AKA, the man who calls himself “The African Hip Hop Prince” has spent the past two years building hype for his long-anticipated sophomore album with a series of killer singles. That album is titled #Levels, and the buzz is more than justified. The album features several hits among these; Jealousy, Kontrol and Congratulate, which have been setting fire to clubs and radio playlists for months. Tracks like Run Jozi (Godly), All Eyes On Me and Sunshinelook set tocontinue the rap prince’s fresh run of form. #Levels is a world-class slice of contemporary hip hop, produced to ...
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AKA, the man who calls himself “The African Hip Hop Prince” has spent the past two years building hype for his long-anticipated sophomore album with a series of killer singles. That album is titled #Levels, and the buzz is more than justified.
The album features several hits among these; Jealousy, Kontrol and Congratulate, which have been setting fire to clubs and radio playlists for months. Tracks like Run Jozi (Godly), All Eyes On Me and Sunshinelook set tocontinue the rap prince’s fresh run of form.
#Levels is a world-class slice of contemporary hip hop, produced to perfection by AKA himself and his crew of collaborators from across Africa.
The Johannesburg rapper’s second album represents a brave step forward in African music. #Levels incorporates up-to-the-minute production and oozes authentic South African lyrical references but still retains its hip-hop credibility.
“I’m trying to bridge the gap between fans of different genres and cultures through a new style of African hip-hop music,” says the artist through his newly minted grill.
The opinionated 26-year-old cannot be accused of lacking ambition. What’s most impressive is that he has largely succeeded in forging a fresh hip-hop sound on #Levels. It’s been an impressive evolution for the rapper who first appeared on the SA music scene in teenage hip-hop crew Entity.
Today AKA has built a personal brand that everyone seems to want a piece of. He has endorsements, he’s hosted awards shows, presented sport on TV, he pervades social media and he performs almost nightly at clubs and festivals across Africa. “Channel O, Trace TV, MTV Base and Soundcity TV have opened the continent up to us,” he says.
The title of the album refers to the idea of relative levels of success. “Starting out, I used to borrow my mom’s car to play clubs. Later, I had a hit album, but I was still getting changed in my car before shows. Still, all the time I knew one day I would be succeeding at a higher level.”
Getting to those #Levels required a fair bit of vision.
Following the massive success of his multi-award-winning Altar Ego debut, the man born Kiernan Jarryd Forbes was at a crossroads. His IV League production partnership was on hiatus, and he had to decide whether to produce his next album alone, or to build a brand-new network of beatmakers.
To his credit, he bravely chose the latter path. The result is a varied but coherent album of infectious grooves, packed with current and future club bangers, radio hits and unforgettable hooks.
“When the time came to start making #Levels,” he says. “I knew I had to be brave, or I wouldn’t get anywhere. So I started being more open to working with other artists.”
A sign of how AKA has embraced collaboration is that respected poet/MC Tumi Molekane rhymes solo on the album-opening title track. Other vocal features include Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie, Nigerian dancehall singer Burna Boy, J’Something from Mi Casa, K.O. from Teargas, Reason, Da Les and JR.
New musical and beatmaking partnerships have been forged with artists like KG, Master A Flat, Tweezy and Sticky, leaving him perfectly poised to take his music to new, well, #Levels!
The album fuses hip-hop with dance music, placing grooves front and centre and also sampling liberally from the electro/house tradition. Jealousy, for instance, samples French house producer Martin Solveig. A Brenda Fassie groove drives All Eyes On Me, and a Mylo sample defines the track Pressure, alongside blistering bars from Reason and AKA.
This also reflects AKA’s lifelong passion for music, ignited when he first dug out his dad’s albums of Cat Stevens, Bread and Jackson Browne.
AKA explains that far from him using dance grooves to appeal to the mainstream, it is in fact the mainstream that has come across to hip-hop culture. “Rap swallowed R&B… Rap is the new mainstream. If you look at the culture and the aspirations of young people today. Sneakers, cool cars, partying in the club with models… That’s a hip-hop lifestyle.”
And AKA is here to provide the soundtrack.
“You have to show an element of leadership with your work. You need to take risks on new sounds and lead the way,” he says. “I wanted to create a new type of African hip hop with a global sound.”
With #Levels, AKA has achieved just that.
Album profile: Levels – AKA
In AKA’s own words:
“The album title refers to different levels of success. What you once aspired to, can become just another starting point. Once you get there, you aim higher – to another level. Also, I’m a keen gamer, so I’m all about getting to the next level. The album cover shows Sudanese pyramids, Benzes and a beatbox, to express how I’m making a new type of African hip hop.”
“It’s something different to have another artist open your album. But I’ve got massive respect for Tumi. He has had international success, and many South African artists aspire to reach his Level. We talked about it, and I trusted him to capture the essence of the album in a poem.”
“Sim is a friend of mine from school. His real name’s Simphiwe. He’s just a really cool guy who happens to be super-affluent. He’s just so paid. But he still keeps it classy. In the song I’m dealing with my own struggles, wondering what it’d be like on his level.”
Run Jozi (Godly)
“There’s a great feature on here by K.O. from Teargas and Yanga also provides the vocal hook. ‘Better check credentials, Petr Cech protect the temple,’ is one of the rhymes.
“This features Sarkordie rapping, and J’Something from Mi Casa. That guy can sing, no doubt. This could make a great summer party track.”
“I sing quite a bit on this one. I can hold a tune! I try to mix in some local references with hip-hop staples. ‘Kuse-kuse, gin and juice-y!’”
All Eyes On Me
“This bassline is one of Brenda’s. So here we’re mixing South African afro-pop with dancehall toasting by Burna Boy and some great bars by JR and Da L.E.S.”
“This slow jam is the longest song on the album. It’s about a girl who needs to slow down. It’s just another Egoliwood story! One of the lyrics goes, ‘The swag is like a magnet, it’s a fatal attraction...’”
Let Me Show You
“Another slow jam. ‘Mommy had to work all the late nights. Daddy had swim with the great whites.’ Here I also give shout-outs to some of the many people who worked on the album and who helped me get where I am today.”
“This single was massive. My friend Da L.E.S. features on the track. ‘Got a fistful of Madibas in my hand. Catch my on the highway, rollin’ with my gang,’ goes the hook. This is all about us living the lifestyle we love.”
“Yeah, the hook is from Daft Punk and Mylo. One day we’ll be able to sample The Beatles and Michael Jackson. When we’re on that Level, ha, ha!”
“This is an important track for me. It was the first single I put out after my debut album. It’s got a dance, hip-hop fusion thing going on. It set the tone for what would eventually become the Levels album.”
2014 Channel O Awards Most Gifted Hip Hop
2013 MetroFM Music Awards Best Hit Single
2011 MetroFM Music Awards Best Newcomer, Best Hip Hop Album, Best Produced Album
2012 SA Music Awards Best Male Artist, Best Street Urban Music Album
2011 Channel O MVAs Most Gifted Hip-Hop Video
2009 Hype Magazine Award Best Newcomer
Metro Fm Awards 2014 (4 Nominations)
SA Hip Hop Awards (11 Nominations)
2014 Channel O Awards Most Gifted Southern, Most Gifted Video
2014 African Muzik Magazine Awards Best Male Southern African, Best Rap Act
2014 MTV Africa Music Awards Best Hip Hop
2013 Metro Fm Music Awards Best Music Video (Nominated)