Local Lowdown: Capetown’s YoungstaCPT On Hometown Hip Hop

In collaboration with The Plot.

One of the Internet’s greatest achievements is the fusing and unveiling of sonic worlds that would otherwise be unbeknownst to us. South African hip hop is steadily being adopted by Australians via YoungstaCPT, the nom de guerre of Cape Town’s own Riyadh Roberts. His online mixtapes have created a cult following in his stomping grounds, while turning heads abroad for their refined beats, sharp wordplay, and insight into Kaapstad living.

After a successful inaugural trip Down Under earlier this year, during which he collaborated with Sampa jazz-trained Aussie producer Godriguez (who worked on Sampa the Great‘s debut LP), YoungstaCPT is back on our shores for a handful of headline shows, ready to capture audiences again.

For our third and final installation of Local Lowdown, we caught up with YoungstaCPT ahead of his appearance at The Plot to chat about the music scene in Cape Town, being an accidental role model, and wrapping up his 30th mixtape at age 25.


You played in Melbourne on the weekend. How was that?

Yes! Melbourne was dope. For us, I think it’s always good to perform for crowds who don’t always know your music, because it gives you a challenge, like you have to win these people over in two songs – one song, actually. You have to constantly engage with them. My music can be hard to understand also, because of the language barrier, so it’s also fun in terms of having to educate an audience, whereas these megastars come out and they don’t even sing anymore! They just hold the mic out to the audience and are like, “Finish this sentence.” So, for us, I like that fact that we come out on stage and have to kind of prove ourselves. It keeps you hungry. It keeps you sharp, as well. You don’t get the chance to relax. You always have to be on top of your game – it doesn’t matter how many people are in the room, just give them a show, because they can go tell 20 other people, “Oh, the show was totally shit, man.” And then what am I gonna do? Never come back to Australia again? Or Melbourne!

Never!

Yeah, ha! It’s sad. I enjoy the fact that we always live up to our name. When people see us live, they say it’s better than the recordings. Seeing me on stage is better than listening to me on an mp3 player. I’m proud of that. We have a good stage presence, as well, so I think that we give good shows, no matter where we are.

“It might not be as pretty, clean, dainty, and prim and proper as you want it, but you can’t say it’s not art.”

You guys definitely left us with a good impression on your visit earlier this year. What was your impression of Sydney’s music scene – how does it compare to Cape Town’s?

Well, the way I see things here, I see a bit more functionality, in terms of the industry and the way that the artists tour in Australia – they can just tour the entire country, and do it successfully. They can play big shows, festivals, concerts – it’s a healthy scene. I find it to be efficient and it works. South Africa, we’re still catching up. We’re getting there. It was only in 2014 that South African hip hop became the shit. Before that it was house music, or kwaito (African house) music. That’s it – those two genres were the dominant sounds. What’s happening here now, that I’m seeing in Melbourne also, is Afro-trap, people are starting to play Black Coffee and Big Nas. For us, it’s funny, because that’s what people are playing at home every day. We can definitely see there is a market here for South Africa. We do have influence that we can use here, as well. But from what I’ve seen, the scene here is very healthy. It exists, it thrives.

What’s cool about your music is that we get a snapshot of life in Cape Town that we don’t really get anywhere else – post-apartheid Cape town through the eyes of a millennial. How do people our age, and older generations, in Cape Town respond to your music?

Fuck – they love it! This is the first time. It’s very funny that you should mention that, because it’s not like there’s six or seven other guys like me, on my scale, doing it as frequently and as good as I’m doing it. I’m the only one – I’m a little anomaly there, in Cape Town. There’s not many, so because of that, I have a very loyal fanbase who are like, “Yeah – he’s the guy. He’s the one.” It’s like they know when the bell rings, and they put me in the ring, I’m not going to disappoint them. In terms of that, I think that they consider me the people’s champ, or the representative – a hometown hero, urban legend… whichever one of those titles you want to go with, ha! I call myself the Cape Crusader, I call myself YoungVanRiebeek, named after the famous coloniser who came from the European continent to colonise South Africa.

