K.O. Image supplied.

Interview: K.O Doesn’t Believe in Replicating His Old Self

We speak with the South African hip-hop star about his latest album PTY UnLTD.

One thing you need to give to K.O is that he's never released the same project more than once. His three albums—2014's Skhanda Republic, 2018's SR2 and the recently released PTY UnLTD—all sound distinctly different.

"I've made so many gritty super street records over the years," recalls K.O in an interview with OkayAfrica at the Sony Music Entertainment South Africa offices in Joburg. "So, with this one I wanted the feeling, and just the album to sonically sound different from anything that I had done before."

PTY UnLTD is a cocktail of genres and influences ranging from, of course, hip-hop to R&B, pop and even amapiano. "This time around, I wanted to explore a different avenue," says K.O. "Normally, when I work on albums, it's either I sit with just one producer, or maybe two max throughout the entire project. With the plan that I had for this album, I knew it needed multiple hands in the pot. So, when you listen to it, it's only like two tracks that were solely done by one producer."

Contributors behind the boards on PTY UnLTD include Gemini Major, Space Club Music and Hylton Brooker, among other names, some of whom aren't necessarily hip-hop producers. For instance, Brooker, who produced the album's lead single "Supa Dupa" is a pop producer. "He understands the top 40 sound," says K.O. "The beat that he had made for 'Supa Dupa,' I took it to Gemini, and he just gave it a more well-rounded hip-hop feel in terms of the drums, and the 808s and the hi-hats."

K.O - Citi Boi/4AM

The song "4AM" sees K.O tap into the zeitgeist as he croons over an amapiano instrumental that samples kwaito legend Spikiri's "Money Talks." The backstory for "4AM" points towards K.O's willingness to break boundaries and explore unchartered territories sonically. He was listening to golden oldies on Apple Music this other day when "Money Talks" came on. "I'm sitting there like, 'hold up, what could I possibly do to this shit?'" he recalls. "When I heard that joint, I'm like, 'put yourself in Drake's shoes, what would Drake do on this record? Or a record like this?'"

K.O says he looks up to Drake and Jay-Z for their ability to shapeshift and reinvent their style and sound in different eras. A feat K.O has achieved—in the early 2000s, then still known as Koleps, the rapper and producer was a third of the group Teargas. Cashtime Life, a label he co-founded with Teargas member Ma-E, became a lifestyle in the early 2010s developing young rappers like Smashis (now Zingah), Kid X and AB Crazy into fully-fledged artists. In 2014, the release of K.O's debut album Skhanda Republic kicked off his domination as a solo artist.

Best of the Decade: The Greatest South African Hip-Hop Songs of the 2010s

With Skhanda Republic, which is a South African hip-hop classic, K.O started a new movement. Skhanda, a subgenre he created which is a mixture of kwaito and hip-hop, would define the 2014-2015 era that many still consider the peak for SA hip-hop. The album's mega single "Caracara" is one of the biggest hip-hop songs to ever come out of South Africa. Recently, when we asked several voices in hip-hop what they consider the best SA hip-hop songs of the decade, a majority pointed out the Lunatik-produced and KiD X-assisted single.

Supplied. K.O. Image supplied.

It's an era some industry insiders feel needs to be brought back. K.O, however, isn't for that notion. "As creatives, sometimes we get caught up in trying to replicate what we did in the past," he says, "I look at music almost like a photo album. If I take a shot of you in 2014, and then five years later I want to take the shot, fact of the matter is you don't look the same, naturally." He adds, "I need to now, when I take the same shot five years later, or even a year later, I need to capture that moment, i.e. you in 2019."

When Cashtime Life collapsed in 2017, it looked like K.O would hang up his suit as label head. But, three years later, Mr Cashtime is ready to develop new artists again. "Possibly the first single that I'm going to drop top of the year is going to be 'Better Choices,'" he says, "and that is strategically because I want to launch Loki, the homie that's featured on the record. I want to launch him through that, and then maybe a year later you're going to hear his own single, and then that's when we are going to officially announce the launch of the new label, which is Skhanda World."

K.O - Supa Dupa

It comes naturally for K.O to unearth and nurture new talent. "I am an actual fucking fan of the culture," he says. "Even when the tide is low on my end, I'm sitting there, and I'm looking at, 'okay cool, oh, Speedsta has got this record called Mayo right now, and it's got these new dudes on it, and they fucking it up, I like that.'"

"So I'm learning," he continues, "I'm absorbing that energy, and I'm learning from what Emtee was doing at the time, I'm learning from A-Reece, or whoever else. And I take all that shit, and I say, all right cool, but this is K.O, meaning a K.O who is mindful of what's going on right now, how would he interpret it in this fashion?"

Going into the new year, the rapper is optimistic his album will only get bigger as he releases more singles. "When we look back at this time next year," he says, "this album is probably going to be earmarked as probably the best to come out not just in 2019, but in a hot minute in the game."

Stream K.O's PTY UnLTD below.


Interview: Buju Is the Blooming Afro-Fusion Artist You Should Know

Over the last year, Buju has gone from a viral sensation to one of Nigeria's young music stars pushing afro-fusion to new heights.

When chasing a dream from Nigeria, one needs a surplus of that secret sauce called belief. Young Nigerians in the music space have always forced the issue of their recognition as new viral sensations coming out with fresh, innovative styles are delimiting the shine of the limelight.

Late last year, "Spiritual," was the new record on everybody's lips. While hip-hop sensation Zlatan served as the poster boy for the single, the voice of a new melody twister carried most of the track. 22-year-old Daniel Benson, popularly known as Buju or BujuToyourEars in full, piqued the interest of industry giants and has been on an upward trajectory since then.

Around four million streams later, a handful of major performances, Headies nominations, and a remix of his hit single "L'Enu" featuring his idol Burna Boy on the way, the stars don't seem to be the limit for Buju.

Meet Buju, the latest addition to the list of young Nigerian stars pushing the new generation into the conversation.

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Photo courtesy of the director.

Interview: How Félicity Ben Rejeb Price Is Reinventing the Afro-French Music Video

Félicity is the Tunisian music video director birthing a new aesthetic for urban French culture.

Félicity Ben Rejeb Price represents a new generation of imagery in Afro-French hip-hop culture, with clients including top French acts like Dadju, Aya Nakamura, Gims, Niska, SCH and Soolking. She also has a growing catalogue of editorial campaigns for the likes of Adidas, Uber and Converse.

Her current role is a combination of everything she's done so far. A jack of many trades, she's played her hand as an interior decorator, publicist, set designer, stylist, casting director, photographer, and ultimately, artistic director. The detail-oriented Félicity relishes at being able to select the location, models, styling, and the method of filming for her projects.

Félicity dominates a masculine industry with illustrations that go beyond the typical rap video starter pack—comprised of cars, scantily-clad women, alcohol, and money. Her formula is: film music videos that are mini-films where women such as herself are treated as equals rather than objectified, while also sprinkling in a number of lights and colors.

It's Saturday afternoon in Arizona, where Félicity is shooting a new music video. She pauses to speak with us on the phone about the trajectory of her career.

The article below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

Interview: GuiltyBeatz Proves He's Truly 'Different'

The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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