He is two hours late for the interview. As we contemplate calling it quits, he speeds in with his Volkswagen Scirocco. Dressed in black pants and camouflage coat, he dashes into the changing room to prepare for the photoshoot. King. Genius. Irritating. Self-obsessed. Arrogant. Jerk. All words that have been used to describe the self-proclaimed South African “prince” of hip hop, Kiernan Jordan Forbes, alternatively known as AKA.
“A publication wrote an article about me with a headline ‘SA’s crowned prince’ and I thought it has a nice ring to it. What I learned in this industry is that you are what you say you are. If you say something enough times, eventually people pick up on it. So I started calling myself the prince of hip hop and now a lot of people do too,” he says.
In July, he had just become a father; his eyes are slightly puffy from sleepless nights yet he shrugs it off for the shoot and interview. He doesn’t come across as the self-obsessed, arrogant jerk some fans make him out to be. Showing his humble side he adds that he doesn’t call himself the king of hip hop, out of respect for more experienced artists.
“Wait until I get another two albums and more wins under my belt, then I might start calling myself the King.”
“Competition dead and buried in the dust I’m like the legendary Brenda Fassie…” The lyrics to his hit All Eyes On Me is a salvo full of intent.
AKA has the confidence of a superstar and success to match. His personal life, just like every other celebrity, is daily bread for South African tabloid newspapers. The buzz is more than justified. He did not break the internet, but, five years into his career, he has awards from Channel O, Metro FM, MTV African Music Awards (MAMA) and South African Music Awards (SAMA); including a coveted Black Entertainment Television (BET) nomination for the Best International Act: Africa category, and many more.
“I don’t belong exclusively to South Africa anymore. I am making a transition to belonging to the continent. I was so excited about the BET nomination because we have been working hard. Yes, we have won the SAMAs, yes we have won Metro FM awards, yes, we have won the Channel O awards, but the one thing we hadn’t done was get a nomination for a BET. We have done a lot of good work on the continent and it was great to get recognition for it.”
The rapper has more than 777,000 followers on Twitter.
“We are excited about AKA’s growth prospects in Africa and beyond. His unique approach to producing hits sets him apart from the average rap artist; this is an artist with not only innovative creative sense but with the ambition for international stardom,” Zakes Bantwini, Executive Head of A&R for Sound African recordings, reportedly said when AKA signed the deal with Sony.
Born in Cape Town, he moved to Johannesburg when he was six. As a child, he developed a love for music while listening to records with his father, whom he says gave him a broad appreciation.
He started out in a teenage hip hop crew called Entity in 2002 which was nominated in 2005 for Best African Hip Hop in the KORA Awards. As Entity disbanded in 2006; AKA went off to study sound engineering only to drop out so he could brand himself as a legend. He ventured into a solo career with early hits like Mistakes, In My Walk and Do It; the latter making it to number one on the South African 5FM Top 40.
“I love AKA. He is the king of rap. His style is international, making it easy for him to collaborate with any international artist if he ever wishes to. His flaws are also massive but he has mega talent,” says South African fan, Mthokozisi Dumani.
Public relations company owner, Allegro Dinkwanyane, says, “AKA is a very talented artist that’s contributing to the growth of South African hip hop internationally. Personally, I think Kiernan is a much nicer person than AKA. I guess it’s a persona that works well for him as a rapper. Arrogance aside, I’d definitely rank him in my top three South African hip hop artists, but still an album or two away from being ‘the prince of South African hip hop’.”
“I like his music but I don’t understand the guy. His character is weird. Sometimes you would think he has some sort of disorder because he never lets things go. When something happens, he always wants to have a say. He needs to learn to be humble and let things go,” says Zimbabwean fan, Mercy Sibanda.
“I think AKA is the prince of African rap but his arrogance takes away from his talent. Yes, he’s good at what he does but he doesn’t need to constantly toot his own horn,” adds hip hop fan, Lebogang Mathebula.
Little has changed in his character. The 27-year-old says he has always been a show-off who speaks his mind. Fans scolded him for his Twitter rants and controversial views. At the coveted annual Durban July horse racing event, AKA kicked a fan off stage; on a separate occasion he said he will not take a photo with anyone who calls themselves a fan, yet don’t own his album; he does not open for international acts in South Africa and the list goes on.
