What It Takes To Make It in the SA Hip Hop Industry From The Experts: Part 1

So you think you can rap. You’ve worshipped Lupe’s rich and intellectual wordplay, refusing to dumb himself down to appeal to a wider audience. You’ve studied Weezy’s cadence switch ups, and how they’ve garnered him enough acclaim from those in the know, to realise how a fluid flow can set you apart from the rest. You’ve pored over the Nas and Jay beef to prove to older heads that even though it was before your time, you’re a student of the game. Your PVR has an unwritten ‘Never Delete 8 Mile’ rule because when you’re really low on inspiration, it gets the blood of a thousand Eminems cursing through the low pressure of your creative veins. You think your skills dope enough to create a Soundcloud account and see how far this can take you. The streets need to hear you!

But they don’t. Now what?

It’s been a few months since Hlaudi Motsoeneng announced that the SABC has committed to playing 90% local music across all 18 of its radio stations, giving special mention to playing music from up and coming artists. If there was a more opportune time for local artists to hone their craft and get their music out, I can’t think of it. So, what do you need to do to make it in the music industry? Making good music is a great place to start.

We spoke to Hope ‘Hopemasta’ Herimbi of Kandy Koated Music and Sithembiso ‘Instro’ Herimbi of Kool Out to get a better understanding of what goes into making a hit single. Hopemasta has the production credits of Reason’s No Sleep and Bump the Cheese Up under his belt, amongst others. Instro’s more notable singles include Tumi’s Hello Kitty Remix, Kabomo’s Things We Cannot Hide and Reason’s 2 Cups Shakur.

“Don’t overthink it” says Hope, of making great music. “Because there are times when I come in with my team and we just have too many ideas at the same time and we’re all feeling those ideas. But we’re all overthinking at the same time. And that’s what you shouldn’t do. You must approach it swiftly and cross the bridge with it as you go.” Instro adds “That’s why being in a studio is being in a creative space. Sometimes what you had, as rigid as it is, can just take a life of its own and decide to go in another direction that you didn’t expect. Being in a creative space means that anything can happen, it’s not just like ‘Yo, we know for sure it’s gonna happen!’ That’s not how you know you have a hit.”

How do you know you have a hit? “’It’s all about the reaction it gives and I think for the most part it  being a hit isn’t the most exciting thing. It being a dope song, which can constitute a hit, is really what’s important for us.” Hope adds “If we record and we’re jamming and it’s time to go and we pack up and someone along the passage starts singing it, then we know we’ve got one!”

On the issue of longevity in popular music, Instro says “The point is always to make something dope. It doesn’t matter what year it is, when you hear it you’re like ‘that’s my shit!’ is the feel I always go for.” Hope adds “The type of music we make, it appeals to the ‘now’ generation, the hip hop [generation] and the music we hear in clubs. But our style is very much authentic because in as similarly as it sounds to the club hit, it’s intangible, it’s something you’ve never heard before as opposed to the typical [release]. We’ve already heard what Roll Up sounds like, we’ve already heard what Juice Back sounds like. We’re not doing that. We’re doing something very similar, in that line, but with an authentic sound.”

I asked what the best approach would be for an artist trying to break into the industry, if they should release sporadic singles or focus on producing an entire body of work. Instro, as a producer who typically works on entire albums, said “It’s more about what the trend is right now. I mean, people used to release albums every year. In that case, the trend was finding people like me. And now people are doing ok with just singles. They live comfortably, they take their time on delivering a full body of work. L-Tido is a good example. He’s got an album every three years, average, and that’s pretty slow but he’s been ok. He’s been sustained by the singles.” Hope adds, “As an artist it depends on what you’re looking for specifically as well.”

There’s been a wave of trap influences in South African rap recently. Asked if there’s a tendency to try and emulate an American sound, Hope responds “‘I say yes. Because as South Africa, we try to be the America of Africa. So, whatever’s popping in America, we’ll sort of do the same thing and try to find a way to make it ours so that when we go that side, we can appeal, we can try to fit in.”

On the development of a uniquely South African sound Instro says “It’s getting there. Now we’re taking our own sound there. Kinda like that Skhanda sound. We were there with motswako [and] that TKZ era; that was uniquely South African. It had American influences, yeah, but the South African aspect of it was the biggest thing. ‘Have you heard Maraza’s Gwan? He did a great job of sounding South African. I think that’s the one thing that came out of [song] that for me. That guy did a great job of representing me. Every time I’m listening to what he’s saying, it’s so relatable.”

While the art of making great music may not be down to a science, the process of perfecting it comes pretty close. Asked if someone has to have a natural talent for music and a great ear for how sounds are supposed to come together in order to produce a great track or if it’s something that can be learned over time he says “I think a bit of both. You have to have an ear, you have to have some sort of talent, but the most effective thing is practising and learning. It’s kinda like Maths; nobody really masters it but you need to practise every day in order to be good at it.” Instro, the mathematician.

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