Words by Nick Kaoma
This is Part 2 of the list of the 20 Most influential individuals and brands of all time in SA urban fashion and street culture. You can read Part 1 which consisted of individuals and brands in positions 20 – 11.
If you had told me in 1997 (my first year of high school) that Trompies would sill be around, releasing songs and touring in 2018 I wouldn’t have believed you. And yet, that’s exactly what they have achieved. Twenty plus years later the famous crew is still at it. Trompies came into the scene in the mid-90’s alongside their co-horts at Kalawa Jazmee where group member Mandla “Spikiri” Mofokeng was one of the chief sound architects. Spikiri came up with Mdu through MM Deluxe but it was through Trompies and Kalawa that we saw his true genius. Trompies gave us hit after hit for over two decades and also influenced fashion trends in townships all over SA in a major way.
Trompies rocked everything from Dickies, Converse to Samson. And all of those styles blew up. They made a “sporty” a standard part of your day to day look. In the late 90’s the group also famously endorsed FUBU when the brand landed on our shores and somehow they made the gear work even though it was baggy and very hip hop influenced. Trompies are the original pantsulas. They made a fashion style associated with gangsters and OG’s in the townships mainstream.
9. Boyz N Bucks
Boyz N Bucks made history in a short space of time and rightfully earned their status as the most influential collective of the modern SA hip hop era. Boyz N Bucks’ strength was in their numbers and diversity. The crew consisted of rappers, tastemakers, stylists, designers, producers and a brand specialist. And all of them had and still have steez. Boyz N Bucks gave us Okmalumkoolkat, Riky Rick, Stilo Magolide, just to name a few.
We got genre-bending music and culture-shaping style from this crew. Many people in hip hop are scared to experiment and try new things but not Scoop, Bhubesi or uSanele. Add Phiko’s marketing and business mind and it’s a wrap. Boyz N Bucks gave us a line of motorsport apparel that became an instant classic. Till this day I know people who will take one of their tops off your back in exchange for a few grand. Recently, the crew put out a belated collabo sneaker range with VANS. If the crew had stuck together they could have easily topped this list.
Zola didn’t waltz into our homes, he bum-rushed us like a man possessed. Born Bonginkosi Dlamini in the notorious Zola, a sub-township of Soweto, (yes, he named himself after his own hood. Gangsta right?!), the ambitious thespian first made an impression on the country in Yizo Yizo II as the frightening Papa Action. At the time, Zola was unknown, and after replacing the original Papa Action from Season 1, he proved naysayers wrong as he glided through his scenes. Months later the guy dropped the classic Umdlwembe to an unsuspecting audience. The nerve of this guy!!!
The Zola legend had been solidified. Overcoming the harsh conditions of one of the toughest hoods in the country is one thing but acting in the No. 1 show on TV and then producing a best-selling album is a whole ‘nother story. Later on in his career he released his own line of Zola 7 merch which retailed in top retailers and that sold in the millions every year. His style was authentic – raw, gully and lacking of filters. It resonated with millions of people living in townships all over SA. At one point it became custom to keep a match stick in your mouth at all times just because Zola did the same. At his peak the whole nation spoke like him – he invented slang on the fly and the next day we’d all try to sound like him. Zola is a legend and he needs to be celebrated more.
Okay, obviously YFM isn’t a fashion brand but their role in blowing up kwaito and local hip hop is second to none. They also played a major role in promoting local fashion brands such as Loxion Kulca, Magents, Stoned Cherrie and Ama Kip Kip. Their DJs became icons that every kid in SA wanted to emulate. The likes of Bad Boy T, DJ Fresh, Rudeboy Paul, Phat Joe, DJ Sbu and many others were all celebrated and emulated. We picked up our slang, musical taste and fashion sense from these young broadcasters.
YFM was a regional radio station and yet their impact was felt across SA. If YFM sneezed the whole country caught a flu. Their impact on SA’s fashion scene grew with the launch of Y Mag which showcased musicians and other celebrities in the latest threads on their glossy pages. I first read about Loxion Kulca’s founders back in ’98 in an issue of Y Mag. In high school I’d cut out all these fashion spreads and paste them on the walls of my room. Y was truly a part of the day to day life of million of young black kids.
AKA is currently having the time of his life and his career is looking bigger than it’s ever been. On the eve of the release of his third solo album tentatively titled Touch My Blood, AKA has dropped his own line of flavoured vodka in partnership with Cruz, fulfilled a childhood dream by becoming the first rapper to appear on a WWE special and is set to announce a major collaboration with Reebok.
The Cape Town native is arguably the biggest hip hop artist in SA right now and he owes that to an unrivalled streak that has seen him stay on top of the hip hop game for close to 10 years. In his early years AKA partnered up with Head Honcho and helped bring the local brand to national acclaim. That was followed up by his own line of merch that hit dozens of Sportscene and Shesha stores year later. Recently, the rapper has taken a liking to high-end streetwear brands Off-White and Vetements. He hardly hits the streets without the comfort of Virgil’s threads. In 2016, AKA and Da L.E.S literally blew up camo through their collaboration “Real Stuff”.
AKA has 2.9 million followers on Twitter and 1.7 million on Instagram and they’re all ready to lap up any music or product that he swings their way. That kind of impact can’t be bought.
