy because they don't speak English. I am from a bilingual home, and it's important to me to stress that being you is the only thing that is unique in this world. I rap the way I speak, and on most days, I speak my mixture of Afrikaans and English. Afrikaans is a beautiful language. I would like to have my music help people release their concepts of language hierarchy. After all, music is universal.
What artists did you grow up listening to that you'd say influenced your style?
Artists I loved listening to are Eminem, Papoose, 2pac, Biggie, Scally Wag, Isaac Mutant and Funny Carp. But like I said, I love music as a whole. And growing up, I also loved listening old school music, too. I had a bit of an obsession with Elvis Presley and the older Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 music.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Afrikaans hip-hop?
I feel that it's such an underestimated section in hip-hop. Because of the western world influences and their huge media platforms, South Africa has kind of taken direction from them. We have such diversity in the Afrikaans vernacular itself, so why not celebrate it? In film and television production, the person who controlled the lighting levels of physical equipment was called the "gaffer". Today it's the head electrician responsible for the lighting of the production. I see us hip-hop artists as the gaffers, slowly bringing the light on our style of music and making it brighter for the world to notice. It's our responsibility.
Download Aangename Kennis here.