By Amir Bagheri & Angelo de Klerk
We recently interviewed Lukhanyo Ndongeni, artistically known as uKhanyo, a unique rapper and producer from Cape Town. We discussed his upbringing, his album titled ‘Gone Forever’, and the message he wants to send out through his craft.
Amir: Khanyo, thank you so much for joining us, and for making the time to meet with us. Before Angelo jumps in, I just want to say thank you, again, for making this time, I really enjoyed listening to your record. I also listened to your up and coming album – the unreleased one – thank you for the link, and for sharing that with us.
Khanyo: No problem, Amir, thank you.
Angelo: Before jumping into music, I just want to ask a bit about your background, get to know you a bit more. You grew up in a suburb in Cape Town but you say you spent a lot of time with your family in Khayelitsha, right? What would you say was the biggest difference between these two contrasting areas. Did you ever find it difficult fitting in as a suburban kid inside the hood?
Khanyo: Interesting question, ‘cause at the time, uhm, you’re oblivious to it as a carefree kid. That’s like, something I always had and I think I get that from my mom. Where it’s like, you view everybody the same but then, me for example, if I went to New Cross neh, to my family, it was different to when I went to Khayelitsha. In New Cross, that would be the place where they would look after me when my parents weren’t at home. So, it was odd because kids weren’t wearing the things I was wearing when I was young, like I was wearing name brands but the kids I knew were like bare feet and stuff, which I was really oblivious to but they never made me feel like an outsider because of my cousins. So, the older I got, the more complex it got I would say. But when I was young, it was the best because the hood was just a vibe. Everyone was playing, everyone was outside and I think back then it was different, compared to now. But it wasn’t even a thing for me because even my cousins would come to my side and then we would all play soccer on the field and stuff so growing up, it was fine because they’d always make sure I fitted in and they’d look after me. I was the baby of the crew.
Angelo: I’m sure that being in these areas influenced you a lot in terms of who you are today and the direction you’re taking things. Like, from a young age you’ve always had this creative spark and you ended up taking things like drama, dancing, art but you also mention that a lot of people around you didn’t share the same passion to grow this into a career or a business. How would you say that this difference, between you and the people around you, influenced you and shaped how you moved forward?
Khanyo: One of the things that stood out for me was that nobody was doing what I was doing, like even if it was in art class. If we had to do a collage in grade 3 and they’re like “pick things out of the magazine that really interest you”, I was one of those kids that took that so seriously compared to other kids who were more academic than me. So, even in class if we had to do a play maybe, like for Natural Science or LO, I would always be the guy that’s so involved – I was really into curating plays and things but that was all natural. Then in church, people would pick it up and they were like, “yo, you really find it fun to be the clown of the environment sometimes or like the class”. So, they put me into drama and then I started in church and from church, I realised like, actually I can act. Then later music was introduced to me when I was like 12-years-old through a dance crew. I was a big fan of the Jabbawockeez so what I used to do is, I used to try to make mixes of all the dances on So You Think You Can Dance, it was an American show – you remember that?
Angelo: [laughs] Yeah, of course.
Khanyo: Yeah! Like, with Super Cr3w and all those dance crews. So, if you listen to their mixes, it’s like curated for their dancing. Sometimes they’d remix the songs and things. I thought that was normal, so I used to try to do that for my dance crew. Then my friend was like “yo, why don’t you make beats?” He told me about FL studio and that’s how I got into music but then I never thought I’d be a rapper, I was just like okay I’m gonna produce. But then I noticed people like Pharrell, Kanye West and all of these people – I was like they actually produce and rap on their own stuff and then that’s when I started writing rhymes. I was just like okay I think this is for me because I was always into fashion, I was always into hip hop without me knowing it, I was into dancing and acting, so that’s how I ended up here, you get me? It was chill until I was like 16, then I was like, “oh, I’m a rapper, okay sure!” [laughs]
Amir: Khanyo, quick question. I wanna pick up on what Angelo asked. As you rightfully said, we totally see that you were involved in other creative areas such as dancing and drama and art and fashion. But, you know, when you put all these things next to each other, it was eventually the music that you chose. What was it about the music that spoke to you the most and you were like “yeah, this is it. This is the path I’m taking”? Because I’m sure it came to you as a surprise but when did you actually really realise that music was for you?
