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Since the release of his first solo album, Fresh2Def, a lot has happened to young Da Les. His award-winning rap group Jozi are all but over, his BFF Bongani Fassie has been replaced by NBF, AKA. He has replaced the Ghetto Ruff management with his own management and booking agent. He has become a father, won a R1 million on a television show and has just released his second solo album. Therese Owen spoke to him about these big changes and was given an exclusive listening session with the young rapper.
‘You mustn’t mistake my confidence with arrogance,” grins the impossibly charming rapper, Da Les.
I can’t help but giggle when he says this. Often, when I encounter him, I think the only reason he calls himself “Da Les” is because “Da Brat” was already taken.
He can be impossibly irritating at times. The thing is, Lesley Mampe was born to be a star. He knows it and he knows you know it and he knows you know that he knows you know it. Impossible.
It certainly has been a journey having watched him grow from the early days of Jozi with Bongani Fassie, Ishmael and Crazy Lu and their revolutionary rap album, Muthaland Crunk to the irritatingly catchy teenage pop of his big solo hit Tippy Toes and the brilliantly dark F.I.R.E. Surprisingly, while Fassie is considerably more talented than Da Les, the latter has a far more exciting career ahead of him. This could be because he does not have the spectre of a legendary mother shadowing him.
Da Les sees it differently: “I was popular before I was famous,” he laughs. And then he repeats it, giggling even more: “Yeah, I was popular before I was famous. I grew up in Bryanston and a lot of my friends are rich. I am surrounded by girls, money and a lifestyle. Let’s face it, black people are getting wealthier and I am reflecting that life.
“Having said that, I recently played Rage in eMdloti and we killed it. That matric festival is 99 percent white. Then the next day I played Max’s in Umlazi and I also played Cape Town’s upmarket Shimmy Beach as well as corporates. Also, AKA and I are playing at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.”
Before I have a chance to ask him about his budding bromance with fellow rapper, AKA, this semi-ADD (attention deficit disorder) rich kid moves on to his album.
“The whole structure and formula of Mandela’s Money is like Fresh2Def. There is a really powerful intro stating what I am about, using excerpts of Mandela’s speeches. Then I go into the second song which is about me.”
But surely you can’t be as shallow as a puddle of spit. He considers this and then replies: “As my social responsibility I want to open skate parks in the townships.”
He then plays the first two tracks. Impressive. The second track has an old-school influence and is one of my faves on the album.
Da Les continues with his story of Mandela’s Money: “It then goes into some club bangers and three songs about girls. This first is No Kidding which is really romantic.”
Da Les, romantic?
“I’ve been romantic with some of the girls I’ve been with. I am a gentleman.
“You Already Know features Sphum and it talks about the intimacy of sex.”
The last girl track is called Dice and is set in a strip club with lyrics like: Call me Chocolate Daddy for the night. It’s a raunchy, cool track with rather radio-unfriendly lyrics, but it will be a popular live song.
Since our last interview in 2011 a lot has happened to Da Les.
“I did a lot of partying. I was also trying to find inspiration to do this album. It was very difficult. I would record songs and then just stop because I didn’t like them. They were boring. My last album was done by Bongani and it was an achievement as I always thought I had to be part of a group.”
The two are no longer close and Da Les prefers to leave it there: “I started hosting parties and DJ-ing. I’m all about the vibe”
It was after winning R1 million on SABC1’s Tropika Island of Treasure that he cemented his friendship with AKA and things started to change.
“I wanted to move to the US, but I was clowning around and partying. AKA said to me I was the business and needed to get focused, that music is what I do well. He started by getting me on to his big hit Control, featuring Maggz. I then used the winnings to build my own studio and did Heaven featuring the two of them. From that song I started recording this album.”
His main producers were Vam and new producers Deceptikonz and Big Boy. There is also a strong ballad written by 37mph called Deliver Us From Evil which shows a deeper, serious side to this playboy rapper.
Then things sped up at the end of last year. While performing in Los Angeles with Jozi as part of a Department of Arts and Culture showcase, his international skater friend, Felix, introduced him to hot- shot producer, Scoop de Ville (Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg). He was so impressed he gave Da Les a track which he recorded with the Hispanic rappers, Las Rakas. It’s called Busted. In turn, big music video director, Matt Alonso, heard the track and offered to produce a video for it.
Da Les flew to Los Angeles on a Thursday, shot the video and was back home the next Monday.
“It made me feel proud. They are the top dogs. They treated me like Lil’ Wayne. In LA it’s about who you know so for Matt to reach out to me is a big honour. It has really encouraged me.”
At the same time Kat Dahlia’s management called Ghetto Ruff’s owner, Lance Stehr, looking for a South African rapper. This resulted in a collaboration between Da Les and Dahlia called Clocks. It is all the rage on Metro FM and YFM.
While these are early days and the album is only set for release next month, it would appear the stage is set for big things for Da Les. He plans to return to the US in June for performances, to shoot more music videos and get on radio.
“I am a free-spirited boy from Sandton. I have always been a person to elevate whenever I do something.”