K.O is greatly lauded for crafting some of the most iconic verses in South African hip-hop. We rank the veteran rapper's 20 best verses from good to hazardous.
K.O is one of the best rappers in South African hip-hop. The Mpumalanga native is also one of the longest-standing veterans in the SA hip-hop scene. He found his start as one-third of the celebrated group Teargas which debuted in 2006. Branching out into a solo career in 2014, 15 years have come to pass since he started, yet he is still one of the most exciting acts active today.
In 2020, he had one of the biggest songs in the form of "Lucky Star", as well as scene-stealing guest appearances on Touchline's "Abafana Aba Hot" and Zakwe and Duncan's "V-Class", among others. This year doesn't seem to be any different as he recently featured on Bloemfontein duo Stino Le Thwenny's "Moshimane 2.0", alongside Khuli Chana and Major League DJz.
K.O has built a reputation for himself as a skilled songwriter, singing countless hooks on Teargas songs, his own records as well as on features. But what he is greatly lauded for is his pen work when it comes to crafting some of the most iconic verses in South African hip-hop. With one of the highest work ethics in the game, evidenced by his continued input and contribution to the game, he has been able to reinvent himself by blending in during different eras of South African hip-hop while maintaining his authentic self.
It also helps that, through the content and manner in his music, he comes across as a believable individual in an industry that's replete with contrived and conjured-up characters and talking heads. K.O's tough-guy persona in his songs doesn't sound fabricated because it's not exaggerated—he is fluent in that language. He's also a self-proclaimed ass hole in some instances ("I'm a masochist; Teargas and Glitz…", "Ntombazana ushishiliza ngendunu phansi and you're hoping for happiness") but a well-rounded individual nonetheless, who doesn't proclaim to be any certain way but is instead just who he is. Making for an interesting subject to zone in and examine their work.
During an episode of Slikour On Life's Rhyme and Reason in 2019, he told fellow rapper, the show's host Reason that he is actually a hybrid rapper with a strong underground foundation (citing Company Flow, Mobb Deep and Kool Keith as some of his earliest influences). This explains why even though he made the transition into mainstream rap, his pen remained sharp as ever.
We delve deep into his extensive discography to determine the best 20 K.O verses.
20. L-Tido “We Rolling” (featuring K.O) (2011)
K.O's verse on "We Rolling" is when fans started taking notice of him as a fully fledged solo performer who could thrive outside of his work with Teargas. While there were still chinks in his armour, in that his style was still in its formative years, there were already glimmers of the emcee he would turn out to be if he kept sharpening his sword—and, by God, he did. As a result, this verse remains important in his canon of verses because of what it signalled, regarding his trajectory.
19. K.O “Shimmy” (2019)
Taken off his latest album PTY UnLTD, "Shimmy" is characterised by a rather simplistic beat, which one would be forgiven to call a blatant attempt at a commercial hit that's too on the nose to land, given its insipid hook. However, K.O still manages to deliver a solid second verse that speaks frankly on his person. He addresses his love for money, and the fact that he may have slowed down a little but reassures that he is back up on his feet, ready to compete. All this while also acknowledging his insatiable hunger to be the absolute best. Most impressive is the flow he uses to execute these lines: "I'm a product of the Mdluli family tree, I'm as bad as can be, business acumen fully back at its peak, fully back to compete, fully back on my feet, I hustled my way outta all of the losses I took in 2016…"
18. Teargas (featuring HHP and PRO) “Goodfellaz” (2010)
Teargas securing the only known collaboration involving two great late legends in the form of PRO and HHP is a feat of epic proportions. A posse cut that was intended to be a bar-fest became exactly that; an event where lyrical titans were sparring amongst each other. This is when K.O made his intentions very clear, insofar as the caliber of emcee he wanted to be viewed as. He goes toe to toe with both PRO and Jabba, and only the latter out-rapped him convincingly. This was the genesis of the K.O renaissance. Perhaps he was emboldened by the fact that his group invited the legends and therefore since it was his own turf, he had to deliver. All the great qualities of a good K.O verse are present in this verse—the wit, the flow, the brash delivery, the charisma, the rhyme schemes, the melodies, punchlines and wordplay, all here, even if still unpolished. He rapped, "Woza nunu, you wanna have a good time cause I do too, ke shayashaya ngwana kere ro ja nyuku, but I'm a beast I'm a cannibal, sheba kelo ja motho…"
