Cut from a different cloth

It’s a blistering Thursday afternoon in Randburg, the sun piercing punishingly through a cloudless sky. Inside the Eagle Entertainment offices, 21-year-old rapper Shane Eagle lies face-up across a couch, eyes fixed on his cellphone. He looks peaceful, comfortable, content.

It’s only been a couple of days since Eagle released his debut album Yellow and the buzz has been relentless. Fans have quickly given their approval, lauding it for its introspective storytelling and how his sound breaks away from the norm.

When I last spoke with Eagle in December, he’d just finished shooting the video for his single featuring BigStar, Top Floor. “The reason I made Top Floor is because I wanted something fun and I didn’t want to do anything trap,” he explained. “I don’t like being boxed in.”

This was Shane Eagle, a young, trendy rapper claiming he didn’t want to do trap. Why not, I thought. You have the look, you have the talent and the market is receptive to trap music.

But Eagle had different plans.

Fast forward 10 or so months and Eagle has successfully sidestepped the conventional route and forged his own identity.

Eagle is aware of his prodigious talents, and on Yellow these talents resonate through a nostalgic self-awareness that’s spawned comparisons to the likes of J. Cole and Nas.

This office space is only a few weeks old and, after we move into the boardroom, Eagle shares his pride. “If we want to do six-figure deals, it’s like,” he bangs on the table, “come talk to me in my office now.”

On the topic of what he aims to achieve with this album, he explains: “I hope that this album translates the way that me and my team feel about it, because it’s easy to misinterpret it. Especially because I know there’s never been an album like that. 

"Everybody’s used to a certain thing. I feel like it got to a point where I just started making the music I want to hear. In a sense, I cut out the masses and what everyone’s whispering in my ear and what they’re listening to. I was like, ‘f*** that, I want to make what I want to make’.”

Since his claim to fame as a contestant on rap competition Vuzu Hustle, where many wrote him off as a limited rapper with sell-able looks, he’s gradually proven himself a true MC, with impressive singles and features such as Way Up, Julia, Mayo and Now or Never.

His goal from the onset was to use the show as a platform to be seen before eventually letting his music do the talking. “It’s a TV show, so being an artist you’re limited on it. I wanted to win it at one point, but my mentality was, ‘I’m just here to solidify the next step because this isn’t gonna last forever.’ I was trying to make sure everyone sees me and then from there, try to build.”

Although his longtime friend and producer, Shooter did most of Yellow’s production work, there were also some notable contributions to the album from SP Dubb and Tay Beats.

While they were working on the album, he and Shooter would go to the vinyl store and pick out samples and, for the sake of inspiration, just listen to some classics from the likes of Craig Mack, Nas and Tupac.

He tried to isolate himself from mainstream music and cut out the noise to make sure he was crafting an album that was pure and real. And it worked.

“Out of the majority of what everyone is saying, besides them saying that the album is amazing, is thank you,” he says. “Everybody is just saying thank you. Now there’s a new dynamic to the whole South African hip hop thing. Now I don’t have to have that radio joint, I don’t have to do this or that, like you can just do you - and that’s what I’m doing, man.”

He has lofty ambitions. “I don’t care about being hot for now. I’m trying to take this to where it’s never been. Ever. It’s like how am I gonna get there if I’m not the best at what I’m doing. What’s the point of doing something if you’re not trying to be the best at it? I’m trying to put out work where if someone plays a J. Cole record or a Kendrick Lamar record I’m on the same level. I’m not trying to be the best in Africa, I’m trying to be the best in the world.”

Words by @ShingaiDarangwa