Like those sport prodigies who play and gain experience at different age levels until they eventually get to the senior stage, rapper and graphic designer ByLwansta is changing the game by playing it his way.
Not a lot of rappers can say that they design their own cover artwork, direct and edit their own music videos. Maybe it’s because he’s a bit of a nerd. In 2016 he wrote his final graphic design research paper on The Significance of Visual Communication on the Consumption of Music in the Digital age.
“I’m constantly trying to improve the ByLwansta design man, like Tony Stark with his suits in every movie he’s appeared in,” says the 22 year-old.
He moved from home in Kokstad to Durban in 2014 to pursue a three year Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design degree. It was in that year which ByLwansta released his mixtape, NORMVL which he independently packaged hard copies of and pushed himself. The project was nominated in the 2014 SA Hip Hop Awards Mixtape of the Year category and also received nominations in Durban’s Original Material Awards in the same year for Lyricist of the year, Mixtape of the year and Best Sleeve design.
ByLwansta isn’t the ‘lyrical-miracle’ kind of rapper who’ll out-rap you at the drop of a beat. But it’s his orthodox flow, sincere storytelling, animation, pensiveness and musicality make his music stick. That his music is inspired by genuine emotions, sad chords, his girlfriend and frustration is an indicator of the kind of artist he is. When he’s on stage it’s just a blend of all the above mentioned adjectives delivered with charisma.
The existence of an artist such as ByLwansta in South Africa is a really a result of counter-culture to what’s prevalent on radio today. “…the word result suggests something more involuntary, which is how I would describe the existence of an artist of my kind. I’m not entirely intentional when I approach creating music and design when it comes to intended outcomes.”
“I vaguely have an intended outcome when I release work, because my creativity thrives on spontaneity, or maybe I do and it’s just based of how I’m responding to the song, which can be considered either bad or good, but it helps maintain authenticity ‘cause if I like it that’s the ‘go ahead’.”
Two years after the debut project ByLwansta, whose real name is Lwandile Nkanyuza, released Your Absolutely Right EP which received a warmer reception. The EP shows the rapper’s growth lyrically and more sonically, together with his brand.
It saw him making the HYPE magazine freshmen cover last year and he spent 10 days in Berlin, Germany as one of the ten recipients of the Goethe Talents Scholarship 2017. While there he also got to perform of the popular YouTube channel COLORS.
“In Berlin, you know, nobody knew who I was, nobody really had any expectations of me that I could disappoint, except those ground level ones that racism comes from, I was unashamed man. I felt unjudged, and that’s before I even rapped anything to them, it was a different kind of special there. People were curious about what would come out my mouth, they’d never met me before, they had little to no references, they trusted me with their time, and in exchange, I gave them my story, and they ate it up.”
As his brand progressively grows, ByLwansta has to learn to delegate duties to trusted individuals as he can’t be hands-on on everything around his brand, admirable as it may be. The NORMVL cover which shows him in his room where he created his two projects, displays how hands-on he is with his brand and music.
“Yeah this is a tough one, I’ve imagined what might happen when the brand gets to that point. It is slowly but surely, and I know this because I’m being thrown into situations where trust is becoming a huge part of my journey, where it’s no longer my gut and I, but someone else who has showed me they can add value to what I’m trying to do from a perspective that’s outside of my creative sphere.”
“A lot of my being hands-on has had a lot to do with not having funds and thriving creatively on spontaneity, so this meant that I could create at any time I wanted, as inspiration hit, as an idea popped up. I was super impulsive with that, and I could only get away with it because it was just me, there wasn’t anyone I had to wait for to get off work, out of class or to wake up. I was off work, out of class and wide awake, so I’d just do it. And also we don’t believe in the same things, I didn’t need to run anything past anyone.”
A young brother to Kimosabe, ByLwansta thinks his sibling still has an influence on him despite having grown to become his own artist. “When I truly reflect on my journey and trains of thought, I see a lot of his foot prints where I haven’t walked yet, or next to where I’ve just walked, it’s always a bit of a shock when I realize all this.”
About playing his game with the big boys and whether he’s made it he says “Yes, because I’m at the tennis championship now, and no because they’re all playing soccer.”