17. K.O “Lucky Star” (second verse) (2020)
This is the latest smash hit from K.O, released in 2020. It's a return to form, from an emcee who hadn't quite been reaching the lofty heights he was once resident on. His stars aligned and he managed to release an undeniable, uncompromised hit, which doesn't pander and was among the best songs of 2020, if not the best. A triumphant instrumental underscored by horns and a thumping bassline is the canvas on which K.O delivers two stellar verses. It's the second verse, however, where his rhythmic flow takes the spotlight. He gets in various pockets, sometimes singing couplets of bars and then getting back to a traditional flow with one rhyme scheme. He breaks away into another pocket with a different flow and rhyme scheme. He details how he has made it in the rap game and how he will continue to go on an upward trajectory, despite starting out with nothing, rapping, "A lot of money on the way, a lot of money on the way, ng'fike lana eGoli ngingana lutho, ng'fike lana eGoli ngingana lutho, then I transfigured into something you call a king…"
16. Touchline “Abafana Aba Hot” (featuring K.O) (2020)
Over time, K.O continues to prove his pedigree alongside a wide array of proven emcees who come from different regions and even generations. "Abafana Aba Hot'' is a recent reminder of how much a skilled emcee he still is despite being one of the veterans in the game, seven albums deep (inclusive of Teargas' catalogue). Touchline holds his own, showing that he has earned a K.O feature. However, K.O steals the show with a Bouga Luv-inspired throwback entrance for his verse, skating on the track, throwing his weight around with his signature flow that combines a sing-song melody, as well as the classic K.O cadence driven word play. I mean, "I'm an icon, pull up in a foreign, fika senz' i-biscope, Zone 6 eTembisa ulova ufika abhay' iskop, asikalali nanamanje ilokhu sidl' obay' zolo…"! He does three or four different flows in this one verse.
15. K.O “Caracara” (featuring KiD X)(2014)
"Caracara" is arguably one of the greatest hip-hop songs to ever come out of SA. There was almost a tectonic shift when it came out, given the level of popularity and influence the song and music video garnered—everybody and their moms were wearing bucket hats because of this song. K.O sets it ablaze with the opening verse, describing how he and his people get together for an excursion to have a good time, travelling in a Volkswagen Caravelle aka Caracara. While KiD X put his foot in the verse he kicked, K.O still delivered an impressive verse, repurposing some TKZee lines, "Wa nrata, kea u tlatsa, ha ke etsa so…" and introducing what would become one of his many signature phrases, "Nooor!". The highlight, however, is when he raps, "Mangab' uyaphakama uzoy'thol' uses'mokolweni, thina siy'lez' ey'hamba negoni ephoketheni, shiy' umuntu wakho yedwa lov' use-problemini, sorry I'm going in, phol' uzom'thol' ek'seni…"
14. K.O “The Warning” (first verse) (2017)
K.O, sounding focused and subdued, goes on a tirade on this moody cut off his second album, SR2. He is talking to someone who seems to have been dear to him but proceeded to disappoint him through a betrayal of sorts. Now wary of this individual, he sends not so subliminal shots at them, detailing all he has learned as a result of their betrayal. On the first verse, his words are curt but effective, and even though he sounds pensive, the crux of what he's saying is not lost. If anything, his mood helps in conveying the sentiment of the song. He raps, "What the fuck I was thinking extending my hand to some people I wasn't even supposed to? My ambitions of being a mogul, my ambitions of being a mogul, now every platform they get on they seek to destroy, chatty petty shit, you dragging my name through the mud when these folks in the media probe you, you feeling emotional whow!"
13. “SA Rising” (third verse) (2017)
At its core, hip-hop has always been a mouthpiece for society. While that activism part of hip-hop has been reserved for a certain kind of rapper, it's always a pleasant and welcomed surprise when a rapper of K.O's ilk—by all intents and purposes, a commercial rapper—shows such a sound understanding of socio-economic issues and rightfully speaks on them. That said, this isn't completely unfamiliar territory for K.O, as he touched on similar themes, famously on Teargas' first single "Chance". However, on "SA Rising" there's a broader, keen observant eye, as he raps, "You rappers need to be more socially conscious with your voices, you flexing on every verse and every chorus, we should be playing our role as the reporters of the stories of our people, we one of the strongest forces for change...", putting a challenge to his peers in the game to also use their voice in highlighting issues that affect the layman.
