Interview

Nasty C’s Leap of Faith Into Unlikely Superstardom

Interview: With the success of his debut album, Nasty C reflects on doubting his music would resonate in South Africa earlier in his flourishing career.

"I didn't see it happening in this sense," Nasty C says about the success of his sophomore album, Strings and Bling, which was released a year ago. The number of streams for the album, including music videos, totaled up to 60 million. The equivalent sales for Strings and Bling equal to double platinum by RiSA certification regulations.

To make this announcement, Universal Music Group South Africa, which Nasty C is signed to, has gathered a select number of journalists and Nasty C's producers, collaborators and acquaintances at a cozy venue in Maboneng in the Joburg city centre.

To kick the night off, a documentary about Nasty C's trip to Japan and a rough cut of his music video for "Strings and Bling" are screened while the rapper sits in front of the audience alongside the host for the night, hip-hop aficionado Scoop Makhathini, with his eyes glued to the screen.

In the documentary, Nasty C speaks about how liberating and life-changing the trip was. He explains that it felt great being able to be a normal 22-year-old again, who could roam the streets and randomly break into a dance routine and frolic without diverting everyone's attention to him. He admires the food and fashion, and makes friends who he ends up in studio with. The street style in Japan inspired him to go back to customizing his own clothes by scribbling and making holes on them, he says. A practice he says he stopped to avoid standing out.


After the screenings, UMG Sub-Saharan Africa managing director Sipho Dlamini shared the story of how the label made first contact with the young rapper trying to sign him. It was in 2016 when Nasty C, in a move that surprised many, released his debut album on Audiomack. He was avoiding missing its slated release date after the album was delayed due to sample clearance issues.

"A hundred and twenty thousand units were downloaded in the first 24 hours," Dlamini says, "and our team at Universal worked the whole weekend to get the album up and live on iTunes. Fast forward to 2018, where we finally got to sign Nasty C directly." As a result of the signing and the rapper having gained more momentum, Strings and Bling had an impressive rollout.

It's when I sit down with Nasty C for a quick interview after the event that he shares he wasn't expecting the amount of success the album achieved. "But every single song on that album was my favorite at some point," he says. "This is just outside validation, it's not something that I work for. Internally, I was super happy with it. Even if it hadn't done none of this stuff, I still would've felt the same way."

Strings and Bling showed great improvement compared to his 2016 debut, which fell short as an album. With all the attention he was receiving that year, Nasty C was still an internet mixtape rapper at heart. Him releasing his debut album on his own was fitting.

I ask him if he wrote Strings and Bling with a chip on his shoulder; if he felt there were areas that needed improvement. "I don't think it really was any of that," he says. "I think with Bad Hair, the pressure of putting out your first ever album got to me a little bit. I wasn't creatively as free as I'd like to be. I restricted myself, because I was like, 'Damn. This is SA, a song like this might not fly here. I might not ever get good booked.'"

Scoop Makhathini in conversation with Nasty C. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

When Nasty C emerged in the mainstream, circa 2016, South African hip-hop was beginning to embrace the country's rich musical heritage. The biggest hip-hop hits were mostly adulterated with kwaito and other genres, containing a lot of South African languages and slang in the lyrics. Even AKA, who proudly reminds you that he was the first SA rapper to break into the mainstream while rapping in English, was beginning his evolution as the pop star he is today whose music references and samples vintage South African genres.

"But I had to take that leap of faith," says Nasty C about sticking to his guns on Bad Hair amidst a changing climate. "And when it worked, I felt like shit because I didn't do it to my fullest potential. I did it, but I was skeptical. And, every time you do something repeatedly, it's like you correct your mistakes. You improve every single time."

The songs on Strings and Bling sound bigger and have a wider appeal ("SMA," for example, is smash pop crossover hit). Bad Hair was a mixtape masquerading as an album. Save for a few exceptions, it consisted of songs that though not bad, weren't so memorable. The album's direction was also not clear.

On Strings and Bling, however, Nasty packaged his personality into a digestible two-part album—the "Bling" section welcomed you with light-hearted and egocentric songs, while the "Strings" section completed the self portrait the album essentially is by revealing Nasty C's vulnerable side.

"So I was ready," Nasty C says. "On the second album, I was like, 'Okay, cool, I've seen people like how I tell my story. They embrace it for what it is.' You know, people don't judge it [anymore]. Before I dropped the album, everyone used to say, 'You sound American. You sound this and that.' And then, I don't know where it had to stop, and people just started really embracing my music for what it is and actually feeling the shit that I'm saying. So when I was working on the second album, my creative freedom was out of this world. So now I was really having fun."

