So, there goes the story of the dope rapper that went unnoticed by many, was loved by even more, but was unable to cope with the daunting struggles of breaking into the SA music industry, ending with the emcee deciding he’s calling it quits and only resurfacing years later on a “what ever happened to so-and-so?” tweet. We’ve heard it before.
Enter Lwansta who, with his hard work and persistence to be heard and appreciated, won’t let his story simmer down to an ending any time soon. His story is only starting to pick up.
I enjoyed writing this piece for two reasons. The first is because I enjoy writing about dope people; and the second is because of the amount of insight given into the mind of Lwansta.
Here’s a brief background story in case you’re not too clued up on him: Slowly becoming more and more well-known as one of the purest and most authentic emcees doing it right now, Lwansta is a rapper straight outta Kokstad, now pushing his rap in Durban while studying. In high school, The City of Gold was the initial plan, but that never really worked out. “I was getting Hype Magazine features and stuff from my bedroom. I wanted to arrive in Joburg with people already expecting me. I was really driven. Funny enough, my grinding found success in Joburg, Cape Town, East London, and NOT Durban. I seemed to skip Durban. I never took notice of it. My collaborations were between artists in those areas, but this was motivated by the fact that Durban was dominated by house music and kwaito around then; so I never really paid attention, only to end up in Durban. I made my last mixtape based on emotions I was met with since leaving home and living alone for the first time, here in Durban. So I’m without any regrets because the environment played a gorgeous role in how my sound turned out”, says Lwansta. The outcome was so ‘gorgeous’ it got him a nomination at the SA Hip Hop Awards last year for his mixtape ‘NORMVL’.
Since then, Lwansta’s been pushing his work through the socials, and all platforms that have caught on to how dope he really is. With his latest piece of work, the Lindiwe music video, Lwansta is proving why he should be taken seriously, not only as a rapper but as visual creative as well. “[People] need to remember that some of the most horrible songs out right now are hot because they were packaged very well. I’m talking beyond just cover art – packaging, understanding your market, and making sure that when they walk into the store they can tell your work apart from everyone else’s. That’s what I want to contribute. I’m a very intense DIY type of guy, not because I have all the skills, but because rejection, lack of assistance, lack of funding, and all that forces me to just learn how things are done, and to just fucking do them. The ‘Lindiwe Short Film’ and ‘NORMVL’ are good examples of projects I’ve completely packaged myself, with a helping hand or two.”
“I think, the choice of ‘Lindiwe’ as the single came from a very, almost, business minded train of thought where I was able to, through online research, find out which was the most impactful song on the mixtape. I’d read people quoting lines, relating, dedicating, all of that – it was the most popular song on there. But also, I chose ‘Lindiwe’ because, unlike all of the other songs with issues I’d laid to rest, the issue I discussed on ‘Lindiwe’ was one I was constantly confronted with: girls in my life, being close friends, and almost more. Lindiwe surrounded me everywhere I went. It was like I attracted that kind of girl, meanwhile I’d left the girl I wrote about in Kokstad, only to find two more whose stories I combined while writing the song. So it was something very real. People would ask ‘Who is she?’, ‘We wanna see Lindiwe’, so I took it upon myself to just create something exactly like what I had in mind. I took a weekend and one Wednesday and shot ‘Lindiwe’, dubbed it a short film and it was a wrap.”
52 000 views in just over a month is an impressive accomplishment, and one would only hope that it gets just as much love from the big platforms that our artists rely on to get even more recognition. There’s that constant tug of war over local TV and radio airplay between the international artists that we want, and the local artists that we need. It’s what we say we want to hear and what we’ll do to ensure it’s actually being played. Despite performing at Back To The City and at a HYPE Session among other cool stages this year alone, Lwansta has gone through the mill with this phenomenon. He describes how he’s had a small taste of mainstream success earlier in his come up, before he abandoned that sound in favour of what was done on NORMVL. The Lindiwe music video is important for more reasons than that fact that it tells a story that is relatable to so many people. In addition to what the actual song and gripping video portray, the ongoing odyssey of getting the video on TV is inspiring. “MTV just gave me that L today with my submission to get ‘Lindiwe’ on. I’ve been submitting for the past two months. It’s incredibly draining. I’m not running out of push, I’m running out of options. I’m at a stage now where I just want to forget and just make some new music.”
“The [2014 SA Hip Hop] nomination, right now, feels like a gold star on an assignment, but I’m that kid in class who nobody expected it from. It almost becomes a fleeting moment, like right now, it’s made a very small difference in my career, in a sense that when I add the nomination in my submission for whatever, it’s nothing. It doesn’t help me. I didn’t get any media coverage or whatever because I wasn’t the guy who won. I sound super bratty and ungrateful right now, don’t get me wrong, I almost cried the day I got nominated. I was nominated at the fucking SAHHAs and nobody seems to give two fucks about that, and I don’t get it. It hasn’t bothered me in a while since now, now that the awards are back… I got my first newspaper feature this year after making the top 2 at the DurexTheOne competition in Durban, and how I found out was fucking priceless! I was paying for some stuff at Checkers and the cashier congratulated me and told me to go grab Isolezwe.”
If you’ve heard Lwansta’s music, you’ll know that it’s honest and relatable, which is possibly what’s building his fan base day by day. “Emotion is my ammunition, and that’s not really anything I have control over, because I vent through music and art”, he says after honorably mentioning Okmalukoolkat and Spoek Mathambo for their approach and impact on SA’s music scene. Although he’s such an expressionist in his approach to the arts, being the demanding rap fan that I am, my interest in Lwansta’s music didn’t come as quickly as I would have liked. A few months back I mentioned how, despite Lwansta’s lyrical abilities ticking the boxes for me, I wanted more in the subject matter that he was spitting about. Interested in an elaboration, Lwantsa reached out to me. It was far from a lame ‘watchu tryna say?’ attitude. It was a clear attempt to understand what the people think about him. He puts the gesture simply: “I pay attention to what people on social media say because they’re paying attention. Yesterday, I read a tweet that read ‘Lwansta is a wannabe Hopsin’. I replied with ‘I don’t even like Hopsin’, you know? The same way I replied to you, without being rude or anything, just to correct where I feel there might be a bit of a misrepresentation. I never reply to anything spiteful , for their sake, because everyone is entitled to an opinion – whether it’s for retweets or whatever. I’ve accepted, at a very early stage, that people can say whatever they wanna say man, can’t stop them, so don’t let it bother you.”
Lwansta is for the people. He takes his time to listen to what the people are saying, sees what’s missing, and he puts energy into delivering what the people need, whether we know that we need it or not. “Mainstream success and recognition is very important because people will take you far more seriously when they see you somewhere they weren’t expecting you to be on. Then they’ll go back and apologize to that friend who tried to put them onto ‘that Lwansta music’. And also, for the fan base. You want your people to be proud of you, you know? Like, just to help them win those debates when they try show their friends you’re the shit.”
“Right now, in the midst of all this negativity in my emails, I’m writing for my next project titled ‘Go Play Outside’ which will be accompanied by a short film of its own. I want to dabble a bit more in that industry of film and script writing, to give my fan base a unique viewing experience. I really love visuals, so hopefully one day when I’m at a stage (financially) to release an album; I want it to be a visual album.”
Pictures: NORMVL and My Connect