“I don’t like it when people call it a rant. It’s not a rant, I am just expressing myself. If I wasn’t me and my personality wasn’t what it is, my music wouldn’t be what it is. You can’t separate my music from my personality. Without the personality my music wouldn’t exist,” he says.
He claims he has never tried to be controversial, as the truth is controversial enough.
“I have always been like this, before the fame and money; I have always been someone who speaks the truth. I told myself that when I make it, I will do things on my own terms. I try to be myself as much as possible. Most of the time it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“If you don’t own my album, how can you be a fan? You can afford a smartphone to take a photo with but you can’t afford R100 ($7.50) for my album? Real fans support the artists. If you come to me, you want a piece of me or my time, so why can’t you buy my album?” he says.
“The country has never seen anything like me; someone as expressive, as blunt, as honest and dedicated as I am. Everything with me is intense,” he says.
According to AKA, thinking success is easy can be dangerous.
“When you start out, you work hard and say you can’t wait for the day when you are successful. When you finally get there, you realize getting there is not hard, staying there is.”
African hip hop and Afrobeats are everywhere on the radio these days. Much of that is attributed to African artists touring the world and making their presence known. AKA has toured some parts of Europe and has worked with Nigerian stars Ice Prince and Burna Boy, from whom he has learned a thing or two.
“Nigerians work much harder than the average South African artist. They are much more unapologetic, that’s why sometimes I feel like I belong there. [In] Nigeria, artists are encouraged to be superstars, yet in South Africa being a superstar is frowned upon.”
“We love to be humble people, and there is nothing wrong with being humble. Humility is the greatest source of our strength, but also, the great source of our weakness. In Nigeria and the US they are told to be great and in South Africa we are told to be humble which makes us meek, subservient and easily taken advantage of,” he says.
Although he has opened for Kanye West, Snoop Lion, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar on tour, AKA swears he will never open for an international artist in South Africa.
“Promoters treat us differently from Kanye West and all these other artists. They get better sound, better money and better treatment, yet we would be performing in our own cities. Promoters say we should do it for exposure but exposure to whom? These are our people who know us, so why should we tolerate being ill-treated?”
According to AKA, South Africa needs to redress legacies of apartheid. He believes African artists should be respected like international artists.
“We still have that mentality of saying ‘how can AKA and Drake be on the same stage?’ We need to address our own self-worth. Apartheid left in us the idea that we are not worth more and we need to change that,” he says.
AKA is not a hugely sentimental man, but a glimpse of his softer side shines on social media when he talks of his daughter Kairo.
“It took a while for me to figure out how to change a nappy as Kiernan insisted on doing it himself all the time. He would wake up at night during our stay at the hospital and get up to change the baby’s nappy. I remember thinking that I really needed to learn, but it felt good knowing that he was so hands on,” says Kairo’s mother, DJ Zinhle, on her blog.
When Zinhle had her baby shower she says AKA “popped in to say hi to the ladies, he walked in carrying the most adorable Melissa and Doug Giraffe, with a big pink satin bow tied around her neck”.
Since the baby, AKA says he only sleeps for three to four hours a day; instead of six.
“There is no balance in my life. I still need to find it. I am mentally tired, physically tired, I need a holiday, I need a break but there is just no time. My life is exploding, I am having a baby; I’m on tour and have interviews.”
Although reluctant to share his net worth, the 27-year-old divulges that he makes more than R100,000 ($7,500) from performing each month. He also has income from TV shows, and various business ventures. He designed a range of headphones, Bluetooth speakers and clothing items which are sold nationwide.
“I want to make sure my future is secure. By the time I hang the mic I should be able to provide a great life for my children and their children and children’s children.”
As the saying goes, “the man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones”. You could argue AKA is doing this. You can also argue he has had more than his fair share of stones thrown at him. No matter, AKA wants to be the king of African hip hop.
Gordon Ramsay Plots 100 US Restaurants With New Private Equity Deal
On a given day at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, chef Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous pub and grill will make around $20,000 from fish and chips. The 1,200-square-foot space sees around 1,300 guests a day. Since debuting on the strip in 2012, Ramsay has added another location in Atlantic City.
Combined, both have sold more than 300,000 fish and chips dishes. “It’s taken the nation by storm. I look at the lines outside the door,” Ramsay told Forbes on the phone earlier this week.