Photography by Sabelo Mkhabela.

As we have this conversation, South African music fans are elated over Sho Madjozi's victory at the B.E.T Awards. The musician walked away with the Best New International Act trophy. Last year, Sjava took home the Viewers' Choice Best International Act award. The general notion in South Africa is that Sho Madjozi and Sjava owe their victory to the Afrocentric nature of their music, which makes them stand out—they are being "originally African," we are told.

That train of thought makes a lot of sense to Nasty C. "That's not 100% incorrect," he says. "Their sound is like, if you're outside of SA, you've never heard anything like it ever before. They have known it for so long that they did it as children, as a part of our culture, I guess. And then, they finessed it and tweaked it and made it their own. And then they made it super dope. As an outsider, when you hear it, you just hear something that sounds wild, and you've never heard it before. So that is correct. That is correct. I don't dispute that at all."

He, however, feels that his story is the reason some people who see his sounding American as a flaw, gravitate towards his music regardless. "I feel like that type of stuff could never limit me because my music carries a message," he says. "It carries something. There's something you get from it. And I don't think that could ever stop it from winning anything or achieving any amount of success because it doesn't sound African or whatever. That type of stuff, it never messes with me."

Nasty C and the UMG team. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

While, as stated earlier, it's believed that the formula for (South) African musicians breaking in the US is to sound "African," Nasty C's success complicates the narrative a little. Sway Calloway, who's had his eyes on the country's scene for a few years, recently singled out the young MC as one of the most likely to succeed in the US. "Nasty C to me is special," Sway said in an interview on Metro FM, while he was in South Africa for the Castle Light Unlocked Experience festival in June. "Get behind that kid," he said. "He's the one that can really cross all geographical boundaries. He's the one who can actually blow up big in the States."

Sway's argument has legs. Nasty C's proficiency as an artist has attracted the attention of the likes of A$AP Ferg, Major Lazer and French Montana, who he's worked with. A song with T.I. is likely to appear on Zulu Man With Some Power, his next project in which Nasty C worked closely with No I.D. The veteran producer produced a few songs on the project, which Nasty C said was originally meant to be a four-track EP, but will now come with 18 songs.

"He mainly mentored me," says Nasty C about No I.D.'s involvement in the album. "He unlocked something in me that other people were failing to get across to me, like, 'Sound more African.' Blah, blah, blah... He put it in the perfect words, and I understood it. And I implied it in my music. You'll hear it. When you hear it, it's crazy, it's going to drive you nuts."

When Nasty C is in the US, he tells me his ethnicity is a curious case. He gets asked by people trying to connect the dots if he really grew up in South Africa or if he went to school in the States. "I'm like, 'No, It's purely influence—TV, radio, my phone, Google, YouTube... It's an accent that goes hand-in-hand with the language that goes hand-in-hand with my favorite thing in the world, which is rapping." says Nasty. "So, obviously, there will be a thread right across all of those three things."

The plaque for Strings and Bling and all of its 16 songs.

A majority of people, he says, tend to in turn just focus on the music: "And then when they hear it, they're like, 'Oh shit, this is fucking dope, man.' They don't say anything beyond that. Once I confirm that I've never been there, they're like, 'Okay, that's a little hard to fathom, but, fuck it, this shit is dope.' And then they accept it."

And this doesn't mean Nasty C is disconnected from his roots. In the documentary that kicked off the night, he talks about his full name Ntsikayesizwe (meaning "the nation's pillar"), which he says embarrassed him growing up and made him the subject of jokes. After tattooing it in Japanese while visiting the Asian country, Nasty says he fully embraces it, especially after pondering its meaning, which he feels he has lived up to. "I've always wanted to name one of my albums after my name," he says in the documentary.

That's an album that may come in future. But right now, as he celebrates the success of his sophomore album, Nasty C's next move is already mapped out. He is excited about the upcoming project. He told the audience earlier, "The project on its own, sonically, is on another level. Even just in the way I perform on every single song and the energy around it. When the project drops and fans experience it, it's going to be a crazy thing. There will definitely be a lot of crying."

He's careful not to reveal anything specific, and any intriguing details are kept cryptic and don't help anybody by inducing suspense. For instance, he tells the audience about one song on the project. "The same day that I recorded it," he says, "I sent it to five people. It made four of them cry. It's very emotional. It is about something that is happening right in front of us, but it doesn't feel like a struggle song."

Zulu Man With Some Power currently has no release date yet.


popular
Photo by Lana Haroun

From #FeesMustFall to #BlueforSudan: OkayAfrica's Guide to a Decade of African Hashtag Activism

The 2010s saw protest movements across the continent embrace social media in their quest to make change.