Khanyo: Y0h that’s a tough one. It’s tough because at 13-years-old that’s when my father passed away. Until that point, I never ever thought I could do music, honestly. I thought I was an actor, I thought I was into drama, like, that was my main thing. So, when my father passed away, that’s when I stopped playing football because I was playing for a soccer club, I was trialling out for Ajax Cape Town. I was trying to figure out again where I was going with my life. I thought it was going to be football when my father passed away that’s when I started to look at other options because my father was like my coach, basically. So, when he passed away I was like okay there’s acting and dancing and all those other things. I never saw myself as a musician because I’m not a good rapper and I can’t sing. But when I got to 16-years-old that’s when I started realising that I am a rapper, and it wasn’t something I was conscience about but it just happened because in grade 10 people just thought I was a rapper because I relocated to a new school. Everyone thought I was a rapper, so I was like yeah, I am a rapper [laughs] and then I started emailing people for options. When I was really confident to say, ‘okay I can do music’, that was 19-years-old, to be like okay I can do this as a career. It wasn’t something that really clicked at one stage, if that makes sense. Because I mean like God was just preparing me for different chapters of my life, to just be what I am now, which is actually an entertainer and a taste maker more than a rapper but the rap was basically my foundation because I realised I can’t rap as good as the other guys, I can’t freestyle as good as the other guys, I’m not as good with wordplay as the other guys but at 19-years-old, when I started doing more research on Kanye West, that’s when I was like okay I am a rapper/producer. I don’t know if that answers the question but it wasn’t like a specific moment where I was like okay I am a rapper now because I never saw myself as a rapper.
Amir: Right, no that definitely answers the question and I think one thing that is definitely very clear in your answer is that you got into music through producing and I remember just before this interview, I was speaking to Angelo and I was telling him that I love the beats and the production that you use in your music. But Angelo, back to you.
Angelo: Yeah and clearly, apart from us really liking your production and your sound and everything, you clearly have a fanbase now through the singles that you’ve dropped already and you’ve done a few performances already at events like ‘Fruits & Roots’ and ‘Boiler Room’, which had acts like Frank Casino. What did it feel like as an upcoming artist, or you know, starting out and stuff, to have such opportunities?
Khanyo: Yoh, honestly, I wanted this opportunity. I was like this is easy, I was ready for it, you know? Because I don’t see myself as like the other people, I don’t know what their goal is but my goal is definitely international. Doing Coachella, doing overseas gigs. I’ve always seen myself as like, I need to be ready to perform after any performer, local or global. So, when I did Boiler Room, that was easy bro and people were really like yoh I killed it, I killed it. I was prepared, I work hard. I’ve been doing this for so long so me just performing that night proved to myself that I can do this.
Angelo: Ayt, and then apart from your singles and stuff, I’ve also heard your project that’s upcoming, it’s titled Gone Forever. Who do you hope this album reaches and what do you hope they take away from it after listening to it?
Khanyo: Uhm, I hope Sho Madjozi can hear it. I hope any authentic African act that’s looking to do what Malumkoolkat did or what Ricky Rick did in that Amantombazane period with Family Values. So, I basically wanna influence the same way. I want people to look at me as a way of like okay you can actually be local but do it in your own way and you don’t have to do it the way everyone else is doing it, you can do it in your own way. Hopefully… I want this to manifest in people with the sonics, because I believe I have a really dope ear for sonics and just sound in general, so hopefully I can also up the standard with how people approach production and really go in depth with how they wanna do sound and how they wanna mix their vocals and how they wanna do projects, how they wanna project their whole vibe, you know, it’s not only the music but it’s also more the vibe. Hopefully I can influence people to be more vibe-orientated, more than just only the bars or only the persona of a rapper but also just people, just go deeper with the sound because when you’re live, you get to see the reaction of the people and that’s like super important in my eyes. Live performing and just, sonics, music, and the production. Hopefully I can inspire people with that after Gone Forever.
Amir: On top of that question, Khanyo, who do you think or who do you want your audience to be? Do you specifically have a target audience. Have you thought about who you want your listeners to be?
Khanyo: Yes I have. It ranges, neh… It ranges from kids who are just starting high school, so grade 8. I do it for that kid that’s starting grade 8, that kid that’s about to tackle life still, you know. I make music for that crowd and I also make music for university students who are also aspiring to do whatever they wanna do in life – be a doctor, or be whatever they wanna be. I also do it for them and then I also do it for free spirited people that are any age you know, anyone that hasn’t boxed themselves in their life. Someone that’s diverse and multi-lingual, as me with like how I think about life and diversity, I also do it for them. So, it’s not based on one race or one age but more about your soul. I just make it for those types of people.
