The Cape Crusader, YoungstaCPT, released his debut album, Things Take Time (3T), last week. Phumlani S Langa gives the record a test drive around the Mother City, the streets that birthed a rapper who is probably better than your favourite.
I had the pleasure of being in Cape Town for the Cape Town International Jazz Festival last weekend. This particular gathering happens at night, when the jazz freaks feel most comfortable to come out and play, giving me plenty of free time during the day.
A fortunate turn of events is that the best rapper in this region – and arguably the country – released his much-awaited debut album, Things Take Time, while I was in the Mother City.
I’m talking about Riyadh Roberts, better known to us as YoungstaCPT. Where best to bump his album than in the city that shaped his story?
I hop into a snazzy Yaris, push to start and cue the album just a few hours after its release. I head out of the city bowl as the first track starts, taking a long and winding drive from the city centre to Camps Bay – one of the most scenic routes I have ever driven.
It’s also worlds apart from the Cape Town Youngsta grew up in. The opening track begins with a Muslim call to prayer and ambient sounds of a street in Cape Town, then gives way to a conversation between Youngsta and his grandfather discussing how they live life looking over their shoulders in fear of violence. Gangsterism plagues Cape Town and these older heads talk about how they feel government has failed the people in their area, and what exactly they ought to do to combat violent police officers and the scourge of shooters from Lavender Hills. He also touches on the plague of drug abuse on another stand out track, Tik Generation.
Youngsta reiterated this to me during a phone interview.
“Drugs are bad; crack is wack. Those slogans apply in my world. I was no saint, but I strayed away from things that led some of my friends to their downfall. Going from an innocent place to strung out on drugs or in prison. I always heard about this in songs from the US – Jay-Z and people who sold it,” he said.
He wanted to focus on the user and those who are affected by the life of a loved one capitulating to drugs.
The track VOC (Voice of the Cape) begins right after a high-frequency squeal of sorts. As Camps Bay in all its privileged glory appears ahead of me, Youngsta unravels a tale of street loyalty on La Famalia. He pays tribute to his family and how they helped pave the way for him to be able to send punchlines bursting through your speakers.
Years in the making
The trapcentric beats continue on YVR (Young Van Riebeek), a single off this project with a historically charged video portraying the slave trade in South Africa. To be honest, up until this point, I haven’t felt really pulled in by this project.
Other than the stirring intro, I haven’t felt him as much as I would like. The track Sensitive provides the Youngin I enjoy. His vocals are clad in reverberation, giving the effect of him speaking from a podium or through a bullhorn. He summons a darker delivery over an impassioned beat that allows the homie to really snap for the first time on this album.
I had to ask him about the producers he roped in and the process of creating this debut.
The humble 27-year-old lyricist said: “If I had to give you the full story, that’s about four to five years in the making ... Compiling the interview with my grandfather and finding the right beats to fit those topics. You don’t want crowded beats over a potent emotion. They’re very stripped down and simple, which allowed me room to speak.”
This is straight mash-out music, so move some furniture out of the way for this one. Sensitive slaps the block as I pull up on the busy main road in Camps Bay. More than a few white people stare as I drive past, blasting Youngsta while he belts “motherf**ker” on the hook. I couldn’t help but think, “Why you so sensitive?”
I decide to leave this bourgeoisie part of Cape Town and head back to something a little more greasy – Long Street. This is just as Youngsta gets to cooking up a west side funk-inspired banger, To Live and Die in CA. No trap high hats, just a groovy baseline and some synthesiser effects laid down by his long-time collaborator, Maloon TheBoom from Switzerland. There is nothing better than a rapper paying respects to the streets that raised him. This is something Youngsta has built his career on.
Youngsta also cheers his production team: “These guys are the ones I have worked with throughout my career. That’s like 30 mixtapes; who even has that? I could be the first and only bra in the country. It was necessary to include these people in the album as they helped build my career.”
‘Lean drinking sh*t’
The instrumentals remain pure on The Cape of Good Hope. The second half of this album is proving to be rather formidable. I swerve on to lower Long Street as this track kicks off. I half expected Nate Dogg to handle the hook on this. He is really running with this comparison between the west side of the US having similarities between each other. The rest of the game is trying so hard to mimic trap stylings, why not look to the many other styles of rap that came before this?
I ask Youngsta how he struck a balance between tracks that have a crossover appeal while still maintaining a pure form of delivery.
“In the hip-hop I grew up listening to, there was always a point to the song – some kind of take away. The title and the subject matter should link. If the song is Make It Clap by Busta Rhymes, then the hook and verses must be about all things clapping – hands, ass, whatever. You need to stick to a subject throughout, and I feel like rappers these days don’t do that.”
Growing up and listening to this kind of hip-hop left him feeling like he owed it to the streets to birth an album that adopted those 90s golden-era principles.
“The kids of today deserve something that has a story, not this bubblegum face tattoo, lean drinking sh*t.”
This would explain the 22 tracks on this album. Local rappers do have to cater to those beyond the culture to really do well on the charts. Herein lies the problem with this album for me. It’s good – far beyond average – but how much better is it than Youngsta’s best tape?
For me, hearing Yaatie riding legendary producer Arsenic’s instrumentals on the acclaimed Deurie Naai Alliance (2016) was the pinnacle in Youngsta’s catalogue. Not to mention his visually striking Vrydag video drops that gave us heaters like Blame God, filmed in the heart of Hillbrow. This is where Youngsta recorded with producer Loopsta, the man behind the street anthem – and what I consider to be the best local rap song in the past six years – Tekkies.
Last year, the rapper was cited for alleged transphobic behaviour at the L’Omarins Queen’s Plate horse racing event after party. According to celebrity make-up artist Muzi Zuma, the rapper and his friends took a photo of Muzi and then posted it on social media with the caption “What is this nonsense”. It was removed soon after. His inclusion on line-ups for events like Afro Punk upset a few people. Youngsta denied the allegations on a few platforms by stating that he was in Hillbrow at the time.
Being an artist in South Africa is like being a tightrope walker – you have to do your best to include everyone and show the audience the respect they deserve, no matter their background. Youngsta makes sure of this on 3T.
“I put a boatload of tracks on this as I wanted to have something for everyone on it. Things for deep thinkers like Pallet Gun and Sensitive. Sometimes the two collide where it’s trap and dance driven, but still with a message behind it.”
Youngsta uses a playful trap flow for most of the album and I’m not crazy about it – Rouge does it, Boity does it and hordes of US rappers do it.
The tracks where he sheds this are the ones that passed the rewind test. Tracks like 786 and my absolute favourite Old Kaapie. Something about the way he sounds on Old Kaapie reminds me of the aggressive Dookom, a brazen delivery littered with grim imagery.
I realised I require more of this as the tale of life in Cape Town is a tale of two cities. Tracks like this give us a portal into life behind the mountain and I realised that what I was looking at out of my window didn’t correlate with what I was hearing.
I’m now three-quarters of the way through this record as I pull up to grab some Kalky’s in Hout Bay. I have been riding around the wrong city while playing this album. I’d have to point my car towards the regions behind the mountain and venture into zones where it would be best to have a local vouch for you. This gives this album a sinister beauty, something that I wouldn’t know too much about because I’m not from there.
He doesn’t have more than two features on this and the album is quite a long production. A few tracks could have been left for the B-sides, but tracks like 1 000 Mistakes gives it balance. I kept this album playing as I cruised, and it didn’t hurt.
This will be a hard project to top this year, but if I was Youngsta, I wouldn’t be bothered. As far as rap goes, this guy is in a race by himself in this country.