The Internet and its persistent, attention-seeking child, Social Media has changed the way we live, think and interact on a daily basis. But as this decade comes to a close, we want to highlight the ways in which people have merged digital technology, social media and ingenuity to fight for change using one of the world's newest and most potent devices—the hashtag.

What used to simply be the "pound sign," the beginning of a tic-tac-toe game or what you'd have to enter when interacting with an automated telephone service, the hashtag has become a vital aspect of the digital sphere operating with both form and function. What began in 2007 as a metadata tag used to categorize and group content on social media, the term 'hashtag' has now grown to refer to memes (#GeraraHere), movements (#AmINext), events (#InsertFriendsWeddingHere) and is often used in everyday conversation ("That situation was hashtag awkward").

The power of the hashtag in the mobility of people and ideas truly came to light during the #ArabSpring, which began one year into the new decade. As Tunisia kicked off a revolution against oppressive regimes that spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook played a crucial role in the development and progress of the movements. The hashtag, however, helped for activists, journalists and supporters of causes. It not only helped to source information quickly, but it also acted as a way to create a motto, a war cry, that could spread farther and faster than protestors own voices and faster than a broadcasted news cycle. As The Guardian wrote in 2016, "At times during 2011, the term Arab Spring became interchangeable with 'Twitter uprising' or 'Facebook revolution,' as global media tried to make sense of what was going on."

From there, the hashtag grew to be omnipresent in modern society. It has given us global news, as well as strong comedic relief and continues to play a crucial role in our lives. As the decade comes to a close, here are some of the most impactful hashtags from Africans and for Africans that used the medium well.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage via Getty)

Listen to Wizkid's Surprise New EP 'Soundman Vol. 1'

Wizkid treats fans to new songs featuring Chronixx, DJ Tunez and more—just ahead of 2020.

Wizkid is back. The Nigerian pop star surprised listeners early this morning with the unannounced release of a new EP, Soundman Vol. 1.

Though Wizkid has released a couple of singles this year, fans had been awaiting a new drop and more extensive project from the artist. With it being so close to the end of the year, it didn't look like we'd get a new body of work from the artist till 2020, but he proved otherwise when he took to Twitter at the wee hours of the morning to quietly share streaming links for the new project.

He also announced that a second EP, Soundman Vol. 2, would drop sometime before his highly-anticipated upcoming album Made In Lagos (MIL).

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Screenshot from the upcoming film Warriors of a Beautiful Game

In Conversation: Pelé's Daughter is Making a Documentary About Women's Soccer Around the World

In this exclusive interview, Kely Nascimento-DeLuca shares the story behind filming Warriors of a Beautiful Game in Tanzania, Brazil and other countries.

It may surprise you to know that women's soccer was illegal in Brazil until 1981. And in the UK until 1971. And in Germany until 1970. You may have read that Sudan made its first-ever women's league earlier this year. Whatever the case, women and soccer have always had a rocky relationship.

It wasn't what women wanted. It certainly wasn't what they needed. However, society had its own ideas and placed obstacle after obstacle in front of women to keep ladies from playing the game. Just this year the US national team has shown the world that women can be international champions in the sport and not get paid fairly compared to their male counterparts who lose.

Kely Nascimento-DeLuca is looking to change that. As the daughter of international soccer legend Pelé, she is no stranger to the game. Growing up surrounded by the sport, she was actually unaware of the experiences women around the world were having with it. It was only recently that she discovered the hardships around women in soccer and how much it mirrored women's rights more generally.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Convener of "#Revolution Now" Omoyele Sowore speaks during his arraignment for charges against the government at the Federal High Court in Abuja, on September 30, 2019. (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

Nigerian Activist, Omoyele Sowore, Re-Arrested Just Hours After Being Released on Bail

Sowore, the organizer of Nigeria's #RevolutionNow protests, was detained by armed officers, once again, in court on Friday.

Omoyele Sowore, the Nigerian human rights activist and former presidential candidate who has spent over four months in jail under dubious charges, was re-arrested today in Lagos while appearing in court.

The journalist and founder of New York-based publication Sahara Reporters, had been released on bail the day before. He was arrested following his organization of nationwide #RevolutionNow protests in August. Since then, Sowore has remained in custody on what are said to be trumped-up charges, including treason, money laundering and stalking the president.

He appeared in court once again on Friday after being released on bail in federal court the previous day. During his appearance, Sowore was again taken into custody by Nigerian authorities.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.