Five examples of how the local rap game is diversifying using merch
Words: Ndu Donsa | Images: Supplied
Let me put you on the game real quick – it's not just Yeezy and South African rappers who are making strides in merch. But hey, this is not new news, and back in the day local rappers already had an eye for branching out and making a killing on threads. Prokid and his Dankie Saan T-shirt range, HHP with #Bossokemaang range and even Ninja who was flinging product when he was rapping still as Max Normal. Fast forward to 2017 and there's now a long list of new school rappers who are owning this space, and doing merch in clever and engaging ways.
Jay Z and Dame Dash wrote the merch blueprint with Roca-Wear, which was reportedly cashing in annual sales of $700 million while running the streets with clothes for children, socks, sandals, handbags sunglasses and Hova rocking the ROC in his videos.
However, the guy who took the model, flipped it, made noise and even made our local hypebeasts queue for his merch outside of a Pablo pop-up store in Cape Town, was Kanye West. Yeezy has made it his mission to be recognised as a design and style icon, signing with the Brand With Three Stripes and releasing a sneaker that has disrupted the sneaker game. So clearly when it came to his merch, Kanye was going to change the game.
But let's take it back to the local scene and highlight the guys who are owning the local merch game.
The thing about these two brands is that they have always had a good partnership with Head Honcho, supporting the Supa Mega when he was on the come-up. Watch any AKA music video from around four years ago and you'll see him wearing Head Honcho merch. Now AKA is creating his own merch under the brand name ‘Supa Mega’ and in December last year he had a pop-up experience in Gateway Durban. Your humble author was one of the crazy stans waiting in line to cop some merch, and can report how it was clean, long line and on-trend.
“We have been working with AKA for a while now where clothing is concerned, and started with [the] highly successful collab HHxAKA. AKA is a great guy to work with. He has a clear vision of how his brand must be portrayed and that makes the design process so much smoother.” – Mzo Gcwabe, co-creative director of Head Honcho
How AKA got it right: Flooding social media to tease his range, AKA then got his ride-or-die Bonang to model a few pieces. He then created an environment where you would want to cop the merch, and then attend his shows. So smart.
We all know Cassper Nyovest as a smart businessman, and with him venturing into merch it can only be big. So far we've got some tweets and have heard that he's opening a store.
“There was a great demand nationwide for the merch and it’s been hard to get the product to people. With the shop we can have a space where we have all our clothes where the diehard fans can purchase the product. We also want to provide a platform for other Family Tree artists within the store.” – Jude Oratile Mmolawa, Family Tree artist manager.
How will Cassper get it right: He will motivate the youth to chase their dreams by building an aspirational brand that they want to align themselves with.
Last year Riky Rick dropped his Kotini Killers T-shirt range with many people saying that Riky had copied the Deathrow logo. After investigating this for myself my findings were that Riky had not stolen the Deathrow logo, but did something we call "appropriation".
“There are two ways of looking at it. From a music point of view – and then people will say Riky's biting – but from a fashion or streetwear point of view, it’s not. It’s called logo subversion and it’s the cornerstone of street fashion. Streetwear and street style were born out of the idea that we use elements such as hoodies and T-shirts to make statements. Usually these messages took the form of subverting high-end fashion labels’ logos by remixing them. This message was usually a f*ck you to the brands on the runway, with brands like Stüssy, Supreme, Crooks and Castles doing things like subverting the Chanel double C logo and Versace Medusa for years. I think Riky's pushing the same message just with major hip hop labels. He’s trying to say, 'just because we’re African doesn’t mean we can’t be iconic'." – Hayden Manuel, sneakerhead and king of culture.
How Riky Rick got it right: He schooled us on the idea of appropriation. Riky pushed the boundaries and will forever push the boundaries as King Kotini. Ishhuuu.
Apart from having the biggest track in 2017 with Ngudu, featuring on a couple of hit singles, and creating his own record label, Kwesta has now added merch to his offering. The news of Kwesta launching his own merch line broke last year November 2016 and was named after his record label: ‘Rap Lyf’. Kwesta's angle is to provide for the man in the street and not just people who are into streetwear.
“We will be giving other people the platform to design for this range. We are going to open it up to all sorts of designers to come make it. I will be the model.” – Kwesta via SlikourOnLife
How Kwesta got it right: By making clothing accessible and giving young designers a chance to make a name for themselves in the industry.
Ma-E is the OG and a guy who often does not get enough love in local hip hop. Hopefully that's all about to stop, because The Township Counsellor deserves our attention and has been putting out quality music while focusing on broadening his empire as a solo artist. Ever since the Teargas members ventured out to focus on their solo careers, Ma-E has been consistent with his narrative of inspiring the kids in the township. The idea behind his Ganda Ghanda range is that you reap what you sow, which is smart and a great way to inspire the kids to work harder.
How Ma-E got it right: SA youth love being inspired to hustle. The motto behind Ma-E’s range makes it hard to ignore.
Look out for the merch moves that our local rappers will be making this year, because while making music is one thing, creating a 360 experience is like the difference between a being a rapper, or being an icon like Yeezy.