There’s not a single brand that has been rocked in SA urban culture like Converse. Converse sneakers were even rocked by the likes of Chicco Twala, a pioneer that gave the founders of Kwaito, Spikiri and MDU, their first opportunity in the music industry. Converse is synonymous with SA street culture. The original pantsulas and gangsters in the townships were the first to wear Converse and this naturally got passed on to Kwaito stars who depicted that very same lifestyle these OG’s lived.
Kwaito artists such as Trompies, Chiskop, Mashamplani, TKZee, MDU and Alaska all rocked Converse shoes religiously. They literally moved the culture forward with the famous sneakers on their feet. Converse continues to play a pivotal role in SA urban culture to this day. Their participation in urban culture festivals such as Capsule as well as collaborations with local stylists, designers and musicians ensures that the brand stays top of mind in the urban community.
4. Riky Rick
The self-titled King Kotini (King of Cotton) has earned his place on this list of all time greats fairly comfortably. In the last 5 years very few people or brands have influenced SA urban culture like Riky Rick. Over the years Riky has embraced and helped blow up local brands such as Young n’ Lazy, Sol Sol and 2 Bop. International brands such as Lacoste, Nike, Kappa, Prada and Daily Paper have also benefited from his co-sign.
But it is his endorsement of Gucci that has told the biggest story. Riky single-handedly took Gucci to the top in SA. For the first time in SA we saw a brash hip hop star rocking the famed luxury Italian label head to toe everywhere he went. And it’s not just that he wore Gucci, it’s how he styled it. He managed to bring high fashion to street culture unlike anyone before him. His love for the brand was there for everyone to see and it was no surprise that Gucci noticed and even flew him up to Milan to check out one of their fashion shows.
Subsequent to that Riky has also released his own merch under the Cotton Club Records umbrella. Last month, he shut down Braamfontein when he released a highly anticipated range at RHTC. Literally thousands of kids lined up for hours just so that they could get a tee or a cap from their idol’s range. Now that’s impact.
Smiso Zwane is one of the most gifted artists of his generation but his impact on local urban culture goes beyond music. Malum’ or Kool Kat as he is fondly known, has been a fashion connoisseur par excellence. If you’ve been an avid fan and follower of his music, you’ll remember how he was waxing lyrical about the likes of Raf Simons, and Rei Kawukubo before even American rappers were hip to them.
The game witnessed Malum’s true impact when the hood start rocking Air Max’s after him and his boys took a liking to them. Do you know how hard it is to make guys in the township switch from Converse sneakers to a bourgeois shoe like Air Max? Kool Kat did that. And if we’re keeping it a buck, Kool Kat was the chief architect of Boyz N Bucks. Anyone close to the crew would tell you that they moved to his beat. Besides Nike, OKM has also ushered in countless fashion trends and helped blow up the likes of Lacoste and Demi Sec champagne (G.H Mumm). He is the original Lord of Braam. There was a time when we all started speaking like him and his crew.
Musically, the dude has broken numerous boundaries and collaborated with artists outside the realm of hip hop. He deserves major credit for bringing Gqom into the mainstream by being the first rapper to rap over Gqom beats. OKM is genuinely the Last Airbender.
2. Da LES
Leslie Mampe aka Da LES aka North God has been influencing Joburg (specifically Sandton and surrounds) for over 10 years now. As one of the founding members of JOZI, Da LES helped usher in a very experimental sound that blended “crunk” rap with traditional South African music. The result was a genre-shaping style that saw JOZI become a major group not just in SA, but on the continent as well.
After nabbing some accolades and tours the group disbanded and Da LES went solo. He has never looked back since. Four solo albums and multiple awards later, L.E.S has proved to be a mainstay in the game. In that time, he single-handedly blew up Ama Kip Kip, one of the most influential local brands of all time. His influence had kids all over SA rocking oversized BAPE gear (mostly fake, unfortunately) and dancing on tippy toes. His All White parties shut down the North for years until the DA swooped in and put an end to the bacchanals.
Da L.E.S also attached his persona to Galxboy, another local brand that benefited immensely from his push. However, his influence can’t just be pinned down to a few brands. L.E.S has branded and presided over the North (an area with the richest square mile in Africa) and influenced a whole generation to want to live, speak, party and dress like him.
1. Scoop Makhathini
In order to fathom Scoop’s impact on local fashion and urban culture you have to ask yourself the following: what trend did he not set or have a hand in?
Launching a hot local brand: Ama Kip Kip. Check. Hosting arguably the most influential urban culture shows of all time: Street Journal, V-Entertainment, Turn Up Channel O. Check. Being part of the most influential collective of the modern era: Boyz n Bucks. Check. Being a third of one of the most prolific TV production companies in SA: PAP. Check. Being the first to rock Supreme, Bape, Daily Paper, Diamond Supply, Pata etc. Check. Being a local ambassador of the biggest sportswear brand in the world: Nike. Check.
I can go on and on … again, what has Scoop not done in local street culture? Scoop is SA’s cultural sensei. His fearlessness is his best asset. He has no problem with rocking the wildest gear even if it’s from an unknown designer. His impact has been felt by local and international brands who have all seen sales blow up after the sensei has embraced their threads. Scoop is that dude. Period.