Words by Mayuyuka Kaunda

Pics courtesy of Khabazela “Artvillain” Mahlangu

Four years and two months ago Riky Rick dropped his debut album “Family Values”. This marked the beginning of his role as South African hip hop’s favourite middle child.

South African fashionista, songwriter, rapper and producer Riky Rick was introduced to South Africa’s mainstream with 2014’s “Nafukwa”. This set the stage for him to champion his brand of music — hip hop dashed with EDM, house and kwaito. Riky struck gold again in 2015 when he dropped the “Amantombazane Remix” – a song along embodying those characteristics.

That record was released through Motif Records, a label headed by industry stalwart Tumi Molekane, and came a year before his critically acclaimed 2015 debut “Family Values”. Fast forward to 2016 and Tumi re-introduces himself as Stogie T with a self-titled album. That album closes with “Clean Stuff,” where he raps the following lyrics:

“So what happened to Riky?
same thing that happened to Reason;
He was touched by a god
I gave him the plate, now he eating
I’m not some old bitter nigga
Name dropping cause I need em
I don’t fight with my children…
I feed em”

Considering Riky Rick’s premature exit from Motif Records those lines may be considered light jabs or, at the very least, a statement of authority. Regardless, they betray an ethos that Stogie T’s carried throughout his career: assisting upcoming talent. Riky could’ve taken those jabs to heart — instead of on the chin — gone his own way and proverbially shunned the gods. Such a move would have inevitably alienated the idols of yesteryear from the congregants of the temple that is South African hip hop. Instead, and thankfully, Riky has followed the blueprint of extending your starpower to other talented, younger artists.

With his own ascent in the game a long, winding journey his attitude towards upcoming artists is as informed by his experiences as it is on him being a student of the game. Having started his journey in music back in 2006 and only really blowing up circa 2014, he understands the value of a hand up more than most. Getting acclaim in the industry is hard enough without helpful role models and Riky’s used his knowledge of this as a catalyst for becoming a big brother to younger cats. He not only ‘stays shining’ but proceeds to shine his light on the world. By filtering the gist of the words on “Clean Stuff” and ignoring the combative nature of their delivery, he’s effectively turned a potential foe in Stogie T into a sage Umi – one he’s emulating. Once the unwitting understudy, Riky has become a god in his own right and now he touches the nascent careers of the youth and helps them eat too.

It’s been an eventful voyage to celestiality, replete with a striking sense of dejavu. Riky’s foray into being signed once again happened through the now-defunct record label Mabala Noise. From this moment, the artist born Rikhado Makhado began his transformation with a seemingly pre-meditated tirade at one of South Africa’s foremost award shows, the Metro FM Awards. Despite his song “Sidlukotini” being recognised as “Best Hit Single” of 2017, he criticised the overlooking of young artists in South Africa’s music industry along with the fostering rot of politics, rigging of awards and payola.

“Shout-outs to the kids that never get on radio — they can’t get their songs played on radio because they don’t have enough money,” – Riky Rick, 2017.

His fiery speech concluded with him encouraging the youth to shun radio and use the internet to bypass traditional gatekeepers. More than just a tirade against industry politics, in hindsight, Riky Rick’s “listen to the kids” moment is just as important for South African hip hop as Kanye West’s was across the waters. It also highlights his growing impact on the game – outside of his influential  fashion choices. This coincides with the rise in young South African artists making it purely off the strength of their online presences. While this can’t be solely attributed to Riky Rick, it’s clear that the kids are actively listening to him. He’s become a cultural focal point, through every slang term he popularises and every idiosyncratic outfit he adorns. At the heart of his role is the symbiotic nature of these relationships with musicians blooming after him.  

More pointedly, the establishment of his Sony Music Africa-backed label ‘Cotton Club Records’ sees the 31-year-old officially take a seat at the table. In the same vein, his inaugural CottonFest — a gathering of the fashion forward and musically attuned — is him quite literally putting his money where his mouth is. What Riky Rick has done is provide a platform for the ‘kids’ he so passionately addressed at the Metro FM Awards. He’s matched his fighting talk with tangible opportunities for them to pursue viable music careers. The CottonFest line up was an exciting congregation of young rappers including BABYFACEDEAN, Willy Cardiac and J Molley who all initially gained traction through impressive numbers on SoundCloud. These artists are benefitting from a platform created specifically for them in much the same way artists have benefitted from a Riky Rick co-sign. Riky has jumped on records by a number of rising artists like Moz Kidd, The Big Hash, Espiquet, Rowlene and Frank Casino. As natural to him as his sense of style is, Riky seems to instinctively offer help to his youngins. This is a trait that makes him the perfect prototype for a hip hop OG. By bucking the trend of established artists sidelining younger artists Riky Rick has ensured that being “touched by a god” is an experience shared by many more young artists.