Nasty C has no airs. That’s what hits you first when you meet him. There was no swagger to his carriage, no extra spring in his step, no concealed braggadocio in his mannerism. He was the guy next door, your drinking buddy, your neighbour, the one who you could ask ‘What’s up?’, without a sense of who he was. That basic quality cloaked him like a warm blanket, breaking the ice before a word was uttered. We shook hands, and he responded to me with “What’s good?”
This is Nasty C. Africa’s Prince of Hip-Hop, and arguably the best rap act that the continent currently possesses. From South Africa to New York, his fans line up all the urban cities in between, with pockets of support for his art. They are fans turned followers, who have moved past the music, and submitted themselves to his person in the ultimate spirit of fandom. They make themselves felt on Instagram, create videos of his music on Twitter, push positivity to him at every corner, and turn up when he demands for it via live concerts.
But it is hard to tell he commands this influence, from his demeanor; he doesn’t wear it on his young shoulders. 24 hours earlier, he had flown in from Johannesburg to Nigeria, for business meetings. They were the first of many as he tied up all the ends for the release of his sophomore album, “Strings & Bling.” He is young; at 21, he’s moved from his teenage years into adulthood as a rap star. Music has been his life’s mission and a blessing to him, and at this moment, sharing his space, the predominant feeling that he harbours is gratitude for his success. Not pressure. Not fear. Just appreciation for all his lines falling in the right places.
“My age does the exact opposite of putting pressure on me,” he says. “When people hear the songs and try to embrace the talent, they think I am way older. But when they meet me, they go ‘So you are this young? That means you are crazy though.”
Things have moved quickly for Nasty C. He signed a world exclusive record deal with Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music company. He automatically became a priority project, with heavy production, marketing and promotional investment in his sophomore album, “Strings and Bling.” “It feels great to be part of Universal Music,” He says with a smile when I ask about the move. “Things are different now, the mission is global and I am excited about the future.”
The past holds many stories for the rapper. Born Nsikayesizwe David Junior Ngcobo, in February 1997, Nasty C lost his mother when he was just 11 to a fatal auto crash. His father, left with raising him, made sure he never lacked maternal figures in his life. “I had 4 stepmothers,” Nasty explained. Growing up without a mother wasn’t easy, but Nasty says “It wasn’t that hard. We had our differences, fights and all, but they took care of me nonetheless.”
The hard part was getting the freedom and blessing to do music. His father didn’t connect with his decision to make music and leave school. For his son, he wanted a regular life, filled with classrooms and workstations. All Nasty C needed was a mic, a producer, some beats, and a stage. But the father refused. When he understood that music wasn’t an avid hobby for his son, he didn’t just say the words. He backed it with action.
“He’d do stuff like, maybe he put away the computer for a week, locked it in his room, so I wasn’t gonna get to it,” Nasty C recalls. “He would always remind me of my (poor) marks in school, and how I was slacking in school because I was focusing too much on the music.”
During his final year in high school, Nasty C was done with schooling. He had made the decision to leave school and roll the dice on a career in music. “I always kinda loved music more than anything else, and it was the one thing I was really good at.” With doubters all around him, and a father insistent on having his son follow a conventional path through life, it wasn’t an easy decision. But he was done with school, and he took the gamble. Music over academics.
Life as a young artist was hard; being out in the streets and trying to get the music out in people’s ears was a challenge. “I wasn’t booked, I was getting free shows, and sometimes I had to pay to perform. The people that were managing me at the time, they always felt like they weren’t doing anything, and their wives were complaining because they were spending too much time trying to make my dream happen.”
His management team began to break up. One of them quit, and returned back to school to forge another career path. The other team member was on the verge of giving up. Nasty C at some point was mulling over the idea of going back to school. But he never did consider quitting, rationalizing the stress away, and holding on to his dream.
“I had so much passion for music, just because of what music does to me personally. It wasn’t just about me having this lavish style or anything else. I stayed for the main reason why I started this music. For what it does me, and what it does for everyone who listens to it,” Nasty C said.
At age 16, Nasty C got his first cheque from the music; he was performing at a local club in Durban, and got paid R500. How did he spend the cash? First he split it up. His manager got some of it, he pocketed some, and brought home R300 to his father. “It felt good,” he remembers. “Just for me to see that look on my father’s face when I brought home money from music. It felt good.”
Nasty C doesn’t feel young; he regularly cuts the figure of a very young man, pumped full of childlike exuberance and happiness. But those are simply manifestations of his personality, he left home at 18. And he says that was when he became a man.
Nasty C released his first mixtape “One Kid a Thousand Coffins” on in May 2013. His second project titled “C L.A.M.E (Extended Play Version)” – EP was released a year later. ‘L.A.M.E’. is an acronym for “Levitating Above My Enemies”. In February 2015, he would go on to release his highly successful mixtape, titled “Price City.” Off the tape was his major single ‘Juice Back’ which later spawned a remix featuring Davido and Cassper Nyovest, produced by Gemini Major.
In January 2016, he was featured on Anatii and Cassper Nyovest’s collaborative single ‘Jump’. That same month, the official music video for the remix to the single ‘Juice Back’ was released. He appeared on SWAY in the Morning and freestyled over 6lack’s ‘Prblms’ instrumental.
All of these grew Nasty C’s profile and penetration on the continent, propelling him through heights. After he signed to Mabala Noise Entertainment he finally dropped “Bad Hair” to people’s highly anticipation, for free on Audiomack. He would later explain that that was due to a sample he couldn’t clear from one song in time before the release. In December 2016 he released an extended version of Bad Hair, titled Bad Hair Extensions with the smash single “Allow” featuring the American rapper, French Montana.
In February 2017, he announced his deal with Universal Music Group in Africa. His second studio album, “Strings & Bling”, was released in July, 2018 and it features guest appearances from American rapper A$AP Ferg, Rowlene and Kaien Cruz.
There are voices on the continent who believe Nasty C is the best rapper in Africa; a cool kid, with the best bars and technical ability to rule the game. Hip-Hop as an art form thrives on competition, whether it is actual or simulated by fans to create a ranking system for MCs. Although Nasty C appreciates the compliments and the mention of his name in this vein, his focus isn’t on competitive accolades. He gets something more priceless from his ability to rap.
“Not that I don’t like competition. I am not the type of person to provoke other people to generate a reaction. But I like to be confident, and I have to see myself as the best,” he said. “Rap gave me the confidence I needed when I was younger, when I was 9 years old. It gave me a voice, it gave me friends, and it gave me an understanding of myself, and brought out so much in me that I couldn’t find any other way. Most importantly, it made me happy.”
This article was written by Joey Akan; he tweets via JoeyAkan
Image Credit – Liezl Zwarts