ByLwansta. Image courtesy of artist.

Interview: ByLwansta Steps Out of His Comfort Zone In New EP ‘SpijØnget Chapter II’

While an overwhelming majority of South African hip-hop artists seem to be pandering to make radio and club hits, ByLwansta is carving his own lane.

On a Thursday night toward the end of February, Haus Africa, a showroom gallery in Parktown North, Joburg was teeming with eager guests. The event: a listening session hosted by the rapper ByLwansta for his new EP, SpijØnget Chapter II, which preceded its 28th February release.

The rapper has shared this EP as the second companion piece in a series consisting of three EPs. The first of this series, SpijØnget Chapter I, was released in March of last year. Each of the EPs consist of four songs which, when complete, will form a 12-song album.

In SpijØnget Chapter II, ByLwansta enlists a handful of other artists, which is unusual—his previous EPs only have a few featured guests. Rapper Solo Ntsizwa Ka Mthimkhulu, singer ZULO, singer/songwriter Lungelo Manzi, producer Robot Koch and singer Kimosabe, all lend an assist on each of the four songs on SpijØnget Chapter II.

Speaking on what encouraged the numerous collaborations on this EP during an interview with OkayAfrica, ByLwansta says, "Admittedly, I'm someone who has always preferred to work alone. That's my comfort zone. I have always been responsible for my output and creativity, but that only made sense when I was working in the bedroom by myself. I have now realized that the world is much bigger than that, and I guess I grew tired of the familiarity of my comfort zone."

A music residency he was part of in Berlin, Germany also played a pivotal role in influencing this perspective.

ByLwansta. Image courtesy of artist.

This experience taught him the value of being able to create seamlessly with others. He also mentions the importance of drawing inspiration and sourcing collaborations with those closest to him, particularly his sister, Anelissa Nkanyuza, who helped in the design of the EP cover. His brother, Kimosabe, and fellow Durbanite, who is featured on "Nightcrawlerz," is one of his favorite collaborators.

Having moved to Joburg last year, after living in Durban for a significant amount of time, he still has a strong affinity to the coastal city. It finds its way into his music. "I love Durban, and I have said before, when I die, I'd like to be buried there," says ByLwansta. "That's where my lady is, still. This is why it permeates my music. So, even in collaborating, it was important for me to get with Lungelo, who is a brilliant singer and songwriter based in Durban, because he is someone that's in my network."

Read: ByLwansta's New Must-Listen EP 'SPIJØNGET Chapter One' Sounds Like Happiness

An ever-present characteristic in ByLwansta's music is his canny ability to tell stories, weaving them into funny anecdotes that are as much self-deprecating as they are self-aggrandizing.

On "How About Now," his mind is in a tug-of-war, going back and forth with thoughts of pursuing music, but also wanting a stable life that can only be offered by a steady job (graphic design, which is what he majored in at college).

"Nightcrawlerz" is a tale of a fateful night in Jo'burg when he got mugged while on his way to catch a bus to Durban in December, soon after he had moved to Joburg.

The EP's lead single "The Bike Song" is a triumphant anthem, which also serves as a cathartic release of the trauma he suffered from the events detailed in "Nightcrawlerz." It has a bouncy feel to match, and is incidentally the product of his collaboration in Berlin, with German artist/producer, Robot Koch.

"Okay, Fine" featuring ZULO (formerly known as Lil Tix) and Solo Ntsizwa Ka Mthimkhulu (formerly known as Solo) finds the two featured artists using their new names for the first time coincidentally on the same track.

ByLwansta is an endearing artist who seems earnest in his pursuit of music-making. His soul-baring soliloquies reveal an emcee with incredible self-awareness. He second-guesses, but also believes in himself. This is exemplified in these lyrics from the song "How About Now":

"Listen, I don't doubt your ability/ The music is crazy ntwana, stay making it/ It's killing me, but I just want you to think about stability, man/ You need to stop keeping designing your periphery/ Do I have to remind you and rewind you back to the times you were grinding just for this degree?/ Crying just for this degree/ Now you're done… no looking back, brother/ Wrong way, you came a long way/ But they don't know that you're all day playing the long game..."

The skits on the EP, lifted off the animation sitcom It's Adventure Time provide comical relief while resonating with his personal story. "I watch a lot of stuff, and sometimes things jump at me. I often tell the story of how I came up with "spijonget" while I was watching Avatar, The Last Airbender with my girl. So with the skits that I used on this EP, some of the characters on It's Adventure Time said things that I felt were applicable to my life, so I decided to use some of those clips and excerpts," he says.

