Entry to the Greenstone Ridge Estate in Johannesburg is impeded by a signpost in the middle of the driveway. Among its long list of security instructions, it informs visitors that in order to gain entry to the premises, the guards are required to inspect the boot. It’s a no-nonsense security measure that befits the newfound star status of one of Mozambique’s foremost artists, Laylizzy, who’s staying here for a couple days. His label, Geobek Records, is based here and, despite still residing in Mozambique, Laylizzy expects to be coming here more often now that his music is also starting to take off in South Africa.
When I arrive at the flat, I find Laylizzy’s award-winning producer, Ellputo, on his keyboard and laptop, working on some music. The two have been collaborators since Laylizzy started rapping at the age of 15 and have cooked up several hits over the years. A week before our meeting, Laylizzy won the award for Best Hip Hop Act at the Vodacom Ring back Tunes Awards in Mozambique. It’s a milestone he doesn’t take lightly and a nod to the growth of the Mozambican music industry.
“Better videos are coming,” he says. “Even performances. Before, for example, I could go to a show and just have a microphone – not even a mic stand – crappy sound and have to perform. But now the artist does the sound check – he looks at the stage and says, ‘I need a light here, I need a light there, I need this type of mic and my band needs this and that.’ So we’re growing, because we’re a young industry in Mozambique and music is just starting to blow up big.”
The 28-year-old rapper’s star has been on the rise since he released his first major video, Tha Crew, in December 2015. He recalls how his grandmother passed away on the same day and how it ended on a bittersweet note.
“At the end of that day, as we were shooting the last part, Ellputo got a call to say that we’d just won the Best Hip Hop act at the Mozambique Music Awards. It was my first award. So a lot of things happened that day. That was my first big video, that was the biggest single in Mozambique throughout 2016 and on the same day, my grandma passed. But at the same time she gave me all the blessings from heaven.” Those blessings have been flowing ever since. Two months later, his career had another high point when he featured AKA on his single, Hello, which is still on high rotation on local music channels today.
A few weeks after its release, AKA invited Laylizzy to appear at his inaugural Supa Mega Show in Soweto last April.
That was only his second live performance in SA and he recalls being nervous and momentarily starstruck at seeing the likes of Da L.E.S – before shaking off the feeling and reminding himself, “You’re a star, too.” Five months later, he returned the favour by bringing AKA to his sold-out show in Mozambique.
His connection to South Africa has gradually improved since then, as evidenced by the copy of the latest issue of Hype Magazine that’s perched on the table, his face plastered across its cover.
He can also add to his roll of honour the acknowledgement of being Mozambique’s first artist to be verified on Facebook and Instagram. Laylizzy is at his most animated when his manager enters the room and tells him that a major sneaker company has a package waiting for him to collect. He’s a major sneakerhead who, in high school, used to buy and resell sneakers for profit. When he plays me some unreleased and still unfinished music, most of the songs feature the names of South African rappers who he wants to feature on each song.
My favourite song of the lot is Forever. Although it’s got some sharp bars, Forever is a pop ballad that stands out because of the smooth singing that Laylizzy performs on it. “I just went in the booth, heard the beat and just started freestyling the hook,” he explains. “Then I was, like, maybe this could be something. It wasn’t even part of the plan.” Laylizzy has long had an interest in singing, one that was sparked by growing up in a home with three women who regularly listened to singers like Aaliyah. So, when singing started to become popular within hip hop a few years ago, he became excited by the prospect of grooming and showcasing his vocal range.
“I rap, I sing. So when it’s time for bars, I do bars. When it’s time for singing catchy hooks, I do that. I’ve always tried to be as versatile as possible.” His versatility will be on full view when he releases the album he’s currently in the process of recording. If the music he’s working on right now is anything to go by, it will be Laylizzy’s biggest year yet.