Amir: Thank you so much, Khanyo, and the next question I have – I think this is with regards to your upcoming album, Gone Forever. I really enjoyed the production and totally agree with you in terms of you having really good ears when it comes to sonics and harmonies because I can totally hear that in the album. But, I think the question that I have… if you had to categorize your own album in a specific genre, how would you do that? ‘Cause I think in the album I heard hip hop, I heard rap, I heard electro, I heard Kwaito, I heard house… I actually heard, uh, a little bit of alternative indie. For example, at the beginning or a little bit of the interlude, “Ghost” – there’s of a more indie vibe to it. How would you classify your up and coming album?
Khanyo: I would say it’s new South African authentic hip hop. That’s what I would say it is because I can’t say alternative and I can’t say house, I can’t say amapiano, I can’t say – you know what I mean? ‘Cause I am a rapper and hip hop is the energy fundamentally.
Amir: I hear you and if… I mean you might not necessarily have an answer to this because as I can see, again, in terms of genre, you’re very multi-dimensional. But if you had to really pick one of the things. Are you a rapper? Are you a producer? Are you an electro, you know, DJ? Like, it’s really difficult because I heard so many sounds in one album.
Khanyo: So, you’re asking me, basically, which one would I say, out of all of those, I am?
Amir: Yeah, which one connects to you the most? Which one is your alter-ego? Which one of those productions are you?
Khanyo: Eish, eish, eish, eish. Okay… so, I think it would be the track “Future Gods” because I feel like that’s still a genre that’s gonna still pop off in South Africa. Just the way I did “Future Gods”, it opens up with a rap verse but then it ends up with a more pop approach with me repeating the same thing, so I would say “Future Gods” because I am rap slash pop. So, I think that would be the safest. Even “Shor!”, I feel like that’s a unique Cape Town/South African anthem. But, eish, “Future Gods” I’d say is 100% me.
Amir: Got you. Back to you, Angelo.
Angelo: Okay, I have another question with regards to the album. It’s your first body of work where you use your raw voice on it, so like you don’t use autotune and stuff. What prompted this decision?
Khanyo: When I was 19, I was heavily influenced by Tyler the Creator, Kanye West, and Travis Scott. Travis Scott, at the time, was producing for Kanye on his Yeezus album, he did “New Slaves”. I was very drawn by the autotune that those guys were doing, more than like a T-Payne. So, when I was performing at 19, what I picked up out of the crowd is that they were comparing me to someone that was out there and I didn’t like that so I took three years just to understand what am I doing and then just seeing how Sho Madjozi did her thing, seeing how Malumkoolkat did their thing… in their natural authentic voice. That’s what I took from them and then applied it to what I’m doing and I was like yoh, my voice is actually fine raw and when I do what I do on the mic without flexing autotune, it’s still a vibe. Maybe at a later stage, I can incorporate my autotune influences but for now, I felt it was very important for people to know who I am and that’s why I used my raw voice.
Angelo: From those names you mention, like Tyler and Kanye, they take a lot of time and spend a lot of time on their projects to make sure it’s how they want it to be and you mention that it took you like 3 years to get this project done. How was it for you and your team, you know, putting in so much time into that album? What was the chemistry like? Especially with, I see you featured 3 people on the project. What was all of that like? That process?
Khanyo: The process was fun. Because the album is basically the third version of the album. The first version was totally different, it had just drums mostly and it was me on every song, it was me doing the production, me doing the song, doing everything and then my one friend that I work with, Aqeeb Majiet, we did work previously so he just reached out to me and he was like “yo if you need any assistance with the album, I’m down,” and so he came on board and then we just sat down and we started building the album again through zoom calls ‘cause that’s when lockdown just kicked in. And then just like everybody around me, that’s really supportive of what I do, they just started coming closer and paying attention to what was happening because they could see that I was sitting on it for a while. You just start learning a lot over three years man, you are not the same person over 3 years. So, every year there was something new that I was learning that I applied to the album.
Angelo: I see music and the process is very personal and it sounds like it’s a pretty intimate one too seeing how you’re pretty close with your team and all of that. Now, if you had to name a few artists, apart from your intimate team or Youngsta, that’s local that you would love to work with on future projects or maybe on their projects, who would that be and why? ‘Cause you do mention some of your inspirations earlier on in the interview, who would you love to work with from that list or that’s not on that list?
