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20.01.2016

Skhanda Queen

Nomuzi Mabena is about to change the rap game

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Chisanga Mubanga 

“New York was made for a photoshoot,” says Nomuzi Mabena, known to most as Moozlie. The Way of Us had the opportunity of spending a week with the Skhanda Queen – her of the high cheekbones, chiskop and body made for modeling – while in New York for the global adidas NMD launch. It was Moozlie’s second time in the states, having covered the MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum in Inglewood, California, four months prior, but she was still buzzed by the experience.

After meeting photographer Paul Ward at Katz’s Deli, from When Harry Met Sally “I’ll have what she’s having!” fame, we made our way to the Williamsburg Bridge, making the most of the photo opportunities along the way and walking the city flat. Along the way we chatted about Moozlie’s career path and rise to success.

From an early age Moozlie was involved in public speaking, drama, eisteddfods, poetry recitals and anything else that called for her to perform. In high school she started modeling, which is where things started to get serious. “I’d done a lot of pageants and things like that, so I was always kind of training myself and preparing myself for the job that I’d ultimately have.”

2012 was her annus mirabilis and started off with Moozlie entering the SABC 1 Live Presenter Search, ultimately bowing out to Luthando Shosha who had previously lost to Minnie Dlamini. She followed this up as a finalist on the SABC 1’s Media Career Guide Presenter Search and not letting either of these close calls deter her, entered the MTV Base VJ Search. As the face of the biggest music channel on the African continent, Moozlie had to beat thousands of hopefuls to clinch the top spot and has since helped usher in a street edge via a role that seems tailor-made for her.

Given her presence, personality, on-stage charisma, confidence and looks, it makes sense that Cashtime Life, a music and entertainment company, took a chance on Moozlie and signed her despite not having any prior musical experience. At the Axecess Jozi press conference Cashtime’s KO explained the decision, saying that given Moozlie’s skills in these other areas they could develop her into a natural artist.

“From a business perspective, we just felt like there's a gap in the industry and we need more females to be active and to be more visible as far as the hip hop fraternity is concerned..." 

A quick learner, business-savvy and fierce af, even AKA gave South Africa’s newest femcee something of a co-sign, tweeting:

"If a female rapper is going to blow up this year, they’re going to have to be as good, if not better than a really good male rapper. I have faith in Nomuzi. I trust she will put in the work to become the 1st LEGIT local female rap star."

Making her Cashtime Life debut with a feature on KiD X’s Se7en, Moozlie followed this up as the main vocalist on her collab for DJ Speedsta’s 'Don’t Panic' and as one of the female rappers on AKA’s 'Baddest' remix. We’re very happy to report that the girl spits fire.

“For me to have signed with absolutely no musical experience was crazy, but it was a risk that they were willing to take on me, to develop me as an artist. So signing to Cashtime was really, really big for me. It took a long time before I released any music, because when the music came out it had to be right. And because I had a following as a TV presenter there was obviously a huge demand. 2015 was much more of a learning year for me in terms of music, but it was great and I got to work with a lot of people. My first feature broke the internet and did 100 000 downloads in 12 hours. Then I did more features with the camp, some stuff in studio with the guys, just to develop my skill and keep pushing the pen, and we released a song called Pasop. That’s DJ Vigilante and was the first time the whole label was on a song together. It was a really, really dope record. I also featured on Da L.E.S’ album, on a song called '6am', and I did a remix with AKA for one of his hit singles, 'Baddest', with all the female rappers in the game, and we broke the internet with that as well. So it was a great year and I was lucky to work with the biggest names in the country, which is unheard of for a new artist, especially someone who had no prior musical experience.”

What’s it been like embedding yourself in such a male-dominated scene?

“Nobody is going to let you in because you’re a girl. Nobody is opening the door and letting you walk in first. This is the rap game. Either you’re about it or you’re not. That said, if I work as hard as the boys and put out good music I’ll be talked about. We’re not in that place anymore where there’s no space for women. We have our own voice. Our own stories. And whether the guys like it or not we can say shit that they could never say. Women are the backbone of our nation. We birthed this whole thing.”

Musically, Moozlie’s biggest influence is K.O, whose Skandha Republic is the blueprint for the label’s Skhanda Rap sound, which has influences of kwaito, hip hop and is an authentic South African sound, urban and grimy, with plenty of vernac – and borrowing nothing from the states. Otherwise she takes inspiration from wherever she can and is in good company to do so.

“I did a song with DJ Speedsta called 'Don’t Panic', and you can really hear the influence K.O has had on me and my music. There’s that bravado and attitude. Also in the way he writes. He’s super critical. So he really helps me to think of each word and how I say it. Then there’s Mugz, who’s one of the best rappers to ever have lived in South Africa, and I can’t wait for him to finally put out more music so that the world can see what he’s got. Just being around him has taught me so many things. For him it’s nothing, but I’m learning from everything. AKA is top five dead or alive in South African rap, and right now the place where he is, what he’s able to do with the pen, the way he manipulates the slang and the culture so quickly and intrinsically, is incredible. I really look up to these guys and if I can get anywhere near them one day I’ll be very, very proud of myself.”

What’s most inspiring is how Moozlie is knocking on the door of the rap game while continuing to knock down doors in the other areas that she’s made a name for herself. Everything that Moozlie does is an extension of herself, from hosting events to attending parties, interviewing rappers to being interviewed about being a rapper. Moozlie just kind of takes it all in her stride and believes that her path is following the natural progression for someone who has always been in the music scene in one way or another.

“At first I found it a bit difficult to express myself because I come from a television background where I can just say whatever I’m thinking about, but with rap you have to be a little bit more clever, you have to say it in a cool way, and there’s a real skill that a lot of people underestimate. There are a lot of artists putting out music and who are happy with the fact that they’re doing that, but there are only a few artists who are genuinely good at rapping and take the skill seriously.”

According to Moozlie the transition from modeling to presenting was easy, because she has the personality for it and standing still bugs her. She needs to move, show off her interests, share her opinions and could not imagine herself simply being a vehicle to show off someone else’s work. Fair enough, but does she ever worry that perhaps she’s doing too much?

“But there’s so much going on! I look at myself as a brand. A corporation! I’m a producer of content on social media, where I communicate different messages for different brands and clients. We work together, you know? It’s not just them buying into my power, it’s a collaboration. I do stuff in the streets, fashion stuff, music stuff, TV… so many different things on so many different levels. That’s my life. It’s the world we live in. Nobody does just one thing anymore because nowadays you have to do them all. I just want to elevate.”

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The next day we finish up our chat over a 6am Shake Shack breakfast at JFK International, and while picking through our cheesy fries I comment how crazy it was having people stop us in the street the day before just to compliment her.

“I noticed that people were always looking at my feet! I like to dress differently, I like statement pieces, and for people to be digging my vibe in New York is so dope. It’s kind’ve like, ‘Yeah, I got the juice like that!’ You know?”

What were some of her other highlights from the trip?

“Times Square was mind-blowing with all the advertising and the billboards and the lights. That was crazy. It definitely blew up my aspirations and goals list. Being in New York makes you believe that things are a little bit more possible. Because when you’re standing there, and it’s not like a picture, or on a postcard or something, it’s real, it makes you think that anything is possible. That real New York feeling. I’m quite upset that I have to go. I would’ve loved to do Friday night in New York. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, but I think a Friday night would’ve been amazing. But I’ll be back. For sure. Shout out to adidas for bringing me here. They say you never forget your first and I’ll never forget adidas for this experience.”