Though he has yet to drop a debut album, South African emcee Zuluboy has generated a deserving buzz in the past couple years by performing at two highly-publicized UN-designated events: last year’s Global Hip-Hop Summit in South Africa, and this year’s World Urban Festival in Canada. The festivals are fitting performances for the 23-year-old, as much of his music touches on a number of social issues.
Before his performance at the World Urban Festival in late June, Zuluboy sat down with MVRemix for the following interview. As he discusses his beginnings, his motivation and his fight against the commercial music back at home, it is a beautiful reminder that hip-hop is truly a global culture.
MVRemix: Why did you decide to perform at today’s World Urban Festival?
Zuluboy: I got invited by the festival, because I was taking part in the last Hip-Hop Summit that was happening in South Africa. Some people from the UN were really impressed by what they saw and they wanted me to partake in this one too.
MVRemix: Have you been to Canada before?
Zuluboy: No, it’s my first time.
MVRemix: So you’ve only been here for two days, but what do you think of it so far?
Zuluboy: I think it’s a nice place but with a whole lot of ignorance.
MVRemix: How so?
Zuluboy: I think people are too ignorant. I was on Granville Street––I’ve been there for two nights––and I see stuff that I won’t normally see at home. I’ll see a guy and a lady naked, with just their underwear, and they’re walking down the street. I’m like “Yo! Take it easy!” [Laughs] At home, you’d probably get locked up for public indecency. And people here, they have a misconception that if you come from Africa, that you come from a jungle. That’s why that I say that some of them are really ignorant. And some of them hold their bags closer and they treat you differently because you’re black.
MVRemix: You noticed that here?
Zuluboy: Yeah, I noticed it. But it’s not like other places like New York. But you do notice the barriers, the things that you can’t see or do because you’re black.
MVRemix: How were you introduced to hip-hop?
Zuluboy: I was introduced to hip-hop by my older cousin. He’d come through at home with tapes, way back in the days of the South Bronx and KRS One, you know? We’d chill and listen to it. The next level that I took it to was basically when we’d chill on sewage. We have these sewage pipes in my neighborhood; it’s on the pavement. It’s a nice place to actually chill and sit. You know on the side of your pavement you have where the water runs when it’s raining and goes down into the drain? We’d chill there and we’d rap, we’d floss that “I know more than you.” We’d actually stop playing, write it down, get to meditate on other people’s rhymes, like your NWA. I started getting jealous because they knew more than me, so I wanted to come through with something different, which was write my own rhymes. So I started writing my own stuff in 1994 and I started upping the game. That’s how I got introduced to hip-hop.
MVRemix: How old were you when you first started listening to hip-hop?
Zuluboy: I think I was 13, 14.
MVRemix: So who are some of your influences today? Who do you listen to now?
Today? Mos Def. Black Thought from the Roots. A little bit of 2Pac and Biggie, since they live in all of us, but I’m more of an old-school follower than this new stuff.
MVRemix: Yeah, a lot of people are. The “golden age” of hip-hop, the ’90s…
Zuluboy: That’s the beautiful stuff. Not the flossing…
MVRemix: But that’s what sells.
Zuluboy: Yeah, that’s what sells. What sells is basically determined by the people who craft the art. When we all craft the art in the right way, it will sell. Until someone tries and dirties the game, and tries to sell by him being rich and big and being a baller. For example, MC Lyte, she used to kick mad ass rhymes, but then when she upped the game, the first track was “Ladies Night,” you know, when all the ladies, Da Brat and them, got together and they started taking off their clothes. They started to sell. That’s when they lost the true scent of hip-hop, the true substance of the art.
MVRemix: MC Lyte did an Old Navy commercial a while back.
Zuluboy: For real? MC Lyte, I think she’s tight. Well, she was tight.
MVRemix: But you can’t get mad at them for getting their money.
Zuluboy: But is it really about making money?
MVRemix: What if someone offered you 50 Gs to do—
Zuluboy: A commercial?
MVRemix: Yeah. A jewelry commercial or something.
Zuluboy: Yeah. I would, actually. But you gotta pay me well, because my reputation is at stake, because I’m basically a [UN] Messenger of Truth. That’s how I break it down.
MVRemix: Tell me about South African hip-hop.
Zuluboy: It has grown, you know. I remember way back in ’98, I had my first demo and was looking for a deal with these major labels. They told me that if you’re not doing this thing called kwaito—kwaito is this genre of local music that’s from the South African ghetto—you will not sell. Labels will not be interested in you. They’re like, “Yo, you American wannabes,” this and that, this and that. So now, hip-hop has grown because it’s the biggest thing. Even though kwaito still sells more than hip-hop at home, it’s still growing.
MVRemix: Give me an example of what kwaito is like.
Zuluboy: Kwaito music is just a repetition of shit. They’ll sing one hook for the whole song. They have like two catchphrases for the whole joint, then a little bit of a beat for a good minute, then come again with the same catchphrase.
MVRemix: So it’s dance music, with not much of a—
Zuluboy: It is dance music. There’s not much of a message behind it. People want to get drunk and get loud and just dance.
MVRemix: Do you think that’s comparable to some types of commercial rap over here?
Zuluboy: Yeah, some of that, yo. Cuz commercial hip-hop is real gimmicky and South Africa’s just like that with its kwaito music. It has kwaito music and it has house music that’s starting to come. But I think I can compare it to commercial hip-hop, Lil Jon and stuff like that. I can. And I’m glad I’m not doing that.
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"They told me that if you're not doing this thing called kwaito--kwaito is this genre of local music that's from the South African ghetto--you will not sell. Labels will not be interested in you. They're like, "Yo, you American wannabes..."