His steak restaurant, which launched seven years ago at Caesars’ Paris Las Vegas Hotel, has meanwhile expanded to Atlantic City and Baltimore, luring diners with beef Wellingtons (more than 250,000 sold since 2012) and sticky toffee puddings (more than 200,000 sold).
That kind of demand needs to be taken advantage of quickly. Which is why a year ago, Ramsay started looking for a partner to help him rapidly expand these brands. “I wasn’t ready to pedal this bike up a hill on my own. That would take me another 15 years,” Ramsay says. “Let’s get this thing done.”
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And now Ramsay has inked a deal with Lion Capital, a private equity outfit with offices in London and Los Angeles, which has scaled restaurants like wagamama, the pan-Asian noodle chain, as well as brands like Kettle chips and Jimmy Cho. Lion now owns 50% of Gordon Ramsay North America, while the other 50% is controlled by Ramsay.
He declined to comment on the size of the transaction, but the deal stipulates that Lion will invest $100 million over five years to build an empire of Gordon Ramsay restaurants across America. The joint venture expects to open 100 new locations across the U.S by 2024.
“I fell in love with this country 20 years ago. There’s a will here. My goal, right now, is to establish one of the most exciting food brands in America,” Ramsay says. “Being a control freak, I needed the right partner on board. There’s a lot of businesses that don’t like that kind of stranglehold. For me, the partnership was crucial.”
Ramsay already has eight restaurants across Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Baltimore in partnership with Caesars Entertainment. There’s five concepts in Las Vegas, of which three are brands that will be expanded through the new deal — Gordon Ramsay Steak, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips.
“Vegas has been the most amazing platform. Everyone thinks it is just full of partying and entertainment, but it’s one of the most severe and revered culinary capitals anywhere in the world. You don’t get a second shot at it,” Ramsay says.
The deal will also bring two more concepts to the U.S.: Gordon Ramsay Street Pizza and Gordon Ramsay Bread Street Kitchen, which he calls “a modern Cheesecake Factory.” It already has successful locations in London, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore.
Ramsay is a six-time Celebrity 100 listmaker who earned $62 million last year, mainly from his television deal with Fox, in which he produces and stars in shows MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef Jr. as well as 24 Hours to Hell and Back.
“It may seem aggressive, but we’re not opening up 80 or 90 of the same restaurant. We’re crossing over with a multilayered brand. That’s the bit that I’ve worked hard at. We’ve divided and conquered.”
Ramsay’s 15 restaurants in London won’t be impacted by the Lion Capital investment. The announcement comes just a few weeks after British chef Jamie Oliver announced that all but three of his 25 restaurants in the U.K. will close.
“It’s a very oversaturated market there, and you need to be very careful with that level of expansion. It’s unfortunate to see the situation he got himself into, but that’s what happens when you’ve got a juggernaut that’s out of control, as opposed to being in control,” Ramsay says. “I’ve sat patiently, learning from other people’s mistakes.”=
-Chloe Sorvino; Forbes Staff
Pain, Poison And Potential
For a man who wanted to end his life at one time, it is quite ironic that Steve Harris is today one of Nigeria’s most successful life and business strategists.
Being born into a lower middle class family is one thing; trying to make a name for yourself after dropping out of university twice is another. That is what Steve Harris, a life and business strategist and motivational speaker, fondly known as ‘Mr. Ruthless Execution’, has accomplished.
Harris learned the sinusoidal motions of the entrepreneurship journey very early in life.
At 40, he is the Chief Executive Officer of EdgeEcution, an organization that helps high performance individuals and institutions bridge the gap between their performance and potential.
Today, he is among one of the most downloaded, quoted and followed personal development trainers in Nigeria, a feat that is outstanding when you consider that he almost committed suicide before this journey even began.
The events leading up to his worst day began to unfold when Harris gained admission into the University of Benin in Nigeria. His parents wanted him to become an engineer but his failure to attain the required grades meant he had to take the Industrial Maths class instead. That is when his emotional saga began.
“I had altercations with my lecturers and I was flunking because I was not cut out for math. I had issues with my lecturers because at the time, my department was the most corrupt department in the university and if you wanted to pass, you needed to bribe your lecturers. So they were pretty much a cartel and if you didn’t pay, you wouldn’t pass, so someone like me who at best was a C student became an F student.”
As a result, he scored 4% or 11% in his exams even when he had prepared well enough.
“I eventually got kicked out [of university] in 2004.”
