Chris Rock once juxtaposed complimenting André 3000’s artistic calibre, to showering a beautiful women with bouquets for her exquisiteness. At times it seems as though artists such as 3 Stacks, Kwani Experience, Sade and even Frank Ocean play hard to get with their cult-like followers, who are subjected to waiting aeons for any release.
“Don’t play hard to get, but play hard to forget.” This corny line by Drake aids my understanding as to why the great aforementioned artists are lauded. It’s not the excitement of dangerously flirting with the possibility of losing ardent fans, nor playing hard to get but artists who don’t fickle to industry pressure have this in common- they respect time and the muscle of art.
“…they’ve been asking for it [a solo project] since our first Las Day Fam album in 2008. So a huge expectation is certainly out there,” rap artist LandmarQ tells me. Over a decade later LDF has released two albums, Eternal Effect (2012) and Dissent (2017). The clique won the Best Group award in the now defunct Hype magazine Hip Hop awards in 2010, got a SAMA nomination at the 2013 South African Music Awards (SAMA) and won Best Gospel Rap at the SABC’s Crown Gospel awards in 2011.
But still, dololo a LandmarQ project. With no disrespect to Bonafide and Baggz, it’s an open secret that listeners fervently anticipate the LandmarQ verse on each LDF track. He has the sort of presence on a track, a mere punchline or clever wordplay can’t match. It’s not only in what LandmarQ says, or how he says it but shit sounds sick because it come from him- he has natural artistic integrity.
“It was inevitable that a time for a solo would come. I just never had a timeline/deadline for it. I also wanted it to be organic when it happens. I wanted it to be inspired and come from a good place. I believe creativity can’t be forced or pressured. It should be an outpouring of a natural process,” says LandmarQ.
Be that as it may, some artists shun going solo because of their discomfort of being the centre of attention preferring to “hide” within a group- there’s a plethora of reasons why some performers won’t pursue a solo career. “I am not uncomfortable about it. I just believe that there is a time and place for everything. In any show, the spot light moves to where it needs to, for the purpose of shining and highlighting the main performance act for that particular moment. So I’m happy to have the spotlight when it’s my time to perform.”
“IF THE MEDIA SAYS THERE’S A GENRE OF HIP HOP CALLED CHRISTIAN RAP, I’M NOT PART OF THAT GENRE. SIMILAR TO THE UNDERGROUND RAPPER TITLE…”- LandmarQ
Having pondered on it and even getting the nod from his LDF brothers, the spotlight is stationed on LandmarQ with the release of his debut solo project Envy and Avarice, a seven track mixtape which is first of a trilogy of mixtapes set to drop this year, inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins.
He says the decision to release was taken in 2019 “I met and consulted with several producers to craft a sound for the album. I also made several beats for the project but then decided an album might not be entirely a good idea especially considering that I haven’t put out music before as a solo artist. So therefore a different approach was required.”
He took the old school route, hopping on other people’s instrumentals which he tweaked a bit. “So the producer in me still found expression on this project albeit a little less than usual. However the route to follow the traditional mixtape method was crucial for me to do because it’s important that music lovers and fans alike get to experience LandmarQ on a wide variety of instruments/beats. The key thing however was creating a sizeable body of work.”
The reason he chose the Seven Deadly Sins as the concept for his series of mixtapes, is to bring awareness to the condition of society in general, and specifically the condition of the Hip Hop culture. J. Cole did something similar last year with the Kids On Drugs album, focusing on narcotics. A concept about Greed, Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and Wrath directly questions the behaviour of the inner self.
“We are all confronted with varying degrees of extremes of the Se7en (remember the movie by this title with Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman?) in our society at large and in Hip Hop. And the hip hop community is a lovely case in point i.e. tension between old and new cats, underground and commercial, this sound and that sound etc. And its manifestation in hip-hop is most notable because hip-hop as a form of expression is definitely brash/boisterous.”
The rap artist who hails from Tembisa comes from a group pigeonholed to Christian rap and with a solo project tackling a heavy topic such as the 7 Deadly Sins, there’s a likelihood of being trapped in that box as the preachy rapper. “I am not making a Christian statement with this mixtape series. I am making a statement on humanity, in the world at large and in hip hop culture,” LandmarQ says adamantly.
“The Seven Deadly Sins is not a Christian concept. After all, the seven deadly sins aren’t even mentioned in the Bible. Its origins are nebulous and likely trace back to before Hellenistic Greece. Historically, and especially in the Philosophical disciplines, the 7 Deadly Sins have been society’s way of trying to formulate a universal theory of the pitfalls that human beings face.”