Cape Town started with the Cape of Good Hope. Even something like that – it’s there to educate anyone who doesn’t know about that history. If they don’t know who the first settler was, that came there – if you listen to my music, you can learn that. I’m even educating my own age group, because I know most of us didn’t listen in class, ha! So, let me teach you it again, but in a more fun way. As far as the adults, they’re always going to find the profanity and the vulgarity, and all that shit, but the smart ones who dig through that will be like, “You know what? He’s got a point. He’s got something to say, and he’s being real about it. He’s not sugar-coating it. So, let’s give him a chance, at least.”

It’s so interesting you say that, because when you were performing for high schools over there, you said, “I’m not a role model, because I have flaws.” But I feel like that ‘realness’ makes you…

…makes you a role model! Fuck! It’s like the sword that stabs me, at the same time I’m trying to stab you. So, I didn’t intend for it to be that way, and because I am not aiming for that kind of status, it’s propelling me further into that kind of status because I don’t want to be that, ha! I’m becoming that, because I don’t want to. I don’t know – I just have to learn how to balance it and how to be responsible with it, that’s the main thing. It’s not so much about me living up to this thing, it’s about what I’m going to do with it. If I get it, if I become that guy, then what do I do with it? And that’s why I’m trying to talk about things like YanVanRieebek so that if I am gonna be seen as a role model, I’m at least doing something positive or educational or historical – worth the music. Let me do something good, then.

But I can’t be a saint, because this is hip hop, ha! This is not fucking pop music. This is not country. This is rap. This comes from the ghetto. It is that, you can never change that about hip hop music. It’s always going to be rebellious; it’s always going to be anti-system. So, the kids also, in their rooms at night, or when they go to school, or when they walk home, they feel that rebelliousness, because in some way or another, they’ve been shunned by the system and they’ve felt it some way in their life. There’s a song of mine that might speak about that, and that’s why they’ll consider me a role model. Even though I might not be sending a message to a 40-year-old or a 30-year-old, there’s an 18-year-old or 20-year-old out there who can relate. For them it’s important for me to be that – maybe not so much for the adults.

I read that when you were small you listened to Will Smith.

That was my man! Look at my out – the big glasses, I look like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for god’s sake.

You also listened to a lot of Tupac and Nas, but in a lot of your tracks, there are also heavy jazz influences and reggae. Where did that side come from?

Digging further into hip hop, you’ll find that hip hop is the greatest stolen genre ever. We stole everything. Hip hop music stole everything and made it a genre of its own, taking pieces from everywhere. If you listen to songs like “Still D.R.E.”, you’ll hear that piano, that klang klang klang. That piano, there’s something about that one key that just gets you. Dre, he plays a classical piano. If you take out all the hip hop, the drums, the gangster sounds, the little synths, the words – everything – and just have that piano play, you could play a classical tune out of that. If you listen to DJ Premier, he samples a lot of jazz instrumentals. James Brown, I’d say he’s the originator of hip hop in a way, because all of his records had the breaks in it, when he used to say, “Get down”. And then it would stop – there’d be no more words, and then just the beat would play. Earlier rappers and DJs would just use that part alone, and just loop that.

Yeah, they’d spin it in clubs!

Yeah! And guys would break dance, and take the mic and be like, “Everybody in the house say, whoa!” And then everyone says, “Whoa!” So the reason why hip hop is influenced by everything else is because it was supposed to be a genre for people with disadvantage, that weren’t supposed to have anything. Because they didn’t have anything, they took from everything, and turned nothing into something. I mean, a record player – they lifted the needle and scratched the disc! Why would you do that?! We literally innovated every genre of music. We reinvented it and made hip hop. That’s why I’m influenced by everything else. Even reggae, the drum patterns in reggae, and dancehall also, are very similar to that of hip hop. The influence is undeniable. If you like hip hop, you have to like the rest of it as well.

You set a goal to release 30 mixtapes by the end of this year, and you’ve got one more, ‘To Be Continued’. What do you think is the importance of being so prolific – is it easy for you to reach those goals?

I think it’s harder for the people around me, to accept that I have so much shit, ha! I have so much music! I don’t think, for me, it’s hard. But because I have to get into the parameters of what they call the “music industry”, I have to kind of figure out my way, and still be able to maintain this workaholic attitude that I have. If it was up to me, I’d probably give you 30 more mixtapes, but I can’t do that. That’s why I’m calling it ‘To Be Continued’. I think 30 is a good number to pause on – just to pause. I’m not gonna stop, I’m just gonna pause on 30. It’s a round number, I like it, and I’m not 30 years old so that’s good – I can live up to that moment and be like, “Oh, I have more mixtapes than my age.”

And just whip them out of your jacket!

Yeah! “What one would you like? 23?”

“It’s like they know when the bell rings, and they put me in the ring, I’m not going to disappoint them.”

So for your debut album, how are you going to choose what makes it on?

You see – that’s the thing. The reason why I’m taking my time with it… the album is called ‘3T’, for ‘Things Take Time’. I like that motto, because things do take time, good and bad; bullshit takes time, and good shit takes time. I just thought of that! I didn’t have that line planned, or anything, ha! What I’m doing with the album, is being a bit more personal. I’m worried about doing that because people are going to have to know me to know if the shit is true or not, and they’re also going to have to understand the slang and the story.

It’s really fucking with my mind – should I just do it in plain and simple English so the whole world can understand it, or should I tell the story and narrate it in such a way – like you said – that it will be like a window, or some hole into a little world where you’ll be like, “Wooow! I didn’t know about any of this.” I know that’s the kind of shit that stands the test of time – that’s the groundbreaking shit, when you do stuff that nobody gets at the start, and then next thing you know, they praise it as a classic piece of work, like, “Oh my god, he cut off his ear! I didn’t get it then, but I get it now!” I’m thinking of doing something like that – a masterpiece.

And cutting off your ear?!

I’m thinking about doing it! I’m gonna make an album, and cut off my ear and see what happens – see which one you hear about first, my ear, or the album!

It’s must be exciting though – trialling a new approach.

Yeah – I want to go deeper. I want to paint a heavy picture and hang it on a museum wall and be like, this art belongs with the rest of it. It might not be as pretty, clean, dainty, and prim and proper as you want it, but you can’t say it’s not art.

Another big part of your artistry is style. You had a bit of a head-start, because your mum was a designer and model.

Yeah, yeah, I know! She was the one. She put me on heavy.

I read that she’d tell you to wear things one size up.

Not even tell me! She just did it. I’d be like, “Why don’t my shirts fit me?” And she’d be like, “It’s fine! Wear it! It’s cool! Everybody dresses like that!” I’d be like…”Yeah… but I’m six, mum. Can’t I get something that fits?”

How does fashion influence your creative life now?

For hip hop music, I think fashion has always been a branch, because once again, you grow up in a place where you’re not expected to succeed, your house looks like shit, so the only things that you have to present yourself in a nice way is your appearance – when you walk out of the house, how do you want the world to see you? You might not have a good chair at home, but for now, how do you want to be seen.All they sometimes have is a cap, or a pair of takkies (sneakers), just to show that identity, like, “Okay, I’m styling. I’m struggling… but my takkies.” That’s the little bit of dignity that they had left – it was in their wardrobe. You have to reach so high to get out of that low. Anyway, a lot of the time I get dressed now, and I’m like, “Damn it! I wish my mother was here, cause she would have told me what goes with this!”

After seven years of putting out music, you’ve been nominated for three South African Hip Hop Awards. Why do you think has changed, that you’re now being recognised in your field?

I wanted to do something that’s so innovative that, if you heard it from me, you’ve heard it for the first time, ever. Doing that sometimes pushes me to the sideline. I constantly have this tug of war, because sometimes the slang is so deep, and the accent… it’s hard for you to listen, understand and dance at the same time. But I think that those risks have gotten me some worthy attention that people can’t deny anymore. They can’t turn their back on what I’m doing anymore. You must understand, in South Africa, I’m not black, and I’m not white, so I speak to a smaller demographic of people. Hence why I say, should I just do it in English, or just how we do it?

I think because I’ve been taking those kinds of steps, it’s courage that allows me to do this. I have to be brave, because my own people are going to hate me for it, because I am going to expose them, but outsiders that don’t know about it are going to praise me for it, because I exposed my culture in a way that hasn’t been done. So I get backlash on one side – it’s almost embarrassing for some of them to hear their own life – because it used to just be a community-based thing, but now the whole world can see it. Getting nominated, that’s the plus side, because for the rest of the world, or the rest of our country that doesn’t know the story, it’s amazing.


Listen to YoungstaCPT’s collabs with Godriguez here:

You can catch YoungstaCPT live at The Plot on Saturday 18th November. Grab tickets here.

Photos by Jordan Munns.