12. K.O (featuring Maggz, Ma-E and Masandi)“One Time” (2014)
Few songs capture the concept of celebrating the life of the deceased, as opposed to mourning their death, as accurately as "One Time" does. It also advances the notion that one only lives once and therefore they ought to live their life to the fullest because any day could be their last. The ideation of the song is executed perfectly and this is underscored by K.O's ingenuity with coming up with the hook. The catch-phrase he uses, "Maybe s'jaiva okwama las'" is a repurposed Zola line from his song "Ghetto Fabolous". While everyone on the song is exceptional, K.O's verse sets up the sentiments of the song beautifully, as he raps, "Kwaz' bani maybe s'jaiva for the last time, no time to waste ntwana ulova must shine, phela nami ngizo enjoya what's mine, if I live another day ngiqhubeka la ngigcine khona last time…" A very bold undertaking, in living life without the debilitating fear of death but instead embracing the reality and eventuality of it. To make a song with such heavy connotations into such a bop is also a feat on its own.
11. K.O “Pretty Young Thing” (second verse) (2017)
K.O has had some pretty huge singles centred on love and romance - his collaborations with Nandi Madida, "Skhanda Love" & "Say You Will" come to mind. However, it's on "Pretty Young Thing" where that part of him is displayed in its absolute best light. It's not a cheesy, adoration-filled song with verses that read like sonnets off an old Shakespeare manuscript. Instead, we get a thoughtful love song, of which in the second verse, he recognizes his past transgressions in the department of love, rapping, "I was Casanova, used to think I could never settle, multiple lovers in every city, and every ghetto, knew that the life that I was living was very shallow…" but he is willing to change for and because of the lady who is the object of his heart. On top of the endearing message, what impresses about the verse is the technique in which he executes his flow with - fluctuating with each rhyme scheme, making for a beautiful, meaningful yet technical verse.
10. K.O “7even Up” (second verse) (2017)
Even gods bleed. This is basically the sentiment that K.O shares on this song—recognising how fallible and prone to missteps he is. In the second verse, he raps with a certain hindsight that can only be achieved through going through tough times, growing up and gaining new perspectives. However, he still has incredible self-belief, despite all he has gone through. The core values of who he is remain intact, but he acknowledges that not everything has gone as he would have hoped, even though he is not completely despondent. There is a sense of renewed faith brought about all the pitfalls he has experienced.
"The streets are harsh and cruel, the people target you, they pray everyday for the Skhanda God to lose, you see the Martin Luther in me ntanga, I have a dream to fulfill there's no need to start anew, I been remarkable, been just a beast, and the realest MC…"
While it can get very seductive to want to present yourself as an infallible entity, especially for the persona of a rapper, being able to reveal even the not so flattering parts of yourself is a good characteristic to have as a fully-fledged emcee.
09. K.O “Flight School” (2019)
It's refreshing when emcees—popularly known to be larger than life egomaniacs—show emotion and some level of vulnerability. However, it's also cringeworthy when they do so in the most contrived and/or whiney way, as many rappers do. K.O is the antithesis of the latter description as can be heard on "Flight School", a soulful record of reckoning and reconciling oneself to the somber parts of life. K.O still sounds like himself; the ever-confident Mr Swagga Of The Season, however, there's a natural air of melancholy, as he acknowledges some of his failures, rapping, "You was a witness when I put a label on my shoulders, something like a fashion statement, then you later witnessed, how they crucified me, I was at my lowest now I'm recalibrated, I'm dealing with demons angisenalo uthando, ngiyacav' abaningi abafuni ngi-wine they want me fumble…". He doesn't wallow in his misery but he's also not unrealistically positive. Understandably a heavy topic to address considering that the verse deals with the disbandment of his label Cashtime Life. He acknowledges the shortfalls but is still himself, exhibiting commendable self-awareness, not only as a rapper but as an individual as well as a businessman.
