Muzi does the most with the least whilst staying true to himself
Words: Bob Perfect | Photography: Samora Chapman
Muzi has done a ton of press for a guy who is still relatively unknown to the general South African public. You know him, of course. You’ve read about him on Fader, Noisey, Complex, Afropunk, DMC World, and a plethora of other hip and not-so-hip titles that consider his music to be groundbreaking. Hell, this is my fourth time interviewing the brightly-clad producer with over half a million plays on Spotify.
Each time I’ve chatted to the dude, I’ve left feeling wiser for it. He comes at things from such a different angle that it feels like he’s got a secret he’s not telling us. Except, he always openly and animatedly proclaims the secrets to his success. Well, at least the secrets to his creativity: scarcity, resourcefulness, individuality, and dedication to mastering his craft.
You want to know why Muzi started producing? Because he wasn’t the best rapper in his crew.
“I started out as a rapper, and I had a guy in the group who I thought was amazing. So I was like, 'If we’re in a group, and I’m rapping against this guy, I’m gonna lose every time. So let me just focus on the beats.' I just ended up producing.” He laughs and continues, “He used to do it so naturally and beats used to come to me naturally. I used to bang on desks and shit and keep time. I was way more natural with making beats and trying to look cool with clothes rather than just, like, writing bars.” How’s that for coming at things from a different angle?
It was an astute move that’s lead to an already impressive career. After spending most of 2016 in Berlin (which he did by reinvesting some record label money), Muzi put out his debut album Boom-Shaka. Pretty much every review said it slaps, because it does. Muzi is now kicking it in Durban, and after a breather in the Eastern Cape, he's back with a fresh offering that's quite different from his previous work.
'Chocolate Dream' is a smooth tropical summer jam that blends house and afrobeat. The track came together on a whim. Una Rams is a vocalist who Muzi met on social media and they decided to work together. ”I came through with the beat and he started having these vocal ideas. The other guy on the track, Saint Seaba (a singer from Nigeria), was in the studio when we were working. He just started singing the chorus so I told him to record it. The song basically just came about because we were hanging out in studio. We decided to make it about our dreams. It’s about a dream girl.”
What I dig about Muzi is that he isn’t scared to experiment but also knows what works for him. While he’s been in massive studios overseas he still loves doing his thing with just his laptop and speakers. “When I was in Germany, I’d go to the most extraaaaavagant studios I’ve ever seen in my life, and some guy plays some bullshit on it,” he jokes.
Muzi has found what works for him as an individual, “I always think like an individual. If I find that this pen works for me, I’m not going to change pens. So when I was starting out, I found FruityLoops, and I’m still using Fruity. Even now, I think Fruity 12 or whatever is out, and I’m still using 9 because that’s what works for me. That’s the thing about being an individual, whether it’s style or it’s music, you find what works for you.”
To Muzi, it’s not about finding the new thing but rather finding your thing. “The thing is, as a human, if you’re determined you end up learning using whatever you have at your disposal.”
Lately, Muzi has been making clothes with one of his childhood homies, Mthoko and uses their collaboration to prove his point. “So, for instance, when Mthoko and I make clothes, we use one sewing machine. When you meet people that are above you, they tell you 'You need this!' 'You need that!' But what Mthoko has taught himself is to do all of that with that one machine.”
Muzi is dismissive of technology and stresses rather focussing on the work, “So, ok, cool, there’s something that I can use, but I can’t afford that. I already know how to do that — with this. Now you have to learn something new because someone on the internet told you that this is fire. You’re already doing it.”
Muzi knows himself for sure, and it’s his hip-hop roots that give him his confidence. ”Hip-hop is more of an attitude thing for me. Hip-hop taught me confidence. Especially the earlier stuff. In its essence, hip-hop took from other genres, it took from disco, it took from house… The same way kwaito did.”
Kwaito influences some of Muzi’s music too, but hip-hop and skateboarding will always be at the core of his style. Or as he describes it “Oversized T-shirts and skinnies. The oversized T-shirts is a hip-hop thing but then the skinnies are skating. The more streamlined your pants are, the better you skate. I can’t skate with my stuff hanging low.” At the end of the day though, it doesn’t matter what he wears, “Whether I’m wearing Vans or whether I’m wearing traditional wear, I feel the same. I think I’m cool as f**k.”
Muzi doesn’t lack confidence or creativity and it’s working for him. He’s dedicated to expressing himself, whether through music, skating, fashion, or even the music video you’re about to watch. A video he made with Photoshop, one frame at a time. Because that’s what worked for him.