Words by Mercia Tucker and N.D. Forster
In the Roc-A-Fella legacy, Kareem “Biggs” Burke was one third of the trio of founders who was always present but not always in the spotlight. The man behind the line “Biggs did it first, Jay put it in a verse” was the silent partner in the label, working behind the scenes while Jay was the star and Dame focused on business and A&R. To say that his place in Roc history is just as important as Jay’s and Dame’s wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination.
As flamboyant, and sometimes theatrical, a lifestyle as hip hop is, it’s still a business. It’s a business that requires cool heads to prevail to counterpoise the passion of the artists. “While Dame was yelling at everybody, people always want to talk to somebody in the room. I’m the guy everybody can talk to, so I maintained a lot of relationships” Biggs said to Rap Radar last year in his third interview, ever. An enigma to most people outside of his close circle, shows the value of letting the work and the output do the talking while remaining a key role-player in the background.
Closer to home we have a few figures in the hip hop industry who are more revered for their work off-stage. Role-players in their own right, these power-brokers are more captains of industry than cogs in the wheel of hip hop in SA. These people prove that rapping is not the only way to get to the top of the hip hop pantheon.
DreamTeam SA is a talent management and marketing consulting agency that was the brainchild of Refiloe Ramogase when he interrogated what he was passionate about and how to turn that into a vocation. He was instrumental in shaping the career of Khuli Chana and the two went on to found Maftown Heights, which is now an incredibly successful hip hop festival that attracts thousands of people each year. The straight-shooting Refiloe became the first SAMA chairperson from an independent label after serving various roles in subcommittees, and by default, the vice chairperson of RISA. He is currently the General Manager of Sony Music in South Africa.
Osmic Menoe founded Ritual Stores in his late teens and went on to found the Ritual Media Group. This lover of hip hop culture has dedicated his time to furthering it and the biggest product of that effort is the Back to the City festival hosted annually in Newtown. One of the biggest in the country, it’s a dedication to hip hop and all it’s facets. This year the event attracted over 10 000 people and saw over two dozen international and local artists take to the stage. He’s also gone on to found the SA Hip Hop Awards in 2011 and the SA Hip Hop Summit in 2016.
He started off as DJ Bionic and founded Le Club in downtown Joburg, a hip hop venue that was the first of its kind in the city and grew to be a hub of talent and cultural exploration. Bradley went on to provide marketing insights on hip hop and urban culture to corporates as a consultant and was also a part owner of the boutique label, Motif Records. In that role he oversaw the development of key talent like Reason and Riky Rick on a label known for its league of extraordinary emcees. Bradley ascended to the position of GM of Sony Music SA and furthered his work in the music industry with his extensive experience and insights. Bradley still works with long-time partner Tumi aka Stogie T as his business manager.
Raphael Benza is the head of the Vth Season marketing agency and record label, home to talent such as AKA and Big Star Johnson. The Liberian-born Benza settled in SA, after having lived in the US, and got into the upmarket nightclub scene before settling in as founder and MD of the label. Having previously worked in the entertainment industry in New York, Benza has used that knowledge to launch AKA’s solo career and catapult him to the dizzying success he’s experienced. In addition to AKA, Vth Season is also home to The Hustle‘s 2016 winner Big Star Johnson and Tresor, the chart-topping African pop star.
Alex Okosi is not just one of the most powerful individuals in South African music but in African music as a whole. He is the type of guy whose moves reverberate throughout the continent. The Nigerian-born and US-educated Okosi launched MTV Networks Africa in 2005 and helped develop it into a truly powerful group of music and entertainment channels. His stellar work for African music includes being the force behind the well-executed and internationally recognized MTV African Music Awards (MAMAs) which have helped put SA and African hip hop on the global map. As VP and MD of Viacom International Networks Africa, Okosi oversees BET, MTV Base, Comedy Central et al. Okosi is the real plug when it comes to African hip hop!
Kgolo Da Guru
Durban is one of the biggest markets for South African hip hop. Talented acts such as Okmalumkoolkat, Dreamteam, WTF and Aewon Wolf all come from the City of eThekwini. One of the driving forces behind KZN Hip hop and nightlife is the little known (outside Durban) Kgolo “Da Guru” Mthembu – he is a club owner, festival organizer and all-round entertainment whiz. He has worked with every major hip hop act in SA and has even hosted concerts for the likes of Rick Ross, Trey Songs, Snoop Dogg and Miguel. The Loerie-winning Vega graduate has worked with a litany of brands to bring events such as SA Hip Hop Festival and Jack Daniels Boomtown to life. Kgolo is the guy you call if you wanna make things happen in Durban!
Lerato “T-Lee” Moiloa
T-Lee Moiloa is one of the silent assassins in SA hip hop – the Kareem “Biggs” Burke type. He shuns the spotlight and prefers to influence the trajectory of SA hip hop behind the scenes. T-Lee is credited with helping blow up Cassper Nyovest with great A&R and shrewd business moves. As Cassper’s manager, he has helped the Maftown native navigate SA’s murky and shark-infested music industry waters with aplomb. If Cassper is Michael Corleone, he is Tom Hagen, the consigliere, the quiet and composed guy in the background initiating all the right moves. T-Lee’s Bridge Entertainment has worked alongside Family Tree to produce record-breaking concerts such as Fill Up The Dome and Fill Up Orlando. He has also been instrumental in securing numerous multi-million rand mega deals for Cassper with the likes of MTN, Ciroc and BP.
Avukile is another alumni of The Vega School of Brand Communications on our list – he is the guy that makes it possible for a lot of hip hop and urban culture events to take place through sponsorship. Avukile has worked in marketing for most of his career. He has helped oversee the marketing for brands such as Hennessy, Ciroc and Amstel which usually sees him investing significantly in SA urban culture. This is even more evident in his current role as Marketing Manager of Play Energy Drink. In the past year Play has supported Pop Bottles, Genesis All Black, Back To The City Festival, Sneaker Exchange, Major League Gardens, just to name a few. Avukile is a great example of marketing execs who are passionate about the moving the culture forward.
Glen Netshipise is the definition of low-key. The hardworking and well-connected concert impresario started off in the game by throwing parties at clubs in Joburg 10 years ago. His parties worked like a charm as they helped expand his network and grow his contacts which he leveraged as he took things to the next level. Big ticket concerts soon followed and Glen was soon bringing the likes of Lil’ Wayne, Neyo and Rick Ross to our shores albeit to mixed results. Glen’s business model has since evolved and he is now the go-to-guy for brands and concert promoters that are looking to book international acts. His rolodex is that impressive! Currently his team is working on producing the Castle Lite Unlocks concerts with Travis Scott and Bryson Tiller. Glen has gone beyond hip hop too and even produces the popular Nickfest for Nickelodeon. Talk about listening to the kids!
Reggie Nkabinde or Govner Reggie as most people affectionately call him is the head of Mabala Noise which effectively makes him one of the most influential people in SA hip hop. Reggie burst on the scene over a year ago when he purchased the record label from DJ Bongz (and proceeded to rename it). He then went on to sign artists to the biggest record deals we’ve ever witnessed in the history of SA hip hop.The likes of Nasty C and Riky Rick were signed to multi-million rand contracts and even through the latter has had his battles with the label, Reggie remains a powerful broker and player in the scene and is super passionate about creating wealth and opportunities for growth for local artists.