Nasty C: Unshakeable

From Durban, South Africa, to Def Jam Records, multi-platinum selling South African superstar rapper Nasty C is back with his third album, Zulu Man With Some Power, and international success set firmly in his sights.

With his name fully established in his native country, Nasty C has been steadily expanding his horizons with collaborations with the likes of Major Lazer, his hero T.I., A$AP Ferg, French Montana, and several other major names from the USA.

“I really started taking this seriously when I started getting paid as little as 70 or 100 bucks,” Nasty C says, from his home in Johannesburg. “And then things really started to take off for me when I released Juice Back. People started recognising me and calling me by my artist name, even when I was still in school. I moved from Durban to Jo’burg, and things just changed for me forever.”

And things would only change further when behemoth record label Def Jam Recordings added Nasty C to a roster that already includes Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Rihanna, and several more of the biggest names in music.

“We started travelling more to try and establish a global footprint,” Nasty C says with regards to seeking recognition beyond the African continent. “Anywhere we could beyond Africa — we went to Japan, the States. In the States, we would always be networking and trying to link up with people. A lot of dinners with different people to try and figure out a strategy.”

When I ask for Nasty C’s inspirations, it’s many of the usual suspects such as Kendrick Lamar and T.I., but I do manage to get him to pay homage to some of the UK rappers who have been giving the American heads a run for their money.

“My favourite UK artist is Octavian,” he says. “But of course I love Skepta, Giggs — I actually got to meet one of the O.Gs, Dizzee Rascal; we played a lot of music and talked about South Africa and the UK.”

We then discuss how rap is so dominated internationally by the United States and the United Kingdom respectively: the former pumping out so much hip hop and trap; the latter the birthplace of grime music. We agree that more cultures becoming involved can only be a beneficial thing. And with several South African rappers like Nasty C, Moonchild Sanelly and Yugen Blakrok announcing themselves on the international stage, it’s about time that rap became more represented.

“Yeah man,” he agrees. “We’re just trying to take South African rap to as many places around the world that we can. A lot of people think that all we, and Africa in general, have to offer is afrobeats — we’re trying to change that stereotype.”

The singles leading up to the release of Zulu Man With Some Power have ranged from club banger Palm Trees to the link-up with hero T.I. on They Don’t, a song with a deeper message about race relations, prophetically written some time before this year’s global #BlackLivesMatter protests.

A lot of people think that all Africa has to offer is afrobeats. We’re trying to change that stereotype.

“The first time I worked with T.I., he just sent me a DM on Instagram because my name had come up a few times for him,” Nasty C says.

“And with They Don’t, which I wrote about a year ago - and this year, when the topic was relevant again, we thought ‘yo, we should put this out.’ Because this is a healing song. It speaks about what’s going on, but in a more sympathetic point of view. It’s very mellow and is meant to heal. And T.I. is someone who really stands for the culture and doesn’t shy away from it. Every day he’s preaching to us to take our power back - it’s really uplifting. I thought he was the perfect person for the track.”

After watching Netflix’s masterful series When They See Us, Nasty C started digging deeper into the issues surrounding life as an African American, including the depressing abundance of smartphone-filmed racial incidents in everyday situations. And despite growing up in South Africa, with all its problems revolving around apartheid and beyond, he feels it’s definitely way worse in America:

“The stuff we go through here, it’s nowhere near as heated as it is in the States. Not even worth catching on camera, half of the time. Just petty racism, where someone will say something a little offensive. They don’t shoot you in front of your family, you know what I mean? That stuff is crazy. Racism here is very mild, you just shrug your shoulders and move on. Over there, if you step outside and you’re between the ages of 10, 30, 40, you’re a victim, a suspect.”

Nasty C also added acting to his CV recently, appearing in the South African Netflix original Blood and Water. The highly popular series revolves around a Cape Town teen who meets a private-school swimming star at a party and becomes convinced she is her sister who was abducted at birth.

“It’s one of the first script-to-screen shows in South Africa, so it’s very big for us,” he explains. “They thought it would be dope to have the new young wave in there. They could have gone with the established actors, but they’ve chosen to go with the young actors that they see as the future.”