IT’S A RAP
Linda Mkhize philosophically accepts the lack of acknowledgement towards him for his role in building many rappers’ careers.
Linda Mkhiae is Pro when it comes to the genre
ALL A KING DOES IS JUST WAKE UP, STAND THERE AND [ADDRESS] THE VILLAGE
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
Linda Mkhize (Pro) at the ‘Back to the City’ concert.