Harris managed to get into a private university but this time, he was required to start all over again.
“I couldn’t go the distance and I dropped out in my seventh month. I couldn’t handle it because my mates were already working. My younger sister was also already working and I was going back to my first year of university. I started having suicidal thoughts and I couldn’t handle it anymore so I dropped out.”
Those suicidal thoughts would come back to haunt him later.
Being the first-born of three children, Harris was the one most likely to succeed. As fate would have it, his two failed attempts at university made him the black sheep of the family.
“I remember coming back home and my younger sister had graduated and my parents were super stoked, and here I am, the first child and I didn’t even get it together. Very quickly, she got a job and started earning money. She began buying things for the house and taking care of responsibilities and started giving me an allowance. I remember she gave me N10,000 ($28) and I was very grateful because I didn’t have any money,” says Harris.
“Like all African parents, my parents started complaining and reminding me about how I wasted their money and how I failed. How the children of others were working in [companies like] Shell and I was just at home.
“I would hide from friends and family members when they visited so I wouldn’t have to tell them my situation. The next month, my sister gave me N5,000 ($14) and I couldn’t ask her where the other N5,000 had gone. She was such a high-flyer that within six months, she moved into her own place and bought a car and here I am, first-born and I couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas card,” avers Harris.
Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“One day, my sister asked me to come over to her house for my monthly allowance. I went in and she had everything I wanted, she had a flat-screen TV, the whole nine yards, and I was just sitting there comparing my little sister with myself and I was thinking ‘there is no way I was ever going to catch up with her’. We were talking and in the middle of the conversation, I pissed her off and she said, ‘I am not even going to give you any more money’ and she kicked me out of her house.
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“I felt so embarrassed and ashamed and here I was, the one who everyone thought was most likely to succeed and I was being kicked out of my younger sister’s house because I didn’t have money. That messed with my mind. I remember sitting at home and I had bought rat poison. I kept thinking that it would be so much better to die than being alive and subjected to the misery I was giving my parents,” says Harris.
As he sat down with the box of poison, mentally preparing himself to end the pain and embarrassment he had brought to his family, one of his siblings walked into the house, in the nick of time.
“That is what stopped me. Then, I also found out that if you commit suicide, you will go to hell and here I am, living my own hell on earth and if I died, you are telling me I am going to be in hell forever?”
That was the wakeup call Harris so desperately needed.
He began to work his way up, starting off with volunteer jobs such as being a church driver for his pastor and also working as an office assistant with Fela Durotoye, a management consultant and recent presidential candidate of the Nigerian elections.
Harris grew through the ranks until he became a management consultant before starting off on his own entrepreneurial journey. Amid the challenges of finding his true purpose, certain thoughts came to his mind that changed his outlook towards life forever. He began asking himself: ‘why am I on this earth?’, ‘how can I make enough money to take care of myself and my family?’ and ‘how do I use my talent to help others?’
He found the answers in books on business written by authors such as Tom Peters and Michael Porter. That is when Harris first discovered he had a penchant for success.
And with his ability to overcome failure, Harris is now on a mission to empower millennials to look inward at their strengths and inner power, and with his able guidance, build brands that can beat the odds and survive, just as he did.
Rewriting The News On Africa
African media can reverse the downward spiral affecting newsrooms across the continent, says APO Group chairman, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard.
The media landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade. As a result, newsrooms have been forced to make monumental changes such as reducing the staff complement to keep up with the demands, or they have simply had to shut down.
With some African newsrooms being written out of history, there has been an emergence of international media setting up shop on the continent. This interest serves as a double-edged sword for African media that often finds itself under-resourced.
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, the founder and chairman of the APO Group, is of the view that the African media landscape has faced challenges that precede digital migration, which have compounded existing problems. An incident that stands out for him, before the digitizing of media, was a lack of access to information for African reporters, and that propelled him to start one of the foremost media relations firms on the continent.
When he was a journalist for online publication, Gabonews, and the deputy president of the Pan-African Press Organisation in France, between 2005 and 2007, Pompigne-Mognard says this was a recurring problem hampering the productivity of African reporters.
“If you wanted the right to attend an international press conference, you would need an official card.
“As an African correspondent, the only way for you to have that card and get access was to prove that you were getting at least €1,000 ($1,121) of earnings, and most of them didn’t have that,” says Pompigne-Mognard.
