Words by Mercia Tucker

Images by Jina Min

In beginning the track “Another One Down” with “It’s too many different spirits within me/ a personality is constantly shifting”, Nasty C lets us in to the diversity of his character. This past Friday, he held the Music, Art, Love experience at the Kalashnikov Gallery in Braamfontein. By the end of the night, I had an experience in the diversity of his artistry.

Strings & Bling dropped in July 2018 to critical acclaim. There’s a level of emotional vulnerability on it that we hadn’t quite seen from him before. The title track’s first verse opens with “I tell my secrets to a bottle/ I trust it over a couple people that I know/ I tipped over I really got suicidal” before the rest of the album traverses a sonic and lyrical maturity that rejects the sophomore curse.

Undoubtedly, one of the best songs on his sophomore is “”SMA”. With a narrative style of rap (a-la Eminem’s “Stan”) that sees him take on both character’s expressions, he delivers a poignant and emotional story of a tumultuous time in his relationship. Debuting the “SMA” video was one of the objectives of the Music, Art, Love experience.

One of the other highlights of the night was an intimate live performance of the track for invited guests. Describing the album title’s meaning to Shingai Darangwa last year, Nasty C said “Strings is the instrumentation: the cellos, the guitars and what not. The Bling is the turn-up joints. The Strings are the connections and the relationships that I have that I speak about on the album, and then the Bling is just me having fun and shining.”

Giving us a literal interpretation of that description meant employing a string quartet and pianist to convey the depth of the connections and relationships in his life over orchestral instrumentation. To say that he did it beautifully would be an understatement; he personified it.

Aided by Alexis Faku – who was the musical director of the session, and that of his live show at Zone 6 last year – Nasty C did what not a lot of artists can, he reimagined the sound of his album on a different musical foundation.

Hip hop is not new to orchestral intervention: Kanye West did it on Late Orchestration, Nas toured the 20th anniversary of Illmatic’s release supported by an orchestra, and Tumi Molekane performed with the full Cape Philharmonic Orchestra for the TOFFIE pop culture festival in 2011. The alchemy, however, of an experience that amalgamates the two musical worlds beautifully and not just prostrates as a gimmick is what makes a collaboration like this successful. Alexis Faku’s years of experience and Nasty C’s honesty in intention did just that.

The third objective of the night was to exhibit some of the artwork that Nasty C has been working for display to the public. Known to most as a rapper, it was a pleasant surprise to see his personality displayed as a visual artist.

He moved through descriptions of the four pieces telling us the backstories behind the inspiration behind them. I imagined different lyrics attached to the pieces. For the illustration of his girlfriend Sammie Heavens (because her name is Samkelisiwe Zulu, and izulu means “heaven” in isiZulu), I imagined the lyrics “What kind of galaxy are you from?” off his track “Everything”. For the second illustration of himself in designer wear, I imagined “I’m jiggy Jesus in Balenciaga” off “Blisters”. To the third, which he explained to be an illustration of how people gravitate to the negativity of social media, I imagined “Niggas these days talk more than a bitch/ internet gangster, click boy, click” off “King”. The last in the series gave a visual interpretation to his lyrics on “Legendary”: “Ape take care of one another/ and ape don’t give a fuck about colour”. This references the “Ape Shall Never Kill Ape” trope of the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy of movies and how a community is built and nurtured around this moral standpoint.

Debuting three different videos for “SMA” with three different interpretations of the video treatments was another way in which he chose to display his artistic variation. He moved through a throng of fans after the private event to make the public screening on the screens above the building on the corner of Juta and De Beer in Braamfontein. It ended up being an impromptu performance as he rapped along to the video screening, by which point the cops had to shut the entire thing down to maintain a semblance of order.

In the same way the diversity of his character is shown in his musical content, the fullness of his being as an artist is shown in these kind of showcases. Exploring his artistic identity in various mediums and in different ways gives us the kind of boundary pushing that some of the greatest artists in the world are known for. Surrounded by a sea of fans, David Junior Ngcobo reminded us (if you were ever unsure) that he is deliberate about his art and precise in the manner he exhibits it. If his upcoming project with No I.D. is delivered with this in mind, we’re in for a treat.