It’s true that when music hits you, you feel no pain. Bob Marely’s lyrics reverberate more when I hear new music from an unfamiliar artist.

So there I was on the internet doing what I usually do, giving into YouTube’s suggestions. This time I came across US artist Anti-Lilly. The music hit hard enough for him to be sitting on the balcony in the afternoon at his home in Houston with his cats, answering my questions about his music and everything else.

It was the intro to this 25 year-old’s second mixtape with producer Phoniks titled It’s Nice Outside that got me. The subtlety at which the keys are being played shows how Phoniks skilfully manipulated the sample to set the scene for Anti-Lilly’s vulnerability and sensitivity throughout the album.

“I use my music as a way to get everything off of my chest… I’ve only ever been comfortable venting to my microphone…”- Anti-Lilly

“Phoniks is a musical scientist period. I can’t take much credit for my musical input on the production. He’s like my muse that allows me to best channel my emotions and brings out the best in every track,” says the rapper.

Phoniks truly epitomizes the producer title because he created the music and made sure it captured and complimented Anti-Lilly’s feel on each song. “One thing he does all of the time is he will send me a skeleton of the beat. I sent it back and he’d remix it or add another element to compliment my verses and hooks. We love to go back and forth and that really helps grow the sound,” says the Don’t Sleep Records artist.

30 seconds in and you can tell this isn’t the kind of album that will inspire self-confidence like a Kanye West album would. But it’s about self-introspection, healing, forgiveness and starting afresh. Simultaneously leaving you hopeful and optimistic about life outside of where you might currently find yourself through his genuineness and uncomplicated thoughtful lyrics.

Anti-Lilly, whose real name is Drake Lilly, released the sophomore project late 2017 after his 2014 debut Stories From The Brass Section tape. The space between the projects saw Anti-Lilly go through lapses of depression that drove him into isolation. From a tedious job to being betrayed by one of his best friends who impregnated his girlfriend and also temptations from the streets were some of the things which prompted creation of the project. But listening to the album I thought perhaps this might be too personal to put out.

“I use my music as a way to get everything off of my chest. I personally struggle when it comes to communication with my loved ones. I’ve only ever been comfortable venting to my microphone so I think that’s how my vulnerability is so easy to pick up on.”

Artists can get ostracised for baring their souls in their art, a case in point is Lauryn Hill after she released her MTV Unplugged No.2.0 – and this was before the ubiquity of social media. “My favourite artists are those who aren’t afraid to bare emotions. When you think about that Unplugged joint which dropped over a decade ago, it’s seen as a timeless classic. The reason why is because the subject matter and pure honesty.”

“I’ve never really thought I was giving away too much on my songs because I didn’t have another avenue to get my thoughts out.”

In the Nobody’s Perfect video the rapper has brush in hand, working on a painting around other beautiful works in a flat. He laughs off the assumption that the work in the room is his. “I’m a very amateur painter. I have a few skills but the paintings came from my director’s wife. My girl is really talented at canvas art too. As far as other avenues, I read, exercise, and watch a ton of movies,” he says.

He’s been holding a job at a customer call centre for the past six years. With a company supportive of his music career, Anti-Lilly is looking forward to his first European tour next month.

The album has touched many people, hence he thinks the The Insomnia Tour will help him connect with a growing overseas audience. “It’s been crazy to get emails and messages from folks who listen to what we create. It humbles me for someone to explain to me how much my music touched them or provided inspiration.”

“I won’t get deep with peoples stories they have shared out of respect, but it only inspires me to continue to do what’s gotten me here.”


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.”

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