08. K.O “Ghetto Episode” (second and third verses)
K.O is far from being a one-trick pony. His ability is not hinged on just bragaddocio raps. He is also a masterful storyteller, as evidenced by this standout track off SR2. "Ghetto Episode" tells a story of the day in the life of a 19-year-old in the hood linking up with friends for some good old mischief. It's in his ability to paint a vivid picture that's not only believable but colourful, with interesting characters, that his storytelling finds great expression. Because each verse after the first is a continuation of the previous one that connects the same story, the second and third can be viewed on an equal footing. After setting up the story in the first verse, the story reaches its arc and subsequent climax in the second and third. This is when the big reveal is done—that the song is actually about friendship, where one character makes a sacrifice in order to protect their younger friend. A truly engaging and endearing story, proving that there are plenty of tricks up K.O's sleeve.
07. K.O “Mission Statement” (second verse) (2014)
It's a recurring theme for most emcees who fancy themselves as being simultaneously lyrical and commercially viable to have that one song that serves as a balancing act between both sides. For K.O, it's "Mission Statement". Released as the first single for the then-upcoming solo debut album Skhanda Republic, it built on the reputation he was etching for himself as a serious lyricist whose commercial capability didn't impede on that side of him, but could instead co-exist and give him some form of an advantage. As the title purports, he lays bare his mission in the game, accompanying the catchy hook with his signature melodic rhymes that are laden with punchlines, wordplay, various flows and witty one-liners. It's on the second verse where he soars with impressive diction, rapping, "My business etiquette alone is enticing the corporates, I can close the deal over the phone and it might be enormous, I'm on Skype with the bosses, galvanizing endorsements…". "Mission Statement" has gone on to become a regular thematic feature in K.O's discography, as a series, with the release of a sequel called "MS2" on SR2. Story has it, "MS3" is on the way.
06. K.O “No Fear Freestyle” (second verse) (2014)
If K.O had shown glimpses of his lyrical aptitude prior to "No Fear Freestyle", now he was shining, showing the full breadth of his pen. This was akin to Lil Wayne's "A Milli" in that it was a relentless lyrical exercise delivered with such dexterity that it was almost unbelievable that this was the same "pretty boy" who was, for a longtime only held up for being the Beyoncé of Teargas. He repurposes the well-known South African chant - popular in political songs and sport war cries, "Siyabesaba na? (Hhayi asibasabi!)", in the hook, which helps in making the song relatable, coupled with the kasi references he makes in the verses. A mark of a genius, usually, is performing complex tasks yet making them look easy, and K.O does this on this joint, rapping lines like, "Istayela basithatha kimi, mangabe unekwali, skimi, sokulanda kini, gwala ndini, njengo garden-boy sizokusebenzela ejaridini…"
05. DJ Vigilante “God’s Will” (featuring K.O and AKA) (2013)
At this point, K.O was gearing to release his debut solo album and wanting to stamp his authority as a formidable solo performer who could rap really well. He was steadily building a reputation as someone who could handle hooks outside of his work with Teargas and equally deliver scene-stealing verses on features. It would also prove to be the start of a fruitful partnership with AKA who was also at his most prolific. K.O's pen is audacious, he is assertive in his presentation and his diction continues to reveal an astute emcee who is smart enough to not be caught up in his own intelligence. He knows that a song like this will be huge and so he takes the opportunity to touch on various subjects; himself, faith, life, the industry and ambition, among other things. He does all this without sacrificing some of his most trusted tools in his tool-box; wordplay, punchlines and entendres, rapping, "From rags to riches, that's my itinerary, cashflow so perfect, heavy current, see (currency) I even got your hoes surfing, I'm busy googling myself, you know, soul searching, if money talks Nelson Mandela is my spokesperson…"
04. K.O “Son Of A Gun” (second verse) (2014)
There are moments when a rapper just gets in their bag, just to get in their bag. Those kinds of verses where the rapper primarily just wants to impress themselves, first and foremost. I suspect that the second verse of "Son Of A Gun" is such a verse for K.O. He is clearly having a blast carrying the pattern from start to end, getting in an insanely hard pocket and maintaining the rhythm. The thing about K.O is that he is incredibly believable, so when he gets in his tough guy persona, one can tell that he is about what he's saying. In this verse, he dares anyone who's got the balls to come at him, to do exactly that; come at him. He reveals that he's ten toes down, ready for anything lyrically and physically. He phonetically manipulates words, stringing them in a way that maintains his rhyme pocket, while internally rhyming and keeping the momentum. "Buka um' ufun' ukuy'sus' uy'suse, mtshana, kuzoshuba uyisuth' induku, ntwana, kushunq' intuthu uzokuts', uthatha ama-chance, eh mfan'am' awuthath' ukuz'khuphul…" He essentially rhymes whole sentences.