But LandmarQ isn’t oblivious to how the simple-minded might perceive his choice of topic to be conservative and limiting especially because the media has dubbed him a ‘Christian rapper’. “That isn’t how I would describe myself. If the media says there’s a genre of Hip Hop called Christian rap, I’m not part of that genre. Similar to the ‘Underground Rapper’ title. I wouldn’t describe myself as an underground rapper.”
He continues “In Hip Hop we rap about our way of life. And because I am a Christian, I have and will continue to touch on Christian themes from time to time. But that’s no different than any rappers that incorporate their reality in their music. Chuck D of Public Enemy said rappers are like journalists. I’m a rapper’s rapper and have rapped alongside the best rappers in the country and have been featured on numerous songs that aren’t Christian and aren’t underground. And my message is universal. If you love Hip Hop that stands for something, I’m your guy. I however am a rounded human being. Sometimes my music is about having fun with wordplay, with different flows and metaphors.”
The project is out today. Listen and download it here
It was record executive Dino Woodward who bestowed the nickname Black Moses on Isaac Hayes. Woodward believed Hayes’ music had the same effect on people as the leadership of the Biblical figure, Moses.
A then devoted Christian, Hayes found the juxtaposition sacrilegious at first, but later titled his album with the same name, seeing it as a symbol of black pride. “Black men could finally stand up and be men because here’s Black Moses; he’s the epitome of black masculinity. Chains that once represented bondage and slavery now can be a sign of power and strength and sexuality and virility,” Hayes said in an interview.
Over 40 years later, a queer young man from rural KwaZulu-Natal in Ndwedwe has resurrected the Black Moses moniker and taken its ownership. “Though I grew up hearing his music around the house, I never really paid special attention to him,” admits Thoba Ndlovu, who recently dropped his debut project Black Moses.
“It was only in 2014 while reading an old Rolling Stone Magazine that I came across his story about having desires to liberate the black people out of the ghetto. This reminded me of our own leaders in post-colonial Africa who like Isaac Hayes have promised the black masses liberation by postulating themselves as saviours yet similarly became disillusioned by money and power. This prompted me to write the song Black Moses which later became the favoured title for the EP.”
It’s not so much of postulating himself as the saviour and leader to the promise land, but the Ndewdwe-native understands the importance of representation. “Growing up in an environment that was not very accepting of not only my sexual orientation but as well as my gender, performance means that visibility is very important to me. Not seeing images of people that look like you can be very detrimental for children. It is thus my mission that I tell my story as loud as I can be it through visuals or vocals. So being from e Ndwedwe has allowed me to appreciate representation so much more because I was starved of it as a queer child growing up,” Thoba says.
The six track EP is produced by Juice, Dave Audinary as well as Lance Romeo and the production heads served their purpose. Thoba has solid vocals and compelling lyrics, but had he recorded on lethargic beats which are more on the Afro-pop side, the album would have limited reach. “I have been getting a lot of positive feedback, people really seem to be vibing with it. What is more exciting is the varied audience as people have different favourite song. It’s made me very happy with the direction we decided to take in terms of sound as this means that it responds to various music tastes.”
The beats on the project are the stuff that could be ridden by Hip Hop group Las Days Fam or Neo-soul singer Bilal. The songs Ungowami and Buyela are gems that should be fixed on radio station playlists across the country. The project’s songs were written over a period of time, with some tracks being jotted down over five years ago. “The recording was a much quicker process though. Recording with Lance Romeo was one of my best experiences in studio. I was so comfortable and felt like he actually listened to me while pushing me to do more with my voice.”
Thoba is currently based in Joburg, having moved from his beloved KZN last year for a gig as a Grade R teacher. “Since it was a year of firsts (first time in JHB, first time teaching Grade R as well as finally working on a project). I really needed to make sure I settled in to all of these roles. It is only this year that I am beginning to venture out by putting my music out there and looking for opportunities to perform. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions being away from home and everything familiar, but also knowing that you need to get your act together ’cause you are far away from home. So there has been a lot of growth.”
He studied Psychology, then went on to do his honours in Industrial Psychology at UNISA before returning to University of Kwa Zulu-Natal to do his Post graduate certificate in education.
The independent artist is using this EP as a vehicle for inspiring other queer boys and girls who might not have enough bravado to be themselves. “The album is of course the goal however it is one of the goals, alongside exploration of other avenues that can lead to the hypervisibility of a queer body in order to combat false narratives (like us being unAfrican) by living our truths. This is my more immediate focus right now. I therefore cannot say when an album will be available but it’s in the plans.”