Award-winning South African hip-hop artist and record producer AKA went to sound engineer school because “I needed a fancy something to make sure that my parents would let me go do this music thing.” If nothing else, here’s where one can zero in on the rapper’s unwavering determination to make it to the big time.
“I really went to go study at the sound engineer school because they had a studio,” quips AKA, whose small talk jokes run as long as his limbs. “I learned how to use Pro Tools and eventually learned to understand the language of sound. I understand sonically how to get what’s in my mind into words.”
Born Kiernan Jarryd Forbes in Cape Town and raised in Johannesburg, AKA began his career as an MC in the South African band called Entity before parting ways and eventually embarking on a solo career in 2009.
Hits like “Mistakes,” “In My Walk” and “Do It” carried him to the No. 1 spot on the South African 5FM Top 40. His solo debut, Altar Ego, earned him a slew of Metro FM Music Awards, including in the categories of Best Newcomer, Best Hip Hop Solo Act and Best Produced Album. The result of such honors culminated in his being crowned the “Prince of South African Rap.”
An opener for the likes of Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar among others, AKA continues to foster a musical vein between the Americas and South Africa fusing the sounds of Afrobeat, trap, hip-hop and Afropop. Songs like “Fela in Versace” and “Fully In” stand as a testament to AKA’s unique versatility and, therefore, reach. Is it any wonder he’s up for a 2019 BET Award in the category of Best International Act?
What’s more, AKA put us on game concerning a few things related to his native South Africa and to his musical influence. Here are five things we learned from speaking with the artist. Make sure to catch this year’s BET Awards on Sunday (June 23), live from the Microsoft Theater.
“Basically, it’s a juxtaposition to imagine Fela Kuti wearing Versace. It’s just like a mood. Fela is a king. He’s a legend. He’s an icon of Africa, so for you to bring those worlds together in your mind, it sounds interesting. It sounds catchy. It’s like, ‘Oh, what would it be like if Fela was in a silk Versace shirt?’ That was the mood and vibe in which the song was created. We just wanted something quirky, something African and something with a nice vibe to it. If you watch the music video and you listen to the music, it has that royal, iconic African kind of thought.”
“We had this period in South African music called bubblegum in the ‘80s. It was South African pop music with the likes of Afropop singer Brenda Fassie. There was also Johnny Clegg as far as South African music goes, who my dad was really into.”
“Cape Town is dope. It’s a city that is very complex. It’s very complicated. I moved from Cape Town when I was 6 years old to Johannesburg. Johannesburg is where I would actually consider myself from, because I lived there since I was about 7 years old. Cape Town is very separated. People keep to themselves. I would say that it feels like it is it’s own country within South Africa, because it’s very different. It’s very tourist-orientated. It is also the birthplace of where all the culture comes from. All the best athletes come from Cape Town. The best musicians. But Johannesburg is where it all gets mixed up. It’s like completely mixed up, and nobody is actually from Johannesburg.”
“The main distinction is that rap and hip-hop music is all about what the person writing it or recording it has gone through [and] where they are from. So by virtue of being from different places, the content is going to be different. The slang we use is different. The terms we use is different. The sound is different. The content. Everything. Hip-hop is the one genre that is very dependent on where you’re from. If you’re authentic, you’re going to sound like the place you’re from.”
“My Top 5 would have to be Kanye West, Jay-Z — I gotta have them. Then there’s Nas, he also has to be there. Eminem and… then it's like the last part is a cross between Kendrick, Drake and Andre 3000. That’s a fair Top 5, right?” [Laughs]