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Bassline’s rehearsal room number three is hot. Zuluboy and his band – including Bongo Riot and Vuyo Tyolo as back-up singers – are practising the set that the rapper is to perform at his album launch the next day. “One more song?” asks Zuluboy’s guitarist, but the band is having so much fun jamming that he doesn’t need to ask, so he just smiles and says: “We’ll try not to rock it out too much.” But rock on they do. Zuluboy’s fourth album, Crisis Management, is a milieu of music that is a definite departure from the traditional sounds and Zulu rhymes that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from the man born Mxolosi Majozi.
On this album, of which Zuluboy is executive producer, he produces the big beat bangers that are a nod to the boom bap sound and even uses the talents of Martin Rocka for a more alternative sound. “I think Linkin Park set the trend,” he tells me when the band breaks for lunch. “They were the band who helped build Jay-Z’s career.” While we may not agree about Chester and ‘em making the Jiggaman into a star, we can agree that Zuluboy’s mash-ups of rock and rap are easy on the ear.
“I’ve always been musical,” he says of this departure. “I check out Maxi Jazz, Charlie Mingus and those ensembles at Pretoria Tech. I don’t have a boundary for music. All this labelling of music fights against the true definition of what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to be free.”
The pursuit and denial of freedom is a huge theme in Crisis Management and as usual, social consciousness permeates in Zuluboy’s second single, Marikana. The title is obviously derived from the nation’s recent mining tragedy and he launched it to the masses at the inaugural South African Hip Hop Awards.
“Firstly, the beat is uncompromisingly headbanger hip-hop,” he shares, “and I think in hip-hop, there’s no leadership. Hip hop mustn’t be a tool to show off how much you have.”
Instead, Zuluboy reckons it should be a tool to change perceptions and the world. One way he is practising what he preaches is by working with Deaf SA. In addition to featuring an interpreter at his live performances, Zuluboy shows me a video on his phone of a deaf girl rapping using sign language.
He isn’t yet all that fluent in sign language but it’s clear that he’s actively involved in the cause.
“Great artists take on charities,” he says. “I choose to work with deaf people. If a [deaf] child is raped, who is there to hear their complaint? They are people of actions and they feel the music so you can tell by their bodies swaying what the tempo of the rhyme is.” Rapping in English way more than he used to, Zuluboy – who was discovered by Sipho Sithole of Native Rhythms – explains that Crisis Management is one of three albums in a new deal that he signed with the Gallo record label. Saying Crisis Management begins with “self realisation as people need to know who they are” it becomes clear that whether he rocks out or kicks rhymes this new Zuluboy wants to be heard.
• Crisis Management is now in stores.