With his introspective debut album now out, the outspoken Chad da Don had a heart-to-heart with Helen Herimbi
The restaurant’s manager puts his hand on Chad da Don’s shoulder and proudly smiles at me. He explains that he’s known the rapper, whose real name is Chad Mansoor, since he was about 10 or 11 years old, when he used to play soccer for the national squad.
The Pretoria-bred rapper and I meet in Centurion and sit down to talk about his debut album, The Book of Chad. Released under his own label, DCM Entertainment, it features a slew of artists he’s known for years.
The look on the manager’s face is one that cares that Chad’s on the path to musical success, but is more proud that he’s still standing in real life. Over 22 tracks, this debut lets us into the heart of a now 23-year-old who grew up with an abusive father.
Bearing the brunt of the abuse, he and his mother survived being held hostage by his father when Chad was 14, and the former soccer and golf prodigy found refuge in rap.
“At 8 years old,” Chad starts, “my sister played me a rap song. She would always tell me to remember the lyrics. That was my homework. She’s the main reason I started to rap – and also, my pain and struggle growing up. Rap was my only hope. Kids have the same things that I had: guns to their heads, getting beaten up. There’s abuse going on in the world. You need to tell your story to motivate them to carry on and live their dreams.”
With the production by the Grammy-winning Brian Soko, Bonafide Billi and more and featuring the likes of BETR Gang’s Buks, RefiSings, LCNVL, Nasty C and Kyle Deutsch, Chad is doing just that.
It’s not an entirely dark album. There’s the catchy money anthem, EFT, featuring Soko and the fun(ny) realisation in Sorry Mom, I’m Moving Out featuring someone Chad’s “known since grade two”, Anatii.
On Time to Go, Chad raps: Guess I’m from an era where we don’t get along with actors/ that carry nothing heavy on them – a bunch of Ross Jackers.”
I ask him if the line refers to rapper, Ross Jack, since I haven’t heard of a beef between the two. “That’s not even beef,” he says nonchalantly. “It’s just a line that came into my head so I just had to get it out of the way.”
Chad, who has the flu when we meet, unpacks the line. “The label signed him, but what has he done,” he rhetorically asks.
“Labels are signing some artists and giving them these amazing deals with airplay, but where’s your fanbase? You can’t have 1 000 followers on Twitter if you’re signed to a label for five years. Who are these labels getting behind then? I don’t feel like some people deserve to get the deals that they get. That’s why I went independent.”
Last year, he cut ties with Cassper Nyovest’s Family Tree label and – through the artwork of the song, Chad Is Better – cut off Mr Fill Up The Dome’s iconic ponytail too. Chad says starting his DCM label is “the most amazing thing.”
He adds: “Nobody can tell me when I have to drop or what I should do. Some of my songs were made during that (Family Tree) time and I wasn’t allowed to put them out. I was like: ‘Why?’ I don’t think that’s fair.”
So Chad Is Better, which mimics Nyovest’s infectious Doc Shebeleza chorus, continues the catharsis that The Book of Chad has provided the rapper.
“I thought that homie (Nyovest) would’ve at least been true to me like I was to him,” Chad says. “Before his success, I was there. Before Gusheshe, he asked me if he could be on my song, Hola. People say he put me on. You don’t have any clue where I come from.
“I do like Cassper, he’s a dope rapper. But we got into the label thing and I wasn’t allowed to release music for a while and, like I said, I don’t blame anyone. When you’re the biggest rapper, it’s all about you. But you should have never asked me to be a part of your squad then. Chad is Better is this boy breaking out of this cage and just being himself and you seeing his greatness and power that people never thought he had.”
This greatness was cemented by responding to an altar call that Chad believes was especially for him. Chad says he “was going down the wrong road and didn’t believe in God and didn’t have faith because of what happened to me”. But then he went to the Christian Revival Church one day and Pastor At Boshoff – who closes the album with a message about never being a quitter – got through to him.
“He’s my hero,” Chad says. “He saved my life. He put his hand on me and said: ‘God has a plan for your life. God is going to make you touch the world, not your country, the whole world’. I believed it and never looked back.”
Now he looks toward the future. His next album will be called Another Chapter: Free Chad. He says: “It will be me doing trap music. That’s why it’s Free Chad. Because I’m trapped.
“Eventually, I will move on to doing a rock album. I want to do a lot of things. No, I’m going to do a lot of things.”
The Book of Chad is available now.