ByLwansta is meticulous in his craft, however, he is not cerebral or heady about himself. While his songs may come off as effortless, it's also evident that it takes a great deal of mastery to pull them off; using devices such as speaking about himself to himself in second person. There's refreshing honesty that doesn't feel contrived in his lyrics. He's able to illustrate the wide spectrum of security and insecurity which could translate to a listener feeling at ease with their own insecurities. In "Okay, Fine," he raps":

"Okay, fine, she knows I've been doing music a long time/ She knows that I'm sitting on top of a gold-mine/ She knows that I'm holding back, she knows that I'm afraid/ Like I'm actually scared of the fact, life is gonna change, and we might not be ready for that/ I don't want to get on the road and not ever come back/ I don't want to leave her alone, but I did it anyway, 'cause it's showtime…"

SpijØnget Chapter II is a great addition to not only the series itself, but to a body of work that's proving to be one of the most well-crafted and well-thought-out bodies of work of any hip-hop artist in South Africa. When asked whether he didn't worry that once the full album is released, it may sound fragmented due to it consisting of previously released EPs, he says, "I am not worried about the album lacking cohesiveness because the three chapters are meant to represent different stages of my journey. Plus, once it is listened to as an album, the skits will serve as signals to which section the listener is on the album."

SpijØnget Chapter II is a progression from Chapter I. It shows a different side to ByLwansta. In its predecessor, ByLwansta was looking inwardly, focusing predominantly on how he felt about his girlfriend, who served as the muse and centerpiece of the entire EP. With Chapter II, however, one gets a sense that he has an outward perspective that focuses on external themes in relation to how they affect him.

An overwhelming majority of current South African hip-hop artists who break out seem to be walking the same path of pandering to make radio and club hits. ByLwansta is carving his own. He is a much needed voice that offers a different approach to music. Masterful storytelling, fluid production and a keen sense to detail, design and presentation, are some of his strongest traits that not only set him apart, but also signal an unheralded staying power.

Listen to SpijØnget Chapter II below:


Stogie T Enlists Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and More, for ‘The Empire of Sheep’ Deluxe Edition

Stream the deluxe version of Stogie T's EP 'The Empire of Sheep' featuring Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and more.

Stogie T just shared a deluxe version of his 2019 EP The Empire of Sheep titled EP The Empire of Sheep (Deluxe Unmasked). The project comes with three new songs. "All You Do Is Talk" features fellow South African rappers Nasty C, Boity and Nadia Nakai. New York lyricist appears on "Bad Luck" while one of Stogie T's favorite collaborators Ziyon appears on "The Making."

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

All of Skwatta Kamp’s Albums are Now on Streaming Platforms

You can now stream all of South African legendary group Skwatta Kamp's albums.

Skwatta Kamp recently shared news with their fans that all of their six studio albums can now be streamed on Apple Music, Spotify and other platforms.

Keep reading... Show less
Image courtesy of Lula Ali Ismaïl

'Dhalinyaro' Is the Female Coming-of-Age Story Bringing Djibouti's Film Industry to Life

The must-watch film, from Lula Ali Ismaïl, paints a novel picture of Djibouti's capital city through the story of three friends.

If you're having a tough time recalling the last movie you watched from Djibouti, it's likely because you have never watched one before. With an almost non-existent film industry in the country, Lula Ali Ismaïl, tells a beautiful coming of age story of three young female Djiboutian teenagers at the cusp of womanhood. Dhalinyaro offers a never-before-seen view of Djibouti City as a stunning, dynamic city that blends modernity and tradition—a city in which the youth, like all youth everywhere, struggle to decide what their futures will look like. It's a beautiful story of friendship, family, dreams and love from a female filmmaker who wants to tell a "universal story of youth," but set in the country she loves—Djibouti.

The story revolves around the lives of three young friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, with completely varied attitudes towards life, but bound by a deep friendship. There is Asma, the conservative academic genius who dreams of going to medical school and hails from a modest family. Hibo, a rebellious, liberal, spoiled girl from a very wealthy family who learns to be a better friend as the film evolves and finally Deka. Deka is the binding force in the friendship, a brilliant though sometimes naïve teen who finds herself torn between her divorced mother's ambitions to give her a better life having saved up all her life for her to go to university abroad, and her own conviction that she wants to study and succeed in her own country.

Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to Ismaïl on her groundbreaking film, her hopes for the filmmaking industry and the universality of stories.

Keep reading... Show less
"Kata" single cover.

Listen to Tekno's New Single 'Kata'

The Nigerian artist and producer returns with a melodic banger just in time for the weekend.

Nigerian artist Tekno is back with his second single of the year, "Kata."

The heavyweight artist and producer delivers a melodic track that sees him singing about his devotion to his lover over drum-filled production from Phantom. The track features subdued vocals from. the artist, and a beat that's easy to move along to. The song follows the track 'Beh Beh' which he released earlier this year.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox