While the exact moment when the two connected is difficult to pinpoint — with it having have occurred either at a recording session with a well known South African rapper or at a Mashayabuque show — this, depending on who you ask that is. What is clear is that producer/rapper Suup Zulu and rapper Kobayashi who was formerly known as Bhubesii, clicked instantaneously thanks to a shared love of kwaito. This led to Suup Zulu sharing beats and Kobayashi writing over them. Around a year later in 2019 the two began recording what would become the EP IMALI NABO LOVE, an ode to the golden era of kwaito and township life. “I really dig [Kobayashi] because he’s very into the township, street type of steez. I thought my beats could contribute in terms of his take on township life” explains Suup Zulu.
Channeling and transposing into his sonics the ways and sways of Alexandra township, Suup Zulu also drew a lot of inspiration from the kasi and kwaito scene of the 90s, bubblegum music, tuck-shops as well as more new-age artists. “I call my sound the kwaai tuck-shop. When you go to the tuck-shop you can hear any type of sound in S.A. So my sound is very inspired by the golden age of township sounds and the new age… Boyzn Bucks really inspired me”. The resulting productions are instantly familiar, taking the listener back to a bygone era, while simultaneously adding contemporary flavours. Still, the sound is more nostalgic than futuristic. Coming from background located in rap but having have spent his teen years surrounded by kwaito – Kobayashi’s vocals reference 90s kwaito tropes such as repetition – while also pushing himself on the verses as he says:
“I’d incorporate the repetitiveness to make it catchy but in the verses is where I go in. That’s the missing ingredient of kwaito. Cats wouldn’t rap as much and for me, I wanted to fucking rap but also keep it quite bubblegum, not too heavy. I wanted to relay it to that guy on the street who isn’t a fan of hip hop [and] hip hop heads will think it has sick flows and bars, cadence. For me, it was very important to find that middle ground for both of them and be true to myself as a vocalist and a writer”.
Coming in at 7 tracks including an interlude and outro, IMALI NABO LOVE is a project meant to be listened to in one sitting.
“The EP is talking about [a particular] lifestyle. When you’re out there girls love you but when you’re down they don’t like you. We’re trying to inspire other kids, even if you don’t have a lot- if you work hard and try and push and provide for your family, that’s really the important part” Suup Zulu says of the EPs concept. Kobayashi expands on this saying that:
“it’s basically a weekend in the hood. There are underlying values of community, getting along, respect but also a lot of ratchetness because that’s the hood. It’s kinda like organised chaos. It’s the juxtaposition between how bad people think it is and for us that are from there know it isn’t. Even though we know we’re not supposed to be there, we’re making the best of a shitty situation”.
IMALI NABO LOVE is Suup Zulu and Kobayashi’s desire to create music that feels distinctly South African even when played in a global context.
“I’m from the hood, moved to the ‘burbs and I’m also in town a lot, so I’m a hybrid. I fit in anywhere, so it was important to have a project that says that and epitomises that. Also, I wanted something that when it’s played globally, you hear that it’s South African. Hip hop is cool, I’m a rapper, but I was just trying to create that fingerprint, that undeniable sound and aesthetic that whenever you hear it you’re like “that’s South African township shit”’. Kobayashi says of the sound. The two are hoping to release visuals to accompany the release with Kobayashi thinking of mixing this with his Punk and Ivy fashion brand which he wants to relaunch. “I’m trying to incorporate fashion with music. So fashion films. Just a different approach” he explains. Musically, he feels like he has found his home in kwaito. A volume two is also more than likely, with both excited to work together again, while Suup Zulu also has a number of other projects brewing. “I’m currently working with a lot of artists. I’m working with some amaPiano guys, a lot of Cape Town people, I’m gonna keep dropping because there are too many collabs”.
Nostalgic yet fresh, distinctly South African and easy to digest, IMALI NABO LOVE, is the type of project that will not only resonate locally but also with global ears that are trained on the South.
The EP is out now, stream it here