03. K.O “Askies I’m Sorry” (second verse)
It's already established that Skhanda Republic is a tour de force that abounds with high grade performances, showcasing various facets of K.O's lyricism. The second verse of "Askies I'm Sorry" is yet again another display of the incredible aptitude and flair K.O can employ in his raps. From the inflections to his voice, to how he carries a flow and the self-assuredness in his delivery, the verse is exceptional, but mostly for its imagery. In attempts to assert his power, K.O relays a story of when a guy who has been acting tough gets exposed for being a weakling, culminating in his funeral (though it's not a flattering scenario when taken literally). He paints a picture of a funeral procession in the most flamboyant yet chilling way, with such keen detail that it's almost laughable if not for how morbid the content in the rhyme scheme is - he raps, "Another family izozila, Joe, another family izolila, kuphakam' amatende, kufike abomama bezo-peela, mina namagorilla sikuleyo after-tears, sizo-chilla…". He sneakily carries forward the theme of death, considering he mentioned "death wish" and "ghost" earlier in the verse.
02. K.O “Delakufa” (second verse) (2014)
The crown jewel of Skhanda Republic, as far as verses go, is the second verse of "Delakufa". The opening song of this classic album serves as a forecast of what the album is mostly about; an onslaught of inventive lyricism from an emcee who is on top of his game. Even at his most aggressive, K.O still manages to sound relaxed while delivering threat-laden verses that speak to his prowess. Over a masterful M'du "Ratlala" flip, in the second verse, he cleverly interweaves tales about his brilliance that renders him worthy of the utmost respect, also finding time to address rumours that were rife on Twitter about him being sick. He ridicules them as baseless claims. He scoffs at his naysayers, effortlessly rapping, "Joe bebathi ng'ya-sicka kwiTwitter rhaa! Hhey nina mhlathi yenu, ngithi get off my dick, qhelela udad' wenu…", never once losing his cool. He subtly maintains the same rhyme scheme throughout the whole verse, proving once again that he is a master wordsmith with the ability to craft a verse that's emotive, searing with punchlines and wordplay, while still being technical and meaningful at the same time.
01. AKA “Run Jozi (Godly)” (featuring K.O)
"Run Jozi (Godly)" is a mammoth song, from a rapper who was arguably at his peak, not to mention, on the cusp of releasing a blockbuster album in the form of Levels. However, despite performing at an insanely high level on the song, AKA is simply bested by a near flawless K.O performance. High on the list of things that make for a perfect verse is its ability to live a life of its own (think Inspectah Deck's "Triumph" verse). This K.O verse achieves exactly that. It has transcended the song itself, preceding even the person who wrote it. From the first bar, "My flow is so hazardous, mfanakithi, can't nobody handle this…", K.O was already levitating. The precision with which he carries the flow while delivering many quotable lines that cover a wide array of themes is the work of a genius. He speaks on his superiority as an emcee, "I annihilated all of my competition so there's no further challengers", makes commentary on the music industry, "what's going on with these amateurs over the internet posting some messages?" as well as the societal landscape, "going against the authority ntwana is totally blasphemous, in a city where having no morality is totally fabulous" and gives advice, "emhlabeni mel'uz'bheke, it's crucial. Ubothemb'itshe than uthembe umuntu", all the while still finding time to be witty and maintain the technique and form. "Next thing you know, your career is over, ntwana - over some characters?" has become as universal of a phrase in urban lexicon as Nas contextualising the term "Stan" coined by Eminem, and LL Cool J coining the acronym "G.O.A.T".