We chat to the South African artist & producer about his debut album 'Pink Panther.'
Tshego has come a long way. He is now one of the country's most notable hip-hop artists and producers. In July, he left Family Tree, the label headed by Cassper Nyovest, which he was part of for the last few years. His imprint Twenty Five Eight Entertainment signed a licensing deal with Universal Music Group at around the same time he departed from FT.
Tshego's debut album Pink Panther, which was one of the most anticipated this year, arrived a month later. The project follows the EP, Since 1990, which the artist released in 2015. Tshego has produced and appeared on some of the country's biggest hip-hop releases, which has kept him busy leading up to his defining moment.
Tshego reveals that the album title doesn't much, if anything at all, adding that he's not a sentimental guy. Even most of his tattoos are just art. There's never a boring moment when he's being interviewed. Names get dropped like it's not a thing, revealing a man who has nothing to hide and one who's willing to show the world who he really is.
Pink Panther is by no means a themed album—it's instead a coherent compilation of varied songs that sound great together. An equally varied guest list—including King Monada, Riky Rick, Kwesta, Tellaman, Frank Casino and others—adds to the album's diversity.
We got a chance to sit down with the musician and picked his brain about Pink Panther, independence, having to start the album afresh at some point and his willingness to be more visible, among other things.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Please tell us about producing the project.
All the production starts with me. Then I will send it out to Ali Keys to add key parts here, string parts there. I would send it to Gemini Major if I needed 808s. Gemini did 808s on, like, two or three of the songs on the album. But Ali was my right hand co-producer when I felt like, okay this song I've done as much as I can do rhythm-wise, I'm good hook-wise, lyric wise I'm good, arrangement-wise I'm good, the song feels really good, I need something to tie it all together, his musical ear and ability just set him apart from the rest so, without a doubt. I need to send him as much as I can.
You mentioned Ali, so you started working on his album while you were still at Family Tree?
Yeah, for sure.
So how long would you say it took you to put it together?
I'll say it took me just over a year. Let me tell you the truth, I was not waking up every day and like, "Yo, I'm working an album, this album is going to be done in a few months, I've got to do two weeks straight off." It was like, whenever I felt like it, whenever the mood hit me, whenever the time was right, that's when music was made. But, that's not the only reason why it took so long, it also took so long because of just life in general. Things happen. I've got a daughter now. Before that, there was trauma in my life, personal issues, going through depression, getting out of it. It's just a journey itself, many things contributed to the fact that it took so long.
Then you made such a light hearted, happy album, out of that.
Yeah, because I'm the opposite. I'm a dark person, in general. I like black, I'm not a colorful person. I don't know if it's because I was exposed to the harsh realities of life early on. Or because I'm like a gloomy guy, I don't know. But I'm very straight forward, I'm very like, no bullshit. I'm very like, it's hard for me to trust people. It's hard for me to joke around if I'm not like used to you or anything like that. I like my space, I like being alone.
So my music, it's like my party, so when I make my music it's almost like this is my time to party because I've been through some not so good things.
Your guest list on the album consists of Ricky Rick, Thabsie, King Monada, Frank Casino etc. When you have such a diverse guestlist, you always run the risk of making a project that sounds scattered, yours doesn't. What measures did you take so that doesn't happen?
That's crazy you know, because I think the way I avoid it is by not caring. I really didn't give a shit. For you it doesn't sound scattered, for me, it sounds like a playlist. And I was very open about it on my Twitter before it dropped like, 'yo, I'm not making an album that I sat down and I thought, what's the theme of this shit, what's going to be the common thread.' No, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I was like 'yo I'm making a playlist of a bunch of music that I want to listen to.' You understand? So it's crazy that it sounds, like, well-put together for you, I think that has more to do with how I ordered the tracks. Because I do understand when you are listening to something from one to fifteen, there has to be some sort of ease into the next song.
Do you feel like you would have dropped the same album if you had dropped Pink Panther under Family Tree?
I don't think it would have been the same, because it's a different situation. So there's no way you can do one thing the same way in two different instances. That's how I like to look at it. You have to close one door sometimes to open the next door for things to flourish. [The reason I left Family Tree is] I wanted to be the boss. Period. I just wanted to be my own boss and decide when I'm dropping because having to fall in line with dates of let's say, Fill Up and Nadia's projects… that's all love, I love all of you but let me not lie to you, I'm not here to fuck around. I'm not here to say 'hey, you know, you can jump in the front of the line.' I don't necessarily want to play those games. Not to say that those games are played, but those are the things that you deal with. Facts. Fill Up happens annually. So why would I drop around Fill Up when I know that most of the team's attention is towards Fill Up? I wanted my own team that only paid attention to my shit, so I had to be my own boss.
With a lot of artists, before you put out a project you wait to have this big single before you can drop a project. Your project doesn't even have any old songs in it.
Again, this album was supposed to come out a long time ago but the album got stolen at a certain point. Three years ago, the album got stolen. Two or three Decembers ago, I can't remember, I think it was the year after I joined Family Tree. Since 1990.2 point two was supposed to be my album and that shit got stolen. So, they broke into the house, I was sleeping, I had my dog in the room, but none of us woke up. Myself and my dog never woke up but my laptop was in my room, they took my phone, my laptop and my wallet. They left everything else, the studio equipment, everything. But the thing is I didn't wake up, but they were in my room. They were definitely in my room. So that was scary and it was weird at the same time. But I think everything happens for a reason.
So you had to start afresh?
I had to start afresh. And thank God. Thank God. So everything happens for a reason, maybe he was like, nah dog, you are holding onto energies that you shouldn't be holding onto. You need to start afresh, it needs to be something complete, the world is ready for a new you. So I thank God for losing that music man. Honestly. Because I wouldn't have "No Ties," I wouldn't have these moments… you know, everything happens for a reason.
Can you tell us about your working relationship with Gemini Major?
Gemini is my brother, man. Like, before anything, that guy is my brother. That's why he doesn't even have to be on the album, because I see him every day. Yeah man, that one is so natural bra, that one's so organic. Our relationship is not based on the music at all. That's what I can say about Gemini, it's not even about our business, it's not about the music. When we see each other, we are not talking music. We're brothers.
I think artists like yourself and maybe Nasty C, A-Reece, Riky Rick or even AKA, it's like a lot of people overlook that you guys are producers. Like, when South African Hip Hop Awards come, everyone will be vouching for the likes of Tweezy and Wichi 1080, not so much you and the others I just mentioned. Do you feel like people recognize your production?
No, they don't, but who gives a shit? My fans know who produces my shit. If you want to talk about best produced album, you'll have to mention my album and then you'll have to ask who produced this shit and my names going to come up, either way. When the awards come, they're going to have to mention certain things. If I'm going to be in the category of best producer or best what what, then the credits are going to be there.
Do you have any last words?
My next phase is, whatever it is, I don't even know, I can't even give it a title, but my next phase right now is just to give as much content around myself and around the music as possible. I'm shooting the "No Ties" video this week, I might drop it next week or the week after that, but very soon. I've already got another video for "With my Bros" ready to go. I'm going to just try and shoot as much as possible and keep them in the vault so that when we are ready to push them as singles, everything is ready to go. But yeah, I want the world to see more of me. I want South Africa to get used to hearing my voice, used to seeing my face. Get used to my mannerisms. So now I'm trying to be that open book.
Listen to Pink Panther below: