‘PEOPLE just find it hard to hold back when the song comes on. I think it is the energy that comes with it that dictates how people should behave,” says a nonchalant KO about his hit track, Caracara.
We are sitting in the yard of a Sowetan home which KO (pictured) passes through every now and then to buy some soul food. Today he is having tripe and pap, with a cup of soup, and judging by the look on his face, it’s delicious.
“It gives us a good feeling that people are loving the song and it can hold its own when played next to the foreign stuff,” he says while tucking into the grub.
In his deceptively relaxed demeanour, KO fails to hide the fact that he knows Caracara is one of the biggest songs this year. He plays it cool, like rappers should, but if you look closely you can almost see the pride.
“If you really think about it, the reason why these guys over- seas do it big in their countries is because there is nothing else that reflects them, other than their music. The reason why kwaito had such a huge impact was that it was unique to us. No other country could claim the genre as theirs,” he says with significant enthusiasm.
“When kwaito’s popularity waned we saw the rise of hip hop in South Africa, but it was nowhere near as big as kwaito because South Africans could not relate.
“Basically, we took American beats and put our lyrics in vernacular. That worked for a bit, but the sound was not quite right. It wasn’t us. Our country is driven by sound and you can say the most intellectual stuff lyrically, but if the music is not connecting with the people then you might as well shut the f**k up,” he says.
“The worst mistake that we made was that we did not take the baton from kwaito dudes when they were at their helm. If anything, we were against them.
“There was a young crossfire, especially at the end of the kwaito run. Mzekezeke came out with Makokorosh which was directed at rappers. We felt disrespected and it gave us a rebellious attitude and we didn’t want to do anything with them,” he confesses.
Yet there remained a need for a brand of hip hop with a sound that was truly South African. Now, picking up on this gap, KO thought long and hard about what his next project should sound like.
“I am not disregarding everything that has happened in hip hop over the years in the country. You have songs like HHP’s Tswaka, Teargas’ Mhlobo Wami and Skwatta Kamp’s Umoya which all did what we are doing now. We have come to a time when songs like Gusheshe, Doc Shebeleza and Amantombazane are pursuing that truly South African sound. We are all kwaito- influenced rappers and that is something that is unique to us,” he says.
For him, the war between the early rappers and kwaito musos from a decade ago impeded the growth of South African hip hop.
“I feel like, as Teargas, we are about 10 years late and only in the ninth year we are figuring out the sound we should have been pursuing when we first started.
“Although it’s never too late, we should have figured this out earlier. The young guys doing this now are part of the pioneers of a new era and for me to be relevant in 2014 is humbling and motivating,” he says.
KO shifts the conversation to one of his band members, Ma-E from Teargas, pointing out how he, too, is following the same formula.
“He has just released a song called Ugogo which pretty much follows the same pattern. I am confident it, too, will be just as big as Caracara.”
Speaking of Caracara, KO takes us through the meaning of the song and what inspired the rapper to pen it the way he did.
“It’s a party joint which talks about the caracara, which is an old-school van that we used to go to parties in back in the day. It was what the public taxi is today.
“So the song is just a metaphor about partying and if you know the caracara, you know what it represents and what comes with it,” he explains.
The video is aptly shot in Soweto with a few people like MTV’s Nomuzi Mabena and rapper Slikour making cameo appearances. While the video is doing well now, KO was uncertain about it initially.
“I was worried because it came out on the same day with Doc Shebeleza and Congratulate. I remember the last editing session of Caracara: I was freaking out because as Teargas we made high- end videos and compared to that, Caracara just looked low-budget,” he says.
With the number of YouTube views proving him unnecessarily concerned, KO admits that he now knows he has struck gold.
“We knew it would be a smash- hit, but we didn’t know how big it would be. If it would be big at all, with thought it would be as big as AKA’s Jealousy or Ricky Rick’s Amantombazane, but it surpassed all that.
“Just the other day it hit 800 000 views on YouTube and the song that was big before Caracara was the Beatenberg and DJ Clock song, Pluto.
“Clock had locked his position as the one with song of the year and that has changed.
“Our plan wasn’t even to surpass him, but considering that he is still sitting on 700 000 views, yet his song came out way before ours, it shows we are doing something right,” he says.
He calls the new sound “skanda” in an effort to give it an identity and, in his mind, the genre is here to stay.
“Mark my words, by next year what we are doing now, this skanda thing, is going to be one of the craziest things that we ever did in South African music and you have me on record saying it,” he pledges.
An album is in the works and, judging by the samples that he has us listen to during lunch, there is much more from where Caracara came.
“We are not going back. Skanda is the future of South African hip hop and I’m proud to be part of the transformation,” he says, bopping his head to his unreleased music.