South Africa’s Hip-Hop King Rises In K.O

When we think of kings of hip-hop our minds often automatically drift to the U.S or Europe – rarely do we think of Africa, a continent that in size could fit the U.S, Europe, China, Japan – and India.

Hailed on social media as the South African King of hip-hop: “I think everyone is the King, as long as you are doing something authentic and people can resonate with you and your craft then that’s all you need”. A far cry away from the height of summer in South Africa, I head to East London on a cold, wet and windy evening to meet with K.O, a South African hip-hop artist and Cashtime Records label founder.

K.O is a veteran, starting in the game in 2005 in a hip-hop group called Teargas, he released four successful albums, before going solo in 2013. ‘I seem to have a lot loyal fans who stick with me through thick and thin’ K.O says. K.O isn’t just a rapper, he’s fast on his way to becoming Africa’s answer to P Diddy; ‘I want to shape the complexion of hip-hop, not just in South Africa but the whole of Africa. My dream is to become one of the biggest hip-hop moguls in Africa”. K.O co-founded Cashtime Life in 2010 – a record label and clothing line based in Johannesburg, seeing his music as a platform to do many more things.

On describing his authentic sound K.O explains; “My stuff isn’t fabricated, it’s real. It’s me telling my story and not trying to conform”. K.O is right, in April this year he bagged Record of The Year at the South African Music Awards – the SA equivalent to the Grammy’s – for his infectious track ‘Cara Cara’, a distinctively South African tune about a Volkswagen Microbus. “When I recorded the song, I felt it was going to be a hit… I wanted to change history. So it put that out there into the universe. Seeing that dream come into reality was a blessing.” K.O has every right to feel blessed; featuring fellow South African KiD X, the song was the first hip-hop song to win the prestigious South African award, blending a mixture of languages, it became a viral success, the first of its kind in South Africa, and it now has over 2 million YouTube views.

Throughout the history of hip-hop, rappers have also had a close relationship with their cars, from Eazy-E cruising down the street in his 64 in 1987 in ‘Boyz-N-The Hood’ to OutKast’s 1996 “Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)“. I’m guilty of it myself, you’ll find me bumping to a tune about a Cadillac, yet have I even seen one in the flesh? Nope. What is it about an old school 90’s VW that made it so popular with South African listeners? “That particular vehicle influenced South African urban culture so much back in the day. It was our means of transport, going to schools, parties – it had such a huge impact” K.O explains. “Last year everything was going so retro, and I wanted to revive that energy… One thing that was missing in SA was that people were so consumed by what was going on internationally, they had forgotten their own cultural heritage and what was happening locally”.

The beat of CaraCara alone is infectious; it has a hint of dominant South African house scene as well as traces of traditional hip-hop sounds. With a country with 11 official languages, it’s easy to think that a song would be unable to have such a huge impact: “that particular song [Caracara] was in Zula – but it transcended barriers – white people were jamming to it. It’s probably the biggest urban song to appeal across the races and languages since Mandoza’s Nkalakatha

So what’s the future for a man who’s bagged the most prestigious award from his homeland and topped MTV’s list for top South African MC? K.O laughs, “Even though it’s corny – a Grammy would be nice. I want to be recognised in the same form and state as the artist I am now. I want the world to appreciate as I am right now, I don’t want to change”.

As we depart ways, K.O gives me a list of more South African hip-hop I should check out; he mentions artists KiD X, Maggz, AKA, and Cassper Nyovest, the new wave of South African hip-hop artists are ready to take on the world.

KO is set to release his new album early next year.