Da L.E.S’s studio, which is located in the basement of his sprawling Bryanston mansion, is the size of a small home. Wrapped around the upper reaches of its high walls are murals depicting iconic musicians such as Charlie Parker, Billy Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. On one side of the wall, much lower than the murals, is a huge shelf lined with hundreds of vinyls and, nearby, clad in a well-fitted blue suit is Da L.E.S, mic in his left hand, rapping to a few of his classics over the years. “We do everything here,” explains DJ D Double D, who’s also in a suit (their dressed for a themed photoshoot) and mixing Da L.E.S's set for an upcoming show from the DJing decks close by. “We don’t need to go anywhere and book rehearsal space, we have everything we need here."
Gemini Major, who is the focal point of this interview following his recent announcement that he’d left Cassper Nyovest’s Family Tree imprint to partner with Da L.E.S’s Fresh 2 Def Productions, is yet to arrive, apparently held up at another appointment, and so Da L.E.S and I move to a small room just outside the studio to chat about this partnership. “Look, I’ve been working on Fresh 2 Def Productions for a very long time,” he explains.
“And I feel like I just had to look at a couple of models from a business perspective. And one of the models that I found was very difficult is being an artist and also signing another artist and kind of managing that whole process. I looked at some models that they use in America where you kind of create partnerships with artists, which allows them to not only be independent, but to be their own boss as well, so they can push their own vision and chase their goals.” Apart from Gemini, Fresh 2 Def Productions has also partnered with the likes of Yanga, DJ D Double D and G Baby.
Despite the suddenness of the announcement, it is hardly surprising that Da L.E.S and Gemini have joined forces. They’ve been virtually inseparable since the release of Da L.E.S’s Gemini featured single, Lifestyle, with the pair regularly performing at TV shows and gigs around the country. “This year marks my 10 years in the game,” he says. “So, we’re working on an album, a DVD and documentary. We’re also working on a special performance in October or so.”
Then, hesitantly, he adds, “And we’ve also got something special, a dope surprise coming,” A few hours later, Da L.E.S and his other affiliates take to social media to announce the release of their surprise album, F2D Presents: Hall of Fame. When Gemini finally arrives, he rushes into the recording booth to change into his suit. Da L.E.S, Yanga and DJ D Double D have all been waiting for a while now to do a photoshoot together.
After a few shots inside the studio, in front of the vinyls, we move outside onto the vast courtyard, where they pose for a few more. When we eventually steal some time to do our interview, Gemini makes a point of clarifying his gratitude to Family Tree for giving him this platform and allowing him to leave amicably. He maintains that there is no animosity between the two parties.
“Basically, I sat down and I tried to picture where I want to see myself in three years,” he explains of his decision to found his Rudebuoy Major record label and partner with Da L.E.S. “It’s something I always wanted to do, that’s why I got into music in the first place, I always helped others from behind the decks. I feel like there’s no better time to make that move and take that initiative, I’m growing old now.” Still only 26 years old, Gemini is hardly “growing old”. But such has been his prolificacy over the past few years, as both a producer and a recording artist, that he feels it’s time for new and bigger challenges.
It’s not easy labeling Gemini as an artist. He’s dabbled in gospel music, scored music for television shows and regularly makes music under the genres of rap, dancehall, R&B and reggae. “I grew up to a lot of different music. One of my uncles used to listen to a lot of country and western music. Then I’ve got another uncle who’s a big Kwaito fan. My brothers were straight up dancehall and my cousin was just hip hop.”
He’s equally versatile as a producer. “I learn a lot from the mistakes that other producers make,” he explains. “You tend to do one thing and you limit yourself. I’m a music producer bro, I’m not a hip hop producer or dancehall or whatever. I’m a full on music super producer, that’s me. I like to experiment and expand.”
After his exploits last year, many expected him to take home the Producer of the Year award at the 2016 SA Hip Hop Awards, but he lost out to Tweezy. “I just told myself let’s move on. At the end of the day I don’t make music for the awards, I make music because it’s something that I love, so it’s not something that I make a big deal of,” he says, before adding, “But I’ll definitely be disappointed if I don’t get it this year.”