BY HELEN HERIMBI
The rest of the country’s grade 12 pupils might be preparing for or already writing exams, but Kid Tini is also making time to be a student of the game. The rapper whose real name is Phiwe Unam Tini is well on his way to becoming a major player in the industry.This is clear on his debut mixtape, Coming of Age.
The 18-track offering takes listeners through the Eastern Cape-bred rapper’s journey from a 10-year-old who was just trying to emulate his then-rapping older brother, to becoming a teenager who tackles purpose, perceived privilege and, of course, pretty girls.
Kid Tini now lives (and goes to school) in Pretoria with his brother, Miso. Their surname is what led the older gent to name his independent record company Tinism Dot Com, which was once home to Ayanda Jiya, Ginger Trill and Flex Boogie. Coming of Age starts with Fight Every Fight, on which Kid Tini speaks about the trials he has faced so far.
On some parts of the tape, the artist lets us in on trying to find my way in the silence as he raps on Ghetto. Elsewhere, he addresses being in the shadow of already-established artists and the idea that he was signed because of nepotism.
“My label is my family because Tinism Dot Com is owned by my brother and his partner, J. Smallz,” he tells me over hot chocolate.
“So the general perception is that I got the easy way in and didn’t have to earn my stripes and struggle.
“They think I didn’t have to work too hard to be here, but the truth is, there were artists who were here before me on the label and obviously I was being measured on the same scale as they were on so to even breathe on the microphone I had to make sure the skill was there and that I was on the same level.”
He continues: “I always had to prove myself to my brother, fellow artists and the general public. Obviously, there are more fights in the come up and it’s outside of the studio now.”
Some of those fights unpack being included in the battle to be part of the hip hop conversations that heads have when they rate the newbies.
“Going into creating Coming of Age, it was never about us trying to fit in or be in those conversations or trying to overshadow anyone,” Kid Tini confesses.
“It was a personal thing. It was the story of my life and I didn’t want to tell that story over a trap beat because that’s what’s hot right now. That’s seasonal music. What happens when people don’t like trap anymore?
“I was trying to make timeless music. I think that alone was enough to attract people to the music. We weren’t trying to compete with whomever is hot right now. Don’t get me wrong, those people are killing it right now, but for us, it’s not a popularity contest. I’m glad we managed to get into the same convos, but that wasn’t the end goal.”
Interestingly, there is a strong boxing motif in key parts of the tape. The title track, for instance, sets the scene of Kid Tini as a boxer, his brother as his trainer (he gives the Kid advice in lieu of a chorus) and the obstacles he faces on his way to, well, coming of age in rap, as his opponent.
“I’m a big boxing fan,” he exclaims.
“It stems from my family. You’d think I’d say my dad, but it’s my mom who is very into the sport. And her mom and her side of the family love boxing. So growing up, my brother and I always bonded over Fight Night games on Playstation. He would be Ali and I’d be Roy Jones or whomever and we’d just dance around the ring. It was a culture thing. If we weren’t in studio, we were playing that. So the concept of Coming of Age stemmed from that.
“It was an extended metaphor. I saw myself as a contender or fighter, fighting the forces in entertainment, or me having to prove myself to the masses. It was easy to relate to because I felt like it could be the soundtrack to Rocky.”
Aside from the tape, Kid Tini has been on people’s lips because of his outstanding verse on DJ Switch’s Now or Never Remix which also featured the likes of Proverb, Zakwe, Youngsta and Priddy Ugly. He smiles when I bring this up and then comments:
“When we got the call to do the remix, it was like ‘yo!’ It was a dope opportunity. It was big because it’s DJ Switch and other big names on it, but with me being a few months into the game, it was huge for me. I wouldn’t say my head got big because I’m still out here working and trying to get better.”
Download Kid Tini’s Coming of Age online and follow him on social media.