The South African star rapper takes a deep dive into the rise of amapiano and what it means for him, his music, and the entire nation in this new exclusive interview.
Cassper Nyovest is one of South Africa's biggest, most successful rappers. With a career spanning over eight years, six albums, and several smashed records, he's a perfect example of what it means to get to the apex of African music. Now, he's reached a level in his career where he's no longer making music for money, and he's no longer making music to do what rappers are most fond of: competing in the trenches of the hip-hop battlefield for the coveted title of rap king. He's past all of that now and, in his own words, he's a "made man."
Amapiano has been making waves across the continent for some time now, putting the South Africa's vibrant sound and its players at the forefront of the African music scene. The dance music genre has become so popular that even other African countries, like Nigeria, have released their own iterations of the sound which instantly became hits in the West African region. Some of them were collaborations with South African artists and producers like Davido and Focalistic's "Ke Star" remix and some purely localized efforts birthed by the study and replication of the sound by talented Nigerian producers, such as Lojay and Sarz' "Monalisa."
Cassper Nyovest has seen and done it all as far as the rap game is concerned. Now, he is fully invested in the novel sound birthed in his home, amapiano —‚ and its expanding reach across the continent and beyond. Back in June, Cassper released an entire amapiano album Sweet And Short 2.0, and he has two more amapiano projects currently in the works. At this point, he's just having fun with it. Cassper tells us that this is the first time in his career that he can travel the African continent and feel perfectly at home both on and off the stage, because everyone recognizes and embraces the sound from his beloved home.
We caught up with Cassper during the Ghana stop of a several country mini-tour. He told us all about amapiano's newfound dominance, and the effect it's having on him and other South African musicians. Check out our conversation below.
Image provided by Cassper Nyovest.
What have you been up to lately?
I've been in Ghana for a week, studio, quarantine, also recording a little bit. And we're about to leave for London and Dubai. I'm on like a little mini tour.
How has your stay in Ghana been so far?
It's been lit man, I feel like I'm right at home. That's what's crazy. The music is very close to what's happening at home [in South Africa] you know, with amapiano being very popular here. The last time I was here it was a bit challenging as an artist to kind of like fit in, cause I was just doing rap music purely, and Africans love dance music. It was a very funny place to be, you know. So to come here now when I have a dance album it's perfect timing.
I feel like a monster now, I'm like teaching the musicians here [how to make amapiano] you know like "that's not how you do it," even the production. Last night we were in the studio with Kweku Afro, he played us an amapiano beat, and then we changed the beat and put the real elements of what make it 'piano, taught him about the arrangement, why it takes so long to build up to the part that's loved in West Africa, which is the log drum that they love. So it was a dope experience to be so comfortable in another country.
Speaking of amapiano, some time ago there was a whole debacle on Jorja Smith's single, which you weighed in on. What are your thoughts on musicians outside of South African making amapiano without the inclusion of South African artists?
To be honest, I think that's wack. If big artists take the sound, the least that they could do is empower the producers. It doesn't even have to be an artist, it could be a producer who firstly understands the sound. That's how you build any culture, you know. It's different from an African doing hip-hop, because there's nothing a Cassper could do for Drake in terms of the hip-hop culture and industry. But if Drake is gonna do anything outside of hip-hop, just like when he did the afrobeats thing he involved Wizkid, and that's why it was right. And when he did the dancehall thing he involved Popcaan, so that's why it worked. So if they're gonna touch 'piano they have to pull someone from South Africa. It's just what's right, you know what I mean? And the other thing is, it's evident that if you don't it doesn't work out. Because Jorja Smith did that with another producer who's very talented. We have nothing against GuiltyBeatz, but because of the genre of music that they were trying to make, it just wasn't the one. The production was not what it was supposed to be. They're working on remixes now apparently, and I hope that makes a big difference so it could be evident as so why it needs to be done like that.
Cassper Nyovest - Siyathandana ft. Abidoza, Boohle youtu.be
Describe South Africa in one word.
What gets you out of bed? What's your motivation?
My motivation is my son, my family, my future dreams, the youth, my country. Being a countryman and being someone who raises the flag everywhere I go, that's what I wake up for. My son being the first thing, and he represents a lot. He represents responsibility, he represents my future, he represents my mirror. Everything that I do wrong I would see in him. That ties out to the rest of the youth and everyone that I influence indirectly and directly.
What's one thing you do every morning without fail?
Grab my phone. As soon as I wake up I grab my phone. Most times I'm traveling so I don't get to see my son. So the first thing I do is grab my phone and check the texts from baby moms, and call her and speak to my son. That's the first thing I do when I wake up. Speak to my son.