Khanyo: Wow okay [laughs] okay here we go. Sho Madjozi, number one; Makhadzi number two… Uhm, and then the rest I will leave up to me just growing. But Sho Madjozi definitely. Sho Madjozi and Makhadzi. Yeah, those two artists, yoh, they’re very inspiring to me. Very very inspiring. For now it’s just them two.
Angelo: Ayt man, I’m manifesting that for you, it will happen. [laughs] You did mention that you moved away from autotune because you wanted people to kn0w your sound and know who you are, but you also mention that you’d still love to be known on an international level, right? So, my question is, in terms of collaborating with international artists, who would you want to collaborate with and how would you make sure that your sound still stays authentic when you work with them?
Khanyo: Okay, so… M.I.A. definitely. Because I feel like M.I.A. would really appreciate a South African act that’s really original, she’s also super original with what she does so I think that would be fire. FKA Twigs also, if that can happen that would be fire. Uhm, I can’t say Kanye West, that’s like a given. I can’t say Travis, that’s a given. But eish that’s a tough one, you know, because I really see myself collaborating with anything that’s like really resonating with me at the time and by the time I’m big I don’t know who is gonna be around. But I hope for… Tyler and Travis, those guys I’m really big fans of but you spoke about sound, so I still need to keep my sound as you see. Those guys, maybe like if I could help out on their stuff, that’d be a lot but to collab, eish, that’s a tough one. Maybe… a Rihanna maybe or like a Drake, I don’t know. It’s a tricky one, you know? America has so many great people I would love to collab with so yoh that’s a tough one. But M.I.A. and FKA Twigs, that’s one like… yoh that has to happen.
Amir: Great stuff… Khanyo, what are you listening to right now?
Khanyo: Uhm okay, last night I was listening to James Blake, The Colour in Anything. What else was I listening to? This morning I was listening to Kamo Mphela, I was listening to Major League, uhm… What else? I was listening to my songs.
Amir: [laughs] nice. I love how your listening is as diverse as your production… like you listen to more or less everything and you produce more or less everything. I love that.
Khanyo: It’s energy. It’s all energy.
Amir: It is energy and I think that’s where a good ear for music comes from.
Khanyo: There’s an artist I recently got into by the name of Namasenda. I’m not saying it right because… [laughs] Namasenda but like she’s dope! I came across her work like two days ago on the internet. She’s from Sweden and she makes this aggressive EDM and I was like yoh this is incredible. I also listened to that this week. Namasenda, yoh she’s amazing. Talented artist from Sweden. I listen to everything, bro.
Amir: Sounds good. One final question before we go is, and I think you briefly touched on it as far as performances or gigs that you want to have but ideally where would you love to see yourself as an artist? Outside of the performances, outside of the gigs, what is an ideal situation for you as an artist? As uKhanyo?
Khanyo: Like my overall goal, lowkey?
Khanyo: Okay, I figured that out last week. So, my whole thing, neh, is gonna be… I wanna be an owner of a record label, I wanna be an owner of a fashion line, and I wanna employ people that are just like me. I want to help people to get on their feet early, I want someone that’s at like 18-years-old to already be finding their feet and be doing big things. I feel like South Africa needs a lot of people to do that for kids, I feel people aren’t doing that for kids and I want to do it. ‘Cause even Major League said on the news not too long ago that South Africans do not believe in the arts. For Major League to say that is scary because they’re like on top of the Amapiano charts. I’m just gonna be the white ball that just breaks the whole thing, you know. Our whole goal is to really help creatives, that’s the main goal. That’s what I wanna do.
Amir: That is very novel and honourable, Khanyo, and there isn’t anything else that I think I have from my end but what a beautiful way to end this interview. I think if you hear of Odd, our overall objective is also to give back and create a platform for every artist to showcase what is on their mind and what is in their hearts. So, thank you very much.
Angelo: I’m looking forward to seeing you blow up, man.
Khanyo: Thank you guys, man!
Amir: Khanyo, any final words for the kids out there?
Khanyo: Final words would be, uhm… Stay free, protect your soul, and just stay free and inspire to be a better you. That’s all.
Amir: Thank you, very great way to end this. Thank you so much for making the time.
Khanyo: I love Odd Magazine by the way! You guys are awesome, bruh, thank you so much for doing this for us as creatives, it means a lot guys. You guys are just as important. Thank you so much, bro, it means a lot.
Amir: Have a great evening everyone.
GONE FOREVER coming soon.
To listen to Khanyo’s music and to hear more about him and his upcoming album, follow the link:
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