04.04.2016

Mr Party

The whole time with Stilo Magolide

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

You wouldn’t want to get stuck behind Stilo Magolide going through the metal detectors at the airport. Chunky rings on his fingers, chains around his neck as well as gold grills in his mouth, and then it’s highly probable that he would hold up the line even further while speaking on his phone, which seems to be surgically attached to his person.

Stilo’s got a lot more shine since he first caught our attention as Choc on Vuzu’s Cream Cartel, in which he played a tough-talking inner city kid trying to make it in the City of Gold. Back in 2011, my colleagues and I at GQ magazine chose to back the more sartorially elegant Guy Ndlovu – Stilo's Cream Cartel co-star – for the GQ Best-Dressed Men Awards. Choc still made a big impression, attending the event wearing a bowtie that he’d made out of Lego and with a bright red afro-comb in the pocket of his leather blazer. While he introduced himself as Choc back then he now goes by a bunch of different names, including Stilo, Mr. Party, Serano, Mr. 2190, and others…

As part of the burgeoning Braamfontein street scene, Stilo’s Boyz n Bucks crew helped define the movement, and as an artist pushing a brave new sound – which instead of looking to the States uses local vernacular and slang to celebrate a culture that’s strictly our own – he’s at the top of the game. Brands have taken note and after putting his face on a billboard on the N1 and a bunch of taxis around town, Vans recently brought the rapper to Cape Town to perform on the opening night of their three day long 50th Birthday celebrations, as part of an international roll-out that included performances by Erykah Badu, Nas, Questlove, Dizzee Rascal and the Wu-Tang Clan.  

It’s the morning after the night of his performance and Stilo has just finished doing a screen-printing workshop where he made his own T-shirt. He's now sitting in a deck chair drinking purple vodka slushy. We begin our conversation by asking Stilo to tell The Way of Us how a fashion kid is now at the top of the rap game.

“We did season one and two of Cream Cartel and for season three we were supposed to each go our own way. Well that never happened... I was working as a stylist, mainly styling hip-hop artists: AKA, Jozi in their prime, Les when he broke out and went solo, Wiz Kid in his early days… Then when Nigeria started shooting music videos in South Africa I became the go-to stylist. I peaked with the Channel O Awards. I thought, ‘Well, what do I do next?’ You can’t go from shooting a movie and come back and shoot, I dunno, webisodes, you know? It doesn’t feel the same. The pressure’s not the same and the challenges aren’t the same. So I decided that I needed to do something else.”

Now everyone had always told Choc that he should rap, and so in 2012 already he thought he’d try and launch his rap career off of the fame he’d gained on Cream Cartel. This wasn’t the case, and so Stilo started building from scratch.

“Instead of fast-tracking me, being in the industry from a fashion and styling perspective actually slowed me down. Nobody would give me a break. It was one of those things that I had to keep pushing myself. It was a pure business move – I got into rap because I saw how whack everyone else was and if these whack cats could make a living off of rap, I could definitely do it.”

While nobody would deny that Stilo is a natural born performer, and has swagger for days, his rapping admittedly needed work, and so he set out schooling himself in the art of mic control.

“The most important thing was figuring out how my mind works and figuring out what I wanted to put out. In terms of raps, I think I write well, but initially I went too broad and just wrote about everything. And that’s not really how it is, because like an author you need to focus on a topic or a genre or whatever. And then master that. So that’s what I did, like: ‘What do I have experience in and then how do I flip that into something that can trend?’ Fashion. We can cover that. That’s easy. That’s what I’ve always done. Street culture. Got that. But now we got to add an element of cliché rap so that people can get into it and spaz out. And that’s why I’m all about good hooks.”

Even now Stilo still spends every single day coming up with and practicing hooks, constantly recording voice notes on his phone. Once he gets a sound that he’s happy with he’ll keep polishing that until it’s as golden as the rest of him is. Case in point, the highly infectious "Mr. Party".

“Everyone can relate to 'Mr Party' and when you translate the words from Zulu to English, it’s like, ‘Lets get together, I ‘ve got the vodka and you’ve got the dash’ because it’s about everyone coming together and creating this amazing thing. A party is not a party if you’re alone. Or if you have one bottle and a hundred people, then that’s a boring-ass party and you have shit friends. But if everyone brings a bottle you’ll have the best party ever.”

Influenced by storyteller rappers like Slick Rick, Stilo likes to do the type of situational raps where he’s able to find the humour in things, believing that if it makes him smile when he writes it then there’s a good chance that it will make the listener smile, too. And while putting a smiles on dials is important to him, so is staying true to his roots.

“I can’t tell my story from an American perspective. The closest I’ve been to America is SABC1. They opened the window but they opened it a bit too wide and now you feel like you’re a part of it and it’s actually not a real thing. I want to rap about things that I can say with conviction. Nobody can ever tell me about my trips to Cape Town because I was on those trips. Nobody can tell me about indie jols in Joburg because I was at those jols. So why would I talk about a culture that’s a day away by plane?”

As a rapper living solely off his raps, self-funded Stilo has the support of a tight-knit crew but is ultimately steering the ship all by himself. And right now he just wants to keep building, which isn’t necessarily a selfish endeavor, either.

“It’s not just about the kids. It’s also about the older generation. A lot of people are misinformed, or uneducated, and that’s what it’s all about - empowering everybody and spreading more love. The game doesn’t have love. Everyone is so self-centered. It’s been extremely humbling how people have caught on to this and how it’s become a vibe. Only the real will prevail. If you’re pure and sincere you’ll triumph over the synthetic and manufactured. But it’s a bit crazy how with the right budget nowadays the synthetic can last a little longer, you know what I mean?”

Aware that everything he has today could be gone tomorrow, Stilo stays true to his Day Ones and is careful to not let any of his success get to his head. Take away all his gold and everything else that glitters and Stilo’s still the same man.

“If you don’t have those people who were with you from day one then you can’t get back up. And getting back up doesn’t mean getting back up to where you were before. It’s getting back up to another stratosphere. Cream Cartel was a rise and a fall but you never fall if you keep building and so you change directions and build a bit higher... It’s amazing to see my face on the highway when I’m driving up north and I always have a moment where I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re on the right track.’ My family is mind-blown, too, but regardless of whatever has happened, to them I’m still the same guy. No matter how much I change my style or how many taxis I’m on I try not to lose myself in all this. I’m still Michael Chirwa.”