In anticipation of the next instalment of #NothingMajor we chat to BYLWANSTA to discuss how he came to being a rapper, being fiercely independent and his recent performance in Berlin
The majority of rappers choose to create a character and give themselves imaginative monikers. What was the thinking behind sticking with your birth name and what’s the importance of the ‘By’?
Hey man, let me start by saying how excited I am for Nothing Major! *sighs* okay cool.
I went and stuck with Lwansta because of the process of how I actually claimed the name.
At the time I came up with Lwansta as a moniker, I hadn’t considered what the future would hold for me. I was maybe in grade 7 and it was a name I gave to my self, adapted from what my brother’s contact was saved as on my father’s phone. He wasn’t too fond of it and I wasn’t too fond of the fact that he had that and I was just Lwandile. So I did us both a favour and hijacked the “sta” and I think I changed it on his phone too.
I proudly claimed the name I gave to myself, but it totally escaped my mind when I recorded my first verse. I recorded my first vocal without a stage name, Kimo and I (mostly him) started coming up with some stupid shit, then I edited the name of the .mp3 a few days later when I remembered who the hell I am now.
I believe in functionality > beauty, so by adding the By my stage name became more than just a moniker. I adopted a very DIY approach to almost everything creative I did and I prided myself in seeing “designed by Lwansta” or “directed and edited by Lwansta” or anything along those lines.
I placed emphasis on it. Even in conversation it just eased off the tongue. So it’s super important to me because it communicates more than just a title or place holder name. It explains the function and attitude of this human. You can’t separate me from my creative process, so you can’t, or rather shouldn’t separate the By from Lwansta.
I obviously still respond to Lwansta in informal contexts, but please say the BY.
What was the driving force behind you wanting to create hip-hop and become a rapper?
Kimo started a DIY recording studio setup in a backroom in umama’s house. At that point I was just a spectator. I watched him create and I watched other guys in and out of that room. It was very interesting what people from different walks of life would come with, and it was all hip-hop. I’d sit in studio sessions and just listen, then, just to myself, I’d start writing verses to whatever was being recorded at that moment, hoping by some chance one of the guys there would ask me for a verse. Those were my first attempts at writing.
I was 8 when I heard my first hip-hop album, but I would only aspire to become a rapper 5 years later. The artist and lyricist that I am now only emerged in 2014.
There was some kind of strong, emotional response hip-hop invoked in Kimo and I that seemed so natural. It immediately and automatically drew us to the genre, and I kind of understand it better today because of how influential hip-hop is and it’s the voice you use when you want to speak to the kids. I think that has a lot to do with it.
Hip-hop is an expressive artform, so when I left home for studies and my feelings and emotions seemed to gain control of a large part of my make up, hip-hop was the outlet I used to channel it all. It became functional and of course theraputic.
When was your debut mixtape, A Star In The Makin’, released and how would you say your sounds, skills and content have evolved since its release?
Woah dude, you really did some intensive background checking didn’t you. Wow, that mixtape man, that was released in 2013; the year I started recording music. But to completely answer the question in short, EVERYTHING (music-related) changed in 2014. I don’t make the same music I used to make before that year. My life changed and so would the music.
Music, over and above just hip-hop, became more than just an audial experience. Firstly I had a lot of emotions I had internalized as a younger guy, so me leaving home to study in Durban was like a punch in the stomach where I just threw up all that emotion.
I was on my own now. I was my shoulder to cry on. The guy to rely on. The guy who would check me and judge me harshly when I’m wrong. I became my best friend and my worst enemy at the same time.
Those themes of multiple me’s (not to be confused with multiple personalities) and introspection are prevalent throughout my music and design work (see NORMVL Mixtape cover art, ‘The Sigh’ cover art and ‘NORMVL Still’ Music Video). It seems to almost happen subconsciously, like in the middle of a verse, I’ll decide to respond to myself or call myself out about something. Maybe before someone else can, something inspired by that last battle on 8 Mile.
So music went from something I just did ‘cause we had a studio setup, to a whole nother realm of self-development and introspection.
Being an independent artist, what are your thoughts on independence versus signing with a label in the current state of hip-hop in South Africa?
I’ve recently likened being an independent artist to being an entrepreneur. They’re basically synonymous (for me anyway) because you’re only an entrepreneur because you want to do something different (risk), and you want to be really self-sufficient (profit).
So my pride in my independence has very little to do with the politics of record deals, and more to do with wanting to learn and equipping myself with the necessary skill sets to be whatever I want to be you know, whenever.
I want to know so I can know and be better, and therefore I love to learn, and I feel like having people do all kinds of admin for you and being signed really deprives you of SO much of that. It’s like being given your degree on the day you enroll. It’s not that I don’t want help right, I just want to know. I want to know about PR, publishing, designing, directing, marketing and etc. I know how to make music, now I don’t want to be ignorant to everything else surrounding it. I can’t do everything and I won’t, but ay man, ignorance sucks.
Think of it like this, two babies, both are still crawling, baby one is left to crawl around most of the day, baby two is always being carried. Being carried is great, you get where you need to go quicker and it’s nice to be held and played with in umama or utata’s arms all the time. Fast-forward a few years, who’s already walking upright? So it’s like being spoiled and not being spoiled (terrible analogy).
I don’t want to completely discredit record labels cause they allow artists a chance to just focus on creating, and they just invest in it, which is great, especially in South Africa. It’s great that people are seeing something worthy of investment, actually it’s really, really great man. Thinking back to where SA hip-hop is coming from, dudes are eating now. My other qualm though is that I’m doing something different. Musically, I haven’t taken the most profitable route, but I know what I’m doing. A label is an investor, that money needs to come back and in South Africa ‘Oh Well’ isn’t going to get that money back.
But it’s really great to see black winning man and buying their parents cars and houses.
Sometimes local artists who don’t fit a specific mould gain success overseas before receiving support locally. Having recently performed at a festival in Berlin, would you say this applies in your case and why do feel this happens?
I think to a certain degree, yeah. Like, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people in South Africa, as much as they think they really do, they don’t lose their minds and get super excited hearing stories of Shaka Zulu or Nelson Mandela, they know these people (not really), they know my story and in Berlin they didn’t. They really, really embraced me and liked me a lot there. Even before I got on stage. I don’t know, I’m a different kind of dude I guess. But they really responded positively.
But the thing with not fitting a specific mould is you have to know that, embrace it and be super confident about it. Berlin experienced ByLwansta at my most confident so far. South Africa, not so much yet ‘cause the vibes of not fitting in at home really bring you down man. But yeah, it’s easy to appreciate something being sold by someone who appreciates it the most.
In Berlin, they didn’t have any pre-conceived expectations of me as an SA Hip Hop dude. Down here, if you don’t know my work, there’s this annoying expectation because I’m a hip-hop act, but whatever.
Your most recent release, ‘Oh Well’, is an addendum to your 2016 EP, Your Absolutely Right. Can you give any kind of insight into to the unreleased music you’re currently writing and when we can expect its release?
‘Oh Well’ is the first song I’ve released since YAR, 10 months later, so I obviously haven’t been too active this year, with making music anyway. I have less than a month now to get my degree, so I’ve really needed to keep my head down this year and make sure I finish. I’ve written quite a few songs though and come up with some really amazing ideas I want to execute next year once the shackles of college deadlines come off.
I don’t want to jump the gun about “when”, but thinking about everything I’ve done and achieved in the past 4 years while a student, I can only imagine how productive 2018 is going to be.
What can be expected of your performance at #NothingMajor?
I don’t think it matters, people are going to arrive with expectations anyway and leave with them either not being met or being exceeded, so expect nothing major…