Hip-hop is currently the most popular genre in the South African music industry – however, because of its failure to produce a world-class female rapper, its race to secure a comfortable pole position dominance in the charts is not a complete success.
The lack of local female hip-hop stars’ debate has invited many commentators who contributed to the hot topic and also earned a hashtag (#) to trend on social media – Twitter – earlier this year. One of the contributors to share his views was the 27-year-old multi-award-winning rapper, Kiernan Jordan Forbes – better known by his stage name AKA – who tweeted: “If a female rapper is going to blow up this year , they’re going to have to be as good, if not, BETTER than a really good male rapper.”
True, hip-hop loyalists may agree with AKA; but will the country that gave birth to democracy 20 years ago ever unearth a female version of AKA, Cassper Nyovest, K.O, Reason, Kwesta, Khuli Chana, HHP – or better? Well, if the word behind the music scene is to go by, it seems the Rainbow Nation has finally discovered one of the future female stars of hip-hop. Her name is Vuyisela Glodine Makapela (a.k.a VGM), who has already earned her signature title: ‘SA’s Dopest Female Rapper’.
The public is convinced that the versatile rapper, who has been building her brand and perfecting her craft for almost a decade, is certainly the one to watch – but is Makapela really as confident as her critics, to accept such a daunting title offer? “Yes. I am that female that South Africa has been waiting for. South Africans themselves gave me that title. I accept my destiny, my calling and my fate,” said the Port Elizabeth-born shining star.
The lyricist Makapela, 27 – whose colourful career witnessed her performances in all nine provinces of SA, in various TV shows as well as radio stations – completed high school and moved to Johannesburg, Gauteng, to pursue her musical dream before she joined a popular theatre group, Africa Umoja, in 2008. Years later, her musical presence has already traveled abroad to countries such as England, USA and Germany.
With two recorded albums attached to her name, including I Am An African – inspired by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s 1996 iconic speech – the multilingual beauty has released the latest hit single titled: ‘Sohlangan Elokshin’. Judging by the impressive reviews from numerous local and international radio stations, her fresh offering is proving to be a hit.
As the excitement of the nation’s world-class discovery of Makapela’s talent is slowly building up, The Voice of SA chats to the future Mzansi ‘It girl’ of hip hop about her music career and the song that everyone is talking about – Sohlangan Elokshin.
How old is your professional music career?
VGM: Eight years. I started in Africa Umoja, my first audition as a performing artist in theatre, then state theatre, then performing in jazz shows and poetry sessions. I opened mic sessions with Sliq Angel, backing, dancing for bigger artists and ghost writing for rappers. I co-wrote songs like Thunthsa Lerole (by Tembi Seete). I did house remixes for DJs, getting gigs in schools, weddings, Newscafe/Sophiatown, Sunday sessions, Melville night clubs and road shows nationwide.
How do you describe your style of music?
VGM: I want to be referred to as a lyricist because I cover all dynamics of hip-hop: rap, MC, freestyle, poetry, conscious rap, gimmick, commercial rap, Imbongi (praise singing), singing, song-writing, chanting and dancing. I’m uniquely South African. Indigenous.
As a songwriter what do you normally write about?
VGM: I write what I see. I use metaphors in my lyrics. I like to paint pictures. My storyline has a beginning and an end. I write in IsiZulu, Isixhosa, Sesotho/Motswako, Afrikaans and English. So it’s a mixture of languages. I like talking about controversial topics that can appeal to anyone. I like young girls to be motivated, to feel strong and never be afraid to fight for what they want.
Being a versatile artist who can pretty much sing anything, what made you stick to hip-hop?
VGM: My fans who come to my shows love all my songs, but they loved my style more when I transform to a rapper. I’ve basically done an album in Afrosoul/jazz, house, tradition Imbongi, but 3 years ago I started focussing on hip-hop. I felt I’m young and there are so many things happening in South Africa I wanted to speak out through rap.
How difficult is it for female rappers to blow up in the South African hip-hop industry?
