Music

Solo And BETR GANG Set the Benchmark For SA Hip-Hop In 2018

Solo And BETR GANG's new album makes them a hard act to follow.

South African rapper Solo plays the game a bit differently. While most of his counterparts gun for hit singles, he speaks the language of full projects.

Tour Dates, his latest offering, which is the first SA hip-hop release of 2018, is his third album. While .Dreams.A.Plenty (2014) and .Dreams.B.Plenty (2016) are part of an ongoing trilogy, Tour Dates is a collaborative effort with BETR GANG, a crew he is part of alongside producers and rappers Al da 3rd, Subrocc, Solid The Gifted, Th&o and Buks.

Every song on this concept album features a guest representing a city destination that Solo and BETR GANG would like to tour.

The track list resembles tour dates, with each city represented by the featured rapper. Respected rappers L-Tido, K.O., YoungstaCPT, Rouge, Maggz, Kid X, Reason, Moozlie, Reason, P.H., DreamTeam, P. Dot O, Blaklez and N'Veigh all represent their cities through standout verses.

As much as every one of the 10 tracks is near perfect, the highlight of Tour Dates has to be "Top 5." On the song, Solo raps praises to the Soweto-born rapper Maggz, who he considers a G.O.A.T (many of us do, too tbh). Maggz then, on the third verse, proves Solo's point without even trying. That song deserves its own essay.

"Caffeine and other Drugs," the album's first single, highlights the brilliance of the East Rand, an area that is home to the likes of Kwesta, Priddy Ugly, Frank Casino and all three rappers featured on the song. Reason, Kid X and Moozlie each rap about their addictions over high-pitched synths and keys supported by pillars of prominent 808 snares.

"Ngeke Bas'tshele (Dbn)," featuring Durban trio DreamTeam takes the same route sonically.

"Ain't Ready (Limpopo)," which features the producer and rapper P.H. proves Solo can rap over different production styles, as the beat's rhythm is of a higher tempo, and has subtle EDM and kwaito influences.

Sonically, Tour Dates leans towards boom bap without sounding like it just teleported from the 90s. The production is layered with sporadic synths and 808s to give it a modern feel.

It's a great gift for the hip-hop fan who fiends for lyrics, but what sets it aside from similar releases is its musicality. It consists of listenable songs that, even though prioritize rapping, don't overlook the importance of great instrumentals and hooks that are catchy but not lazy and cheesy.

BETR GANG is up to something. Solo and Buks' collaborative album, 2015's We Need A Title is one of South African hip-hop's well-guarded secrets, and so are Al Da 3rd's Twenty Sixteens and Buks' Pegasus.

If this is your first time hearing about BETR GANG, you have a lot of catching up to do. Tour Dates is the perfect place to start.

Listen to Tour Dates below, and download it here.

Interview

A Candid Conversation With Olamide & Fireboy DML

We talk to the Nigerian stars about the hardest lessons they've learned, best advice they've ever been given and what Nigeria means to them.

Olamide and Fireboy DML have been working together for three years, but the first time they sit down to do an interview together is hours after they arrive in New York City on a promo tour.

It's Fireboy's first time in the Big Apple — and in the US — and the rain that's pouring outside his hotel doesn't hinder his gratitude. "It's such a relief to be here, it's long overdue," he tells OkayAfrica. "I was supposed to be here last year, but Covid stopped that. This is a time to reflect and refresh. It's a reset button for me."

Olamide looks on, smiling assuredly. Since signing Fireboy to his YBNL Nation label in 2018, he's watched the soulful young singer rise to become one of Nigeria's most talked-about artists — from his breakout single, "Jealous," to his debut album Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps, hit collabs with D.Smoke and Cuppy, and his sophomore release, Apollo, last year.

Even while he shares his own latest record, UY Scuti, with the world, Olamide nurtures Fireboy's career with as much care and attention as he does his own, oscillating between his two roles of artist and label exec seamlessly. His 2020 album Carpe Diem is the most streamed album ever by an African rap artist, according to Audiomack, hitting over 140 million streams. When Olamide signed a joint venture with US-based record label and distribution company, Empire, in February last year he did so through his label, bringing Fireboy and any other artist he decides to sign along for the ride, and establishing one of the most noteworthy deals on the continent.

Below, Olamide & Fireboy DML speak to OkayAfrica about their mutual admiration for each other, what makes them get up in the morning and how they switch off.

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