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Nasty C, the South African rapper blazing trails

Zulu Man With Some Power, the South African rapper’s third album, has just been released. At 23 years old, Nasty C — who signed with Def Jam — continues his meteoric rise. Staying true to himself, he isn’t waiting for anyone’s approval.

Nasty C makes an effort when answering questions. Just when you think he’s done responding, a thought finds its way through his head, and exits into the world fully formed, much like his career. It wasn’t until 2016 when the rest of Mzansi heard what a select few in his native city, Durban, had known since he was slinging mixtapes and ripping apart mics in street ciphers and nightclubs – that the homie got next. 

His feature alongside YoungstaCPT and Stogie T on DJ Switch’s “Way It Go” opened the floodgates, and the Zulu gods have been blessing him with torrential rhyme schemes and unforgettable melodies ever since. 

“The music gets to the people that it’s supposed to get to. If someone really needs a story to relate to, and they feel like your music serves that purpose or whatever, then they’ll like your music; and they’ll bug out to it; and they’ll come to the shows; and they’ll keep supporting,” he said in an interview shortly after his mainstream debut, Bad Hair

Nasty C had just released “Zulu Man” as an instant-grat on streaming sites the morning we met. South African Twitter is stark raving mad, with commentators giving their two cents about the song, on which the decorated emcee raps in isiZulu. One of the many comments which stand out is about  the decision to do so was an executive command from No ID, whose mentorship and experienced hand looms large on Zulu Man, the album. He dismisses that chatter, and lets it be known that it’s a song that’s been in the vaults for a long time. He released it because the moment felt right. 

Zulu Man With Some Power, his third album over the past four years, is a record-breaking work of excellence: the most pre-added album in South Africa, the biggest pre-adds for a local artist (South Africa), and  the biggest pre-add globally for a South African artist. 

In the following, edited-down version of our conversation, Nasty C responds to questions about his career thus far, shares the stories behind some songs on the 19-track album, and gets candid about the reality of being an African rap champion whose attempt at global dominion gets clearer by the minute. 

Nasty C Performing “Zulu Man” in his neighbourhood, Illovo, in Durban

What brings you back to your center, considering all this noise, and with all the hype around you?

What’s important to me right now is the music. There’s a lot of components that come with it, like the videos and the merch. But my main focus, really, is the music. That’s the driving force of everything else. If that’s wack, everything else is wack. So I just focus on the music and try not to let anything else get in the way. I’m giving everything its allocated time, but I’m trying to spend more time working on the music. Trying to make sure that I stay fresh in the studio, I come up with new ideas, I don’t stay doing the same shit. 

How do you stay sharp on the mic? 

I just try not to overthink it. Just play the beats, play me something weird. That’s something that I like to tell producers. I don’t like when they make something thinking, ‘oh, this guy probably wants a Metrobooming-type beat’. We need to make something that sounds like, ‘yo, what the hell were these guys smoking in studio?!’ That’s what I like to do. That keeps you on your toes as an artist.

Nasty C, Lil Gotit, Lil Keed – Bookoo Bucks (Visualizer)

And speaking about music, what’s the story behind the song “Bookoo Bucks” (with Lil’ Keed and Lil’ Gotit)?

When we made it, I was in Atlanta. I knew we were supposed to work with him, but I wasn’t expecting ATL Jacobs to walk in at that time. He’s one of my favourite producers, one of Future’s main producers. I already knew [that] he was gonna play slappers only. And he didn’t even play that many beats, I think he played two or three, and I stopped him. I was like, ‘yo, that’s the one; just give me that one now.’ I just started humming a bunch of melodies, and it turned into what it turned into. 

One lyric that jumped out on the track “Feeling” was validation is a drug. Can you  break that down ?

Validation is definitely a drug. It just gives you drive. If somebody comes up to you and tells you, ‘yo, see what you’re doing right now, this is the one!’. If you start to break that down, that’s somebody coming up to you and telling you that everything that you’ve done leading up to this one moment where they felt like you were talking to them, doesn’t mean shit. And then you take that and you accept it, and you’re like, ‘oh yeah, maybe this whole time I wasn’t doing it the right way, maybe this time I am actually doing it right.’ And then you’re gonna meet the next person who’ll tell you something different, and that’ll drive you crazy. Now you’re swaying and swerving, you don’t even know where you were trying to go. It gets you fucked up, just like a drug.

Zulu Man With Some Power is out now.

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