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‘Why Should We Tolerate Being Ill-Treated?’

Published 6 years ago
By Forbes Africa

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.

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Related Topics: #AKA, #All Eyes On Me, #Awards, #Charts, #December 2015, #Hip-hop, #Music, #Rap, #Scirocco, #Volkswagen.