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Working in the music industry teaches you invaluable lessons, one of which is how to manage your expectations of successful artists. Keeping expectations low means you won’t be blindsided by arrogance, self-serving behaviour and delusions of grandeur. However, this also leads to extreme highs of being pleasantly surprised when you meet artists who could be forgiven for their hubris due to their accolades, but don’t exhibit even a hint. YoungstaCPT is one such artist.
In February 2017, after watching YoungstaCPT deliver an intelligent and engaging workshop for Cape Town Electronic Music Festival, I understood more than ever why he is knocking his career goals out the park. His music, ethos and life breath encapsulates the pride of his heritage and the stories he wants to share with the world. This year has seen him smash multiple boundaries with three tours overseas, two of which were in Australia, as well as breaking into the more mainstream market on home soil.
Last Thursday YoungstaCPT performed at the Ballantine’s Boiler Room event hosted at The Shred skatepark in Cape Town and I was fortunate enough to snag a few minutes with him backstage shortly before his set to find out how life has changed for him in the last nine months.
Boiler Room events have a special place in my heart. The concept and the intimacy of the experience seduced my senses along shitty bandwidths long before I was able to attend my first event. There is an energy in the room that can only be created by like-minded humans feeding off the passion and appreciation for the music they have camped out to come celebrate. There are few things in life I am still willing to stand in a queue for, and Boiler Room definitely resides in the top three.
Floating around the event space, an indoor skatepark in a industrial area less than ten kilometres outside Cape Town’s CBD, I stealthily eavesdropped on people’s banter trying to ascertain who they were most excited to support. I heard YoungstaCPT’s name mentioned several times, the video for his latest single ‘YASIS’ had just been released and he was yet to perform the song live in South Africa.
The space filled up as the queue dissipated, rolling basslines provided the perfect soundtrack to the sun setting behind warehouse buildings. Shortly after his arrival, the backstage area was abuzz with people seeking the attention of YoungstaCPT. One of the first things you’ll notice about him is that even though he wants to give everyone the attention they are (often) demanding, he will focus intently on the subject at hand. When you ask a question he looks you directly in the eyes, listens and only responds once you are done talking. He is respected because he shows respect, he is interesting because he takes interest. I’ve never been more relieved to not be the one showing up without an appointment.
Our first attempt at chatting was interrupted by someone shouting, “How was Australia?!” to which he replied, “Oh it was lovely, kangaroos and koala bears… I went to the zoo brother, animal jail. I feel sorry for them there, they’re in the tronk. That’s tronk life.”
He went on to explain how large kangaroos are and how koala’s look geroek from chewing on eucalyptus all day. The interruption proved a perfect segway to my first question about performing ‘YASIS’ for the first time to an Australian audience. He commented on the noticeable difference in appeal and support between his first tour and the one he just completed. It seems that countries like Australia are starting to take notice of and demanding music from emerging markets rather than just American and the UK or Europe. Aside from his own shows, he witnessed DJs delving into house and gqom sounds that indicates a window for South African artists to find success in Australia, he remarked with excitement, “That means our mense can come there and kill it.” It’s an encouraging sign that artists who travel overseas pay attention to what is happening outside of their own audience and consider the brevity of their representation in new markets, returning to share the positive feedback.
YoungstaCPT creates a strong bond with his international audiences because he needs to explain a lot of his content to them so they can understand what he is rapping about.
“You must understand, I’m not just a brah getting on stage shouting EVERYBODY PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR,” he explains. Sharing the origin and meaning of his content is also what makes him so relatable and attractive to new audiences, in combination with the endless energy he exudes during every one of his performances. In Australia he is viewed as ethnically ambiguous because for the most part they understand South Africa as black or white, so explaining coloured culture is a task he is faced with at every show and in most interactions.
Time constraints and eager friends and fans buzzing around us meant I couldn’t delve too deep into the more serious content I was hoping to broach, but I did manage to address the topic of Australia legalizing same sex marriage. He was in the country on the day it happened and remembered how the streets were painted in bright colours. “Shit went crazy that day… it’s one of the first times that love won,” he smiled.
YoungstaCPT aligns his success in Australia to the fact that their local hip hop industry is as much in its infancy as South Africa. Younger generations are starting to take interest in their own artists, build a culture around them and want to emulate these artists through their clothing and behaviour. And this movement amongst the kids to support local music is what leads our conversation back to where we were standing, at Boiler Room, moments before he was due to perform. I asked him what it feels like knowing his performance will be streaming to people across the world, he replied earnestly that, “I always tell people, there can be three people in the audience or thirty thousand people, we’re gonna sweat.”
His uncompromising dedication to his art and his audience means every single person who comes out to show support will get the performance they deserve. He explained that his set for Boiler Room was curated with both the international audience and the people in the room in mind. He didn’t want to perform with a bias to either, but wanted to show the full expanse of how he would approach an audience who have no idea who is, in combination with some of his most loyal supporters.
His performance that night was energetic, inspiring and coercive. The crowd wouldn’t let him finish, there was no level of showmanship that would have quenched their thirst. But in an attempt to drop the mic in the only way suitable, he closed his set with ‘YASIS’. Being in that room, shouting “YASIS” in chorus with hundreds of equally sweaty people was an incomparable feeling.
YoungstaCPT is putting in the work and opening doors to different parts of the world to facilitate opportunities for future generations. This is a man who hasn’t taken no for an answer, and chases every new horizon as the starting point for the next adventure.
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