MUSIC PROFILE: Beats by Sketchy Bongo and vocal notes commanded by Shekhinah transformed Durban into a perennial threat for hits. Phumlani S Langa sits down with one of the wolves who pulled the sounds of Durban away from House and kwaito to give them shock treatment through rap.
In 2015, the streets first got a taste of a Durban-based rapper with a polished sound and smartly worded raps. Aewon Wolf gave us Darkest Winter that year and he enjoyed a rapid rise that involved very lucrative endorsement deals. His first two albums had this rapper fully booked but not living his life to the fullest. We delve into his hiatus and return album.
He was in town for a day to film an episode of One Mic, a reality talent search show on SABC1, when #Trending managed to get a moment with him.
He sits on the show’s judging panel along with rappers Fifi Cooper and Big Zulu. We meet on a Saturday morning at the Shine Studios in Braamfontein, Joburg, where I have arrived before call time.
We get straight to it. Why exactly did he let go of the torch when he had the flame and the keys to the kingdom?
Rocking slides and a grey sweater with the calling card braided hairdo, the rapper and philanthropist explains:
“I [took] a break just to work on myself. In 2016, towards the end of that year, I had a huge wake-up call. A father figure of mine passed away from a stroke. Three months after that my father had a stroke. After all that I had to put things on pause for a bit.”
These events coincided with his rise in the music industry, and aspects of his life seemed to conflict.
What happens when you let the wolf back in? pictures:supplied
“I went to visit the father figure of mine in hospital at the peak of Aewon Wolf. [There were] shows everywhere, endorsements and partying.
“I was always on the road, constantly flying in and out. Luckily I got to visit him. I went back on the road and then he passed away.”
He recalls how he wasn’t able to be there for the family as much as he would have like as he had to fly out for a show right after the funeral. Aewon justified it as what it takes to take care of the family.
“This entire time I didn’t even realise that I wasn’t even happy, if I’m honest with myself. I was going through the motions. Gigging, drinking, partying and just living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.”
He says it never went as far as a dalliance with narcotics, but it was taxing all the same. He also says it wasn’t depression, but naturally not the brightest of times.
During this period, Aewon had to explain his situation to people he had business obligations towards, telling them that he would be out until his father’s condition improved.
“It all had me thinking about what the bigger picture and my purpose were. Am I just going to have a story to tell about things I did and then what?”
Fortunately, he is in a better headspace now and is enjoying his role as a judge on One Mic as well as getting back behind the mic.
He always had an inkling to nurture and help out other artists around him and this, of course, is where the idea to buy a warehouse in Durban and adapt the space to a talent factory came about.
Aewon put well over R1 million into a project that aims to find talent from in and around Durban and give them a platform to sharpen their skills. He wanted to harness his talent to rear other talent.
Interestingly, he always refers to Aewon Wolf as an external factor, almost as if the persona is something he takes off and puts on.
“This whole Aewon thing is fun, but it can be draining as you’re always trying to keep up, trying to push something new.
“If there’s someone else in your lane then they try to pit you against each other and [it becomes] a competition.”
He never wanted to but felt forced to play the industry game.
“I was done playing the game. I hustled hard in the two years that this Aewon thing was popping off. I made sure to take full advantage of everything and I was 100% independent and handling my management.”
Feeling like the game wouldn’t miss him, the 32-year-old decided to start cancelling shows but avoided saying anything about taking a step back for fear that the media would snowball his reasons.
A wolf at he warehouse: Aewon Wolf took a step back from music to empower up and coming talent in Durban. pictures:supplied
“I had a friend involved in property and I reached out to him for space where I could create a lifestyle centre for kids. I wanted to start a movement where I could help these kids and give them shows in this one space. The project felt more meaningful to me.”
He didn’t have a plan; he just signed a lease, paid the deposit and was all-in. He figured that if he put his money into a project then he would have to make it work: It went well. At the end the warehouse was what my vision was and then some. We achieved a lot, developing talent and giving it a space in Durban.”
Everything from stage presence to the tricks of the trade when it comes to recording is catered for at this refuge for coastal talent.
The space has had people hosting auditions in it, including e.tv and One Mic. Even Oliver Mtukudzi performed one of his last shows at the warehouse. There are at least eight artists who have emerged through the warehouse who are either doing major commercials or making music for major brands. He lists Mnqobi Yazo, Sibu Nzuza, Earl Evans, Tim Lewis, Yashna, Rhea Blek, Khumz and Artchild.
His aura almost brightens as he talks about the warehouse.
“It was fruitful, but there was also a negative side because of the cost factor. The rental and the sound, which alone cost more than R1 million, and even the flooring was a load of money. [Then there were] bars and stages, and we built a deck at the back. We had to make sure we had a sustainable means of business.”
He partnered with two gentlemen who know the business, which meant that the warehouse could double as a night club and a venue to host events.
With that came certain things Aewon tells me he could do without.
“Getting calls at 2am and being told that there’s a shooting at the club. There are all kinds of things that happen with that life that you don’t have control over,” he adds, which is why he sold his shares in the nightlife business to his partners.
He still runs workshops and sessions to aid rising talent. Upcoming artists can email their entries to email@example.com or link up for more details on Aewon’s social media.
Aewon Wolf opened this year’s hip-hop account with a project aptly titled The Return, available on all streaming platforms.
He had a little run-in with the streets of Jozi a few hours after our meeting and got jacked for his cell phone and R100 000 from his account, but the brother tells us that he’s okay and that these things happen.