VGM: It’s very difficult! The music industry is tough here because the males overpower you and don’t want to give you a chance or even listen to your songs. I’ve worked with many big names locally. I’ve had songs stolen. I’ve helped fellow artists without compensation. The industry is tough. Nobody wants to build an upcoming artist. Today I can boldly say that my brand is building stronger. Fans appreciate my work and now I get proper bookings. To get to this level where music pays your bills it takes years of polishing your craft.
How much money have you spent in promoting your music and brand so far?
VGM: The amount of money I’ve spent on music videos, shoots, studio production, sound engineers, marketing and PR is so stressful. It’s a lot of money. At times I had to work 3 jobs (2 day shifts + weekends) just to pay for total costs. I believe in the “female rapper/ lyricist brand” so much that’s why I’m willing to invest so much money to my music.
The DOs and DON’Ts that upcoming artists should be aware of?
VGM: Surround yourself with positive people. Stay away from drugs, alcohol and parties. If you have a song, register it at SAMRO (South African Music Rights Organisation). It’s free, don’t give it to any celebrity because THEY MIGHT STEAL YOUR SONG. Don’t copy other artists. Be different. Find yourself.
What makes VGM stands out from other female rappers?
VGM: I spit bars. I don’t spit gum. My flow is completely unique and I don’t think any female rapper will ever copy and paste. I use a lot of metaphors as well, so you can’t predict what I’m going to say next. I rap in speed, very fast, but slow down in between. Some have compared me to Bhusta Rhymes or Twista. There’s no township flow I don’t know: skhanda, underground, reggae, Tsotsi taal, etc. I’m a dancer: kwasa, spantsula, floating, sbujwa, breakdancing. I started in theatre before television and stadiums. I can perform for any class of people.
Which female rappers would you like to collaborate with?
VGM: The only rappers I would ever want to collaborate with are: Nthabi, Khanyi from Driemanskap, Protista, Thwasa and Tembi Seete. Those are real South African female rappers.
How much of your music is still unreleased?
VGM: I have a full album and over 50 songs I’ve recorded still to be released; so one song at a time until I’m fully established.
Let’s talk about your single, Sohlangan Elokshin – what is it all about?
VGM: I will meet you all in the hood. It’s a statement. It’s a new revolution. It’s a boastful way of saying you’re proud of where you come from. You’re not ashamed. And you will not look down on a black person in a taxi rank when you’re driving a Bhughatti you hired, a mansion in Sandton you’re renting and a Versace that’s not real but genuine fake. It’s about taking everyone back to the township, a state of the art where heroes and tycoons were made.
When was it released and how is the response?
VGM: Last month. I was trending on Twitter for 2 weeks. Kids started quoting my lyrics. Celebrities such as Amstel, Bujy, Nonhle Thema, Khanyi Mbau, Thembsile Ntaka, Gugu Khathi, DJ Olwee, Tumi Lane, Jaru da Damager’s producer in Brooklyn, Ishmael Morabe, Sliq Angel, Sabata Masoka, Kuli Roberts, Florent Lacasse in France, Weza Solange, gave me positive response all over Twitter and Facebook. People heard it in taxi ranks, night clubs, some called from London, Boston, Atlanta, Georgia, Nigeria, Angola and Zambia.
You recently received some good news from America, please share?
VGM: Cherri Simmons in Atlanta, the CEO of Lady Spinsters in Georgia, called me and said they would love to work with me. She heard about me from DJ Lesego who went to New York last year to represent South African DJs. They announced on Twitter and Facebook that Glodine Makapela is the new international face of female rappers for Ladyspinsters worldwide. Others auditioned but were not selected. The Nigerian artist and I were selected. They are busy now distributing my songs in America, Europe and all over Africa.
What would you like Sohlangan Elokshin to achieve?
VGM: I want 50 million South Africans to download it on iTunes, so that I can raise cash for my next album.
When is the music video going to be ready?
Music video is going to be edited next week. It will be ready for TV stations soon after that.