Where does your name come from?
It comes from the animation Casper the Friendly Ghost. I feel like that animation, the cartoon character, I see myself in that character. Being a rapper who's supposed to be arrogant, and like the typical egotistical rappers that are not friendly and in their corner and reserved. I'm more like an outgoing friendly and easygoing human, and that's why I picked that name. I felt like I'm the opposite of what a rapper is supposed to be.
Image provided by Cassper Nyovest.
What's your favorite meal?
In Ghana it's plantain and jollof. The spicy chicken wings are dope as well out here. That's basically what I've been eating every day.
Are there any Ghanaian artists you've worked with on this trip, or any you'd still like to work with that you can tell us about?
I was in the studio with Darkovibes for a few. Last night I was in the studio with Kweku Afro. I've been hanging out with Killbeatz but we haven't really done anything yet. We've just been hanging out. Sarkodie is my guy. I was supposed to work with Stonebwoy but he left the country. I've worked with him already, but like I'm trying to bring everybody on to this 'piano shit you know? So everyone that I'm getting I'm trying to get them on to this piano shit that we're doing right now. Who else I'd like to work with? I met Kwesi Arthur, I really could do something with him. Man I'm down with anybody, to be honest. D-Black is my dude, we're gonna be out at his club on Friday. So I'm down to work with anybody and everybody, but D-Black, Stonebwoy, Sarkodie, those are like the guys that I really really know.
What song do you have on repeat right now?
"Possible" by DBN Gogo. That's the song that's been ringing in my hand. That's a banger.
Where is your mind at concerning the music? How do you feel about your music right now?
I'm just having fun man. I'm a made man, bro. I've broken the boundaries that I was supposed to as a rapper. I'm doing what I wanna do as days come. If I wanna make dance music, I do it. If I wake up tomorrow and I wanna make rap music, I'll do that. But I don't have the pressure of proving myself anymore. So I'm just having fun, and that's a great place to be as an artist. When you're not doing it for money anymore, when you're not doing it to compete anymore, you're just having fun. I'm made, I got businesses that take care of me. I don't make music for money anymore. I'm just having fun, I'm just turning up. I could make afrobeats or whatever the f*** I wanna make, you know. And that's just where I am right now, and it's sounding amazing to listen to. Cause I'm my biggest fan. So when I listen to my shit right now it sounds amazing. I can hear that the guy is having fun, he's not thinking too much he's just doing his thing.
Image provided by Cassper Nyovest.
What specific genre would you prescribe to your music?
I wouldn't. I'm just a musician. I'm a South African musician. I think that's the only box I can put myself in. A South African musician.
Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Definitely. I got two more amapiano albums that we working on. And I've got a hip-hop album that I have in the stash, and then I got like a R&B thing that we messing with. I don't know what it is, but it's just full of melodies. I just sing on the whole project. There's no raps really. I'm just trying to see how versatile I can get, you know.
So amapiano has really changed the game.
Totally! Look, it used to be that you have to mix rap with other stuff to get people to listen. For example even Sarkodie has a dance record. And West Africa used to be this giant who just stomps on everyone else, you see. We would go to perform at One Africa Music Fest in Dubai, and when afrobeats comes on everyone just goes crazy. But when I would perform my rap shit it's like the opposite reaction, everyone is just there looking at me.
I remember back then with Wizkid, when he would come around. Like 10 years ago Afrobeats was like the new thing, in South Africa no one knew what it was at the time. Afrobeats would come on in the club and Nigerians would just go off, and everyone would be looking at them. They were like the cool kids. Now it's the same with South Africa and amapiano. This is the first time I could go across the continent, and it's like now we're the "in" thing, the center of attention. I was at Sandbox Beach Club a couple days ago and piano came on and me and my people we were just dancing and having fun, and everyone was just looking.
If I were to collaborate with Drake right now, I wouldn't even put him on a hip-hop record. F*** that shit. I'd put him on my shit, on 'piano. Amapiano is here to stay. It isn't going anywhere. And in the next few years it's gonna explode. The only problem is the people tryna take our shit. What I love most about this piano shit is that there's no big producer, there's no small producer. A kid in a shack can have the biggest song next week. There's no radio, there's no TV, nothing pushing their shit. If the song is hard it's hard! And that's a level playing field. There was this kid, and unfortunately he passed on just two weeks ago. There's a song called "Umsebenzi", it's the biggest song in the country for two years now. That kid was a photographer. That's all he did. He was a photographer and stylist, and he was hanging around these guys. And then three years ago he started making music, poof. And he was one of the best. It's really possible for any and everyone to make a living for themselves. It's like trap music. [Like how] drug dealers end up rapping.