“It was rooted in disparity. If you have two journalists and one of them has the right card and the other doesn’t, then of course, the other one cannot do his job. He cannot earn money or write articles.
“More than that, it reinforced the dependence of African media on international media. They had no other choice but to rely on the information provided by the biggest media.”
To remedy the circumstances that seemed to disempower his peers on the continent, Pompigne-Mognard founded APO from his living room, using $11,000 in savings.
APO has grown since its inception as it provides a variety of media offerings such as press releases, videos, photos, documents and audio-files.
The company has sources such as global Fortune 1,000 companies, reputable international and Africa-based PR agencies, governments and international institutions.
“I didn’t start it to make money. I didn’t start it as a business. I wasn’t an entrepreneur at the time. I was a journalist and I wanted to address a problem. At the beginning, I wasn’t even aware that companies were paid to distribute press releases.”
Pompigne-Mognard has since realized many things through the medium of his company as APO delivered growth of 60% in 2018, representing a turnover that has more than doubled in two years.
As a correspondent of Gabonews, before the inception of his company, Pompigne-Mognard was covering Europe, and he had to report Africa-related news and needed information. As a result, he would ensure he was receiving as many press releases as possible; however, this came with its own logistic challenges.
“That’s when I realized it was extremely difficult to actually ensure I received all the press releases from institutions like the United Nations, as an example. There was not one point where I could get all the African information issued by the international system.
“Journalists had to rely on information that was on websites. It was very time-consuming to get access to all the content…
“It got me thinking about how if international media was not receiving information from our most important institutions, then what does that say about our voices in the world?”
A single conversation propelled him to make decisive change, Pompigne-Mognard says.
“I had a serious meeting with the president of the African Development Bank at the time, Donald Kaberuka, and he told me something that was instrumental because that’s when I decided I wanted to do something about it.
“What he told me is that the destination of information about African economies contributes to the growth of the continent, because at the time everybody was talking about poverty, war and struggle.”
Over the years, Pompigne-Mognard has observed a similar trend in the way press releases are compiled and disseminated.
He feels this has contributed in transforming the narrative on Africa.
“Something that is specific with press releases is that 95 percent of them convey good news. Usually, when a company issues one, it is to say that they are appointing a new CEO, they are opening a new branch, or they are expanding into new markets.
“We (APO) have been participating, for several years now, in changing the African narrative. We are in a unique place where we have a chance to influence the narrative and make sure that Africa has its own voice and is not influenced by the bias of international media.
Although information is accessible to those who seek it, he says there is currently another challenge that African media needs to resolve in order to maintain autonomy and make money to sustain itself.
“I think there is a big problem coming towards us and it is coming fast,” says a concerned Pompigne-Mognard.
“Nigeria is starting to watch more international media than the local media. Think about the international companies which are willing to expand on the continent. What if 10 years from now, the conclusion is that in the most developed economies on the continent, the nationals are watching more international media? Where exactly do we think the international companies are going to spend on advertisements?
“As an international company, why would I deal with five national TV stations in different countries, if I can approach a single international station and get, not only those five countries, but also better coverage?”
Pompigne-Mognard says the continent is ripe with potential and international media companies, which have observed the budding possibilities, are striking while the iron is hot.
“They know the population is going to grow, the middle class is growing and that purchasing power is growing.”
Finances remain a colossal inhibiter to the growth of newsrooms, as many have had to retrench to make ends meet.
The ripple effect is that the quality of the content produced eventually suffers.
“On a global scale, the media landscape is in a challenging position. It has become very difficult to finance content and to find new ways to make money. Africans also have the same challenges, but often they don’t have the same means or resources.
“I would prefer to be wrong on this matter, but if I’m right, in 15 years’ time, the media landscape in Africa will be completely different – in a bad way.
“I want Africa to have a strong media landscape. But in order to do that, people need to understand that media companies need to be run as businesses.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom for African media; Pompigne-Mognard sees hope. He says the status quo can be reversed if there is a joint effort to curb the problem.
“One of the solutions is to create pan-African media,” he says. “The person who is going to crack the code and make it happen could be extremely rich. It doesn’t have to be [entirely] pan-African, even 30-35 countries are more than enough.
“There’s a thing about Africa which is a strength and a weakness; it’s that doing something here will always be more difficult. But the good news is that for those who manage to do that thing in Africa, they can do it anywhere.”
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