Linda Mkhize philo­soph­i­cally ac­cepts the lack of ac­knowl­edge­ment to­wards him for his role in build­ing many rap­pers’ ca­reers.

Sunday Times - - Contents - By Tseliso Mon­a­heng

Linda Mkhiae is Pro when it comes to the genre


Mo­ments into our con­ver­sa­tion, I ask Linda Mkhize whether he feels he is not be­ing ac­knowl­edged for his role in build­ing many a rap­per’s ca­reer; for carv­ing a lane in South African rap and run­ning its course bet­ter and faster than any­one else. His philo­soph­i­cal re­sponse catches me off-guard: “That com­monly hap­pens. It’s like umunt’ oyenz’ icon­struc­tion. Awum­boni. Ei, maar is­traat si-grand." (Loosely trans­lated, con­struc­tion work­ers don’t get the spotlight but you’ll see the road they built.)

“It’s al­ways the case. We [emerge] from the dis­tance; we’ve never tried to be kings,” and then: “We’re peas­ants, man. All a king does is just wake up, stand there and [ad­dress] the vil­lage, and in­dulge. A peas­ant sits there, by the gate. They can tell when trou­ble is coming from [a dis­tance], and they’re the ones who make the king im­por­tant. That’s just my set-up.”

Mkhize’s known to the ur­ban, peri-ur­ban and ru­ral mas­sive as Pro, and Maqhuzu in Soweto, the hood he’s car­ried on his dec­o­rated sleeve from the get-go. The re­lease of his de­but LP Heads and Tales was the most an­tic­i­pated event in South African hip hop in 2005. Prior to that he’d been get­ting cham­pi­oned by every­one from rap­per and es­teemed god­fa­ther to the scene, Amu, to then-ra­dio broad­caster and one-time Y-Mag­a­zine ed­i­tor Lee Ka­sumba.

Signed on a whim to Gallo Records — “I was No 1 on [the ra­dio show] Rhyme and Rea­son for seven weeks. Then uBab’ Sipho Sithole washay’ u-turn [in traf­fic] … the next thing I knew, ‘I’m an­nounc­ing this on ra­dio now. I’m signing this boy!’,” he re­calls. Pro went on to re­lease DNA be­fore switch­ing lanes and signing on to Them­binkosi Nciza and Sbu Leope’s TS Records, at that time the big­gest in­die la­bel there was, with the mask-don­ning Kwai-comic Mzekezeke as its premier tal­ent.

My as­sess­ment of DNA, that fol­low-up record on Gallo, re­mains; it was sub-par. Pro is more demo­cratic.

“I sup­pose peo­ple weren’t ready. That’s why they can lis­ten to [the first re­lease on TS Records] Dankie San, and then Snakes

and Lad­ders, and then go back to DNA and be like ‘oh shit, oh this is what it was!’”

Those ini­tial two al­bums on Gallo are still avail­able from the iTunes store. This new dig­i­tal-only re­al­ity doesn’t re­flect the story af­ter­wards — two releases on TS Records, one of which was cer­ti­fied platinum (Dankie San) — are nonex­is­tent.

It feels like era­sure; like a chunk of his­tory from one of rap’s most im­por­tant fig­ure­heads has been glazed over by ze­ros and ones, and been buried in sand and cov­ered up by ce­ment by the murky world of li­cens­ing and copy­right. It’s a re­al­ity we find our­selves hav­ing to reckon with, now that own­ing mu­sic is spo­ken of in past tense, un­less you’re an older hip-hop head who still swears by CDs whose plas­tic-wrapped jewel cases get cracked as you try to peel off the pack­ag­ing.

Pro was what the un­der­ground hip-hop con­glom­er­ate would re­fer to as a beast on the mic. He’d run the gamut of park jams and rap ci­phers, live shows with shitty sound sys­tems and lit­tle-to-no pay, to get to where he was. He’d paid his dues, and it was his right­ful time.

As we con­verse it be­comes clear that this cat’s as much a sci­en­tist as he is an artist. He breaks down his writ­ing process into mi­cro-molec­u­lar ex­pe­di­tions through words; he re-ar­ranges flow pat­terns down to their sub-atomic struc­ture; he pos­sesses both the keen eye of a con­sci­en­tious cam­era op­er­a­tor and the de­tailed re­portage of a chemist mix­ing an ar­ray of chemicals in the lab when man­u­fac­tur­ing top-of-the-range prod­ucts.

“All I wanted to see was more peo­ple be­lieve in rap­ping ... [I wanted to] mir­ror ev­ery­thing around me. It’s like when an artist sketches, they first have a vi­sion, then they sketch it, then it comes to life. And it’s a beau­ti­ful pic­ture. Same with the mu­sic,” says Pro.

The for­mi­da­ble work­ing re­la­tion­ship he built with the pro­duc­tion house IV League helped to ad­vance his sound and break into pre­vi­ously un­ex­plored ter­ri­tory. Sud­denly, kwaito and house mu­sic heads had a firm favourite from the rap world to add to their mu­sic li­brary. I ask how the ini­tial meet­ing with the team hap­pened.

“The first time was at Capello’s in the CBD. I be­lieve that you can never be larger than life, be­cause you’ll never know where the next thing will come from. When that kid Kier­nan spoke to me, I could feel him. I was like okay, f**k this party, let’s go into the car,” he says.

The first beat he heard in that car be­came Bhampa. The Kier­nan he speaks of is AKA, then part of IV League along­side Buks and Kamza.

Scru­ti­n­is­ing the list of artists in­flu­enced by Pro, di­rectly and in­di­rectly, is another con­ver­sa­tion it­self, but he’s a busy man.

There’s a new al­bum to be com­pleted. For now though, he’s got an ap­point­ment with his fi­ancée to at­tend to.

Pro per­forms at Basha Uhuru Free­dom Fes­ti­val tak­ing place at Con­sti­tu­tion Hill in Jo­han­nes­burg, June 28 — 30

Pic­ture: Tseliso Mon­a­heng

Linda Mkhize (Pro) at the ‘Back to the City’ concert.

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