When you imagine South Africa’s hip-hop scene, an image of Nasty C’s infectious smile should come to the forefront of your mind. At 23, the Durban, South Africa artist born Nsikayesizwe David Junior Ngcobo, is one of the most streamed artists coming out of Africa, with an array of awards (two South African Music Awards and two AFRIMMAs) under his belt for his 2018 sophomore album, Strings and Bling.
Nasty C’s music leans hard on bounce and natural charisma. He is an impossibly talented rapper with a breezy flow and hardwon dedication to the craft. A hip-hop head since the age of nine, Nasty C’s latest single, “There They Go,” stands as a flex track with a nice amount of jeer and jokester persona. Overtop his humor, though, exists a young man with success on his mind. Rapping, “I sign deals, but I own my soul” on “There They Go,” Nasty C refers to his recent signing to Def Jam, in partnership with Universal Music Africa, and his goal of remaining himself despite the business dealings.
“Because I’m a South African artist or an ‘African rapper,’ people expect me to look very, very African, and dress in animal skin,” Nasty C begins to tell me over the phone. “But that’s not who I am! At my core, I’m a hip-hop head. I’ve been that way since I was nine years old… I realized that when we were starting to make this move to the states, a lot of people had their own expectations of [how] I should look, talk, and act. It felt like I needed to be careful and not let them brand me that way just to say, ‘Hey, look! This guy is from Africa.’ I’m from where I’m from, and I do what I do the way I’m doing it. I don’t let anyone else dictate my story.”
Musically, Nasty C’s story is one of versatility and growth. Going back to his 2018 album, Nasty C recalls it as a moment of evolution, performing on stage with violins and no drums, exploring sonic routes he had never before taken. Too, Nasty C aims to use his artistry to elevate the scene around him. He hopes his success will lead to the success of artists across the global stage.
“This is only the beginning of what could potentially happen with hip-hop,” Nasty C concludes. “If this [deal] works out and we bust the gates open for artists across the world to share the same stage globally and bring the different flavors of hip-hop they have, this shit’s gonna be fucking crazy. There’s so many great artists from South Africa. A lot of people that are impressed with me, they’re gonna hear them and go, ‘Woah!’”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Congratulations on signing to Def Jam. How did you know that label was right for you?
Nasty C: I’ve always seen the Def Jam logo as a kid before I even [knew] what it was. It was one of those logos I saw on my idols’ videos and albums. It’s a level I always aspired to get to one day. It felt like a stamp from the guys that created this whole thing, just to say, “You’re doing it right,” to me, who’s been a fan of the culture on the other side of the world.
You’re the superstar of South Africa, is there any pressure being such a big name?
Yeah, but it doesn’t get to me! It’s a good kind of pressure; it feels like a challenge more than anything. It’s a good responsibility.
You’re carrying the weight with pride, so to say.
How did releasing your 2018 album, Strings and Bling, change your life and career?
[Strings and Bling] elevated my whole thing as an artist. I started to notice my versatility a bit more and getting to perform in ways people had never seen me show interest in. Performing with just violinists on stage, having a full-on set with only strings and no drums, allowed me to flex my creativity a bit. With the plaques and stuff, that was crazy for me, but that stuff is not important to me.
Does being famous not matter to you as much as making an impact on the culture?
Being famous is just a perk, but it’s not what I do it for. Being famous has a lot of downs, too. There’s a lot of restrictions, and it gets weird at times.
Social media clouds fame.
It becomes so hard to separate your personal life—people are always in your business; it’s messed up.
On the flip side, your big single now is “There They Go,” did you foresee that song being a hit?
It’s kind of funny… As soon as I’m done recording a song—if I’m feeling good about it—I’ll play it a thousand times over; in my car, on my phone, speakers, on the TV… Just trying to listen to it from a consumer perspective. If it sounds good, I immediately chalk it up to: “Okay, this song has potential.” I don’t get like, “Oh, this is it” because I make too much music. But I didn’t have any doubts, either.
In 2018, you went on Sway and revealed your dad wasn’t impressed with your rapping career early on. With the incredible success you’ve seen, how does your family feel about your career now?
They’re supportive. It’s more my siblings that are excited and are tuned in and updated with everything. My parents... it’s not their thing. They’re happy for me, and they see all the highlights, but they don’t pay attention. They don’t know nothing about Def Jam—it’s not a big deal to them.
Last year, you told GQ: “Hip-hop transcends borders and continents. We all can relate to youth culture, as there are no divisions there.” Now signed to Def Jam, do you still feel that way?
It’s definitely still the same. This is only the beginning of what could potentially happen with hip-hop. If this [deal] works out and we bust the gates open for artists across the world to share the same stage globally and bring the different flavors of hip-hop they have, this shit’s gonna be fucking crazy. There’s so many great artists from South Africa. A lot of people that are impressed with me, they’re gonna hear them and go, “Woah!”
What do you want people to know about South African hip-hop?
I just want people to listen to it! It’s dope, the way we flipped it and added our own little flavor to it. It doesn’t feel strange when [Americans] listen to it, but it has that, “Where is this from? Who is this?”
How do you plan to leverage your signing to continue breaking into the US market?
I look at it like I’ve been given an opportunity to show the world what’s going on in my head in terms of music and visuals. I’m an artist all around. I draw, design, all types of stuff. The support is just bigger, stronger, better, meaner. I just be doing crazier shit and, hopefully, that makes everyone pay attention and start looking at everybody else that’s from down here. We just don’t have the resources, reach, and support like everybody else. Now that we’re slowly starting to get that love, I hope more people start to pay attention.
On “There They Go,” you rap, “I sign deals, but I own my soul.” How does that bar reflect the deal you signed with Def Jam?
With this deal, because I’m a South African artist or an “African rapper,” people expect me to look very, very African, and dress in animal skin… But that’s not who I am! At my core, I’m a hip-hop head. I’ve been that way since I was nine years old. [Traditional wear] is just a special part of our culture that we never let go, and we go back into it when it’s time to have ceremonies… I realized that when we were starting to make this move to the states, a lot of people had their own expectations of [how] I should look, talk, and act. It felt like I needed to be careful and not let them brand me that way just to say, “Hey, look! This guy is from Africa.” I’m from where I’m from, and I do what I do the way I’m doing it. I don’t let anyone else dictate my story.
The upcoming album, Zulu Man With Some Power, will feature you embracing your Zulu roots. What inspired you to lean into your culture?
I’ve been researching the personal side of my life. I’ve been trying to get more in touch with my culture and my traditions. Every Zulu, at some point in your life, you have to go back to [that culture]. It’s like becoming a man. I’ve reached that point in my life. I have to go back home and have discussions with my uncles and my father as part of my culture. I thought it would be dope, since I’m getting on the global stage, to carry that on my back and represent and teach people about [my culture] and show them the fly side to it versus the shit people just see on the internet.
What is the Nasty C legacy going to be?
I wanna be remembered as that one guy who didn’t let anything stop him. Where I’m from, people have a low level of self-esteem. People don’t dream that high. I just wanna be one of the guys who change how people think and the way they look at themselves in the world.