We spoke to YoungstaCPT, Cape Town’s favourite son, about fashion, hip-hop and his city
Words: Nabeel Allie | Photography: Nick Gordon
In a city so fraught with division, it is perhaps appropriate that Riyadh Roberts – who hails from Wittebome and the less tourist-pamphlet-friendly part of Wynberg – is bringing its rich culture to the fore with his on-the-ground authenticity.
YoungstaCPT is unquestionably a product of a city that is very selective about including and celebrating its own. In the Mother City, coloured people are often pushed to the sidelines of public discourse after the occasional gang-related movie comes out or once the coons have painted their faces and played their New Years trumpets. However, through his lyrics, fashion and personality, the 021’s favourite son is on a quest to represent the people’s side of the city, and he won’t stop until the world knows.
“If you look at American culture, the black American culture, you had Boyz n the Hood – that was a story about boys in the hood. But then you also had Baby Boy, the story of a bra who makes a klom laaities and who’s just trying to figure out his way in life. Where’s that story of Cape Town? Where’s the story of the normal laaitie who studies here by UWC or CPUT, but has to go home to a place that is a bit f***ed up – where’s that story?”
In his own way, Youngsta’s getting that story out for people to hear.
Like many young people from Cape Town, Roberts got his sense of style from his mother. He speaks with great affinity regarding her influence on him and equally fondly on how fashionable many people in her generation were. “There’s this picture of my uncle...” he says as he begins to animatedly tell a family story. “The man’s got a baseball jacket on, he’s got the gold rings and he’s holding a radio in his hand. And my cousins, they’re babies and they’re running around in the back and I’m just like, 'Yoh, this whole scene man!' This is where we come from, you know?”
While the fashion of hip-hop is at its consumerist peak, YoungstaCPT, under the tutelage of his mother, has been stunting since he was a child. As a stylist, a designer and a model, she ensured that her home was constantly bustling with the hottest looks and new personal takes on the fashion at the time.
Today’s latest hypes were a default part of the Cape Town fashion package during his adolescence in the 90s. “My mommy was always telling me, 'Naai, wear your clothes one size bigger, wear the jeans one size bigger' sien jy? She showed me what the cool shit was without even trying really,” he explains. With little doubt, the street styles and aesthetics that Youngsta grew up with came from the Cape Flats, a vast area predominantly home to coloured people that he pays regular homage to.
It’s a melting pot of some of the city’s most stylish, creative and brightest minds. “If you look at the Nike caps coming back or even the Polo caps, the ones with the small print in front or the small tick on the side with the Drifit text, we were always wearing that. I remember civvies day, kyk hier. The brasse was slatting, I’m talking head to toe brother: cap, track top, track pants with the kicks also. Tick, tick, tick, tick” he says, exalting the style of his youth, which never got the applause that it now gets in wealthier young spaces.
It’s worth noting that the youth of today are taking the local style back into their own hands. The Corner Store and local brands like 2Bop speak to this affinity for fashion that Riyadh believes is so intrinsic for young people in the city and he believes that their rise is richly deserved.
“I’m overjoyed bra, at the fact that this is happening. Better late than never. It’s imprinted in our genes – we’re literally born into this because of our parents, because they had style already,” he says proudly.
Style, clearly, is not just about wearing clothes in Kaapstad – it’s about identity. There can be no doubt that there are countless other mothers, fathers and boombox-holding uncles who have influenced children’s outfits from Bo-Kaap to Bonteheuwel.
While he revels in the frontier-pushing dress of yesteryear, YoungstaCPT’s skill on the mic is launching him and local hip-hop into new territories. Just like the legends of the game, he’s been producing mixtape after mixtape since the days when Santos won the Premier Soccer League. It should come as no surprise then that he’s set to release his thirtieth mixtape this December, an awe-inspiring tally. This year has been particularly fruitful for him, with performances at the Cape Town Sneaker Exchange, Rocking the Daisies and OppiKoppi. He’s also set for his second tour of Australia to round off the year. No rest for the wicked, it seems.
As his stock continues to grow throughout the country and international hip-hop scene, he pays lots of respect to the youth of Cape Town, who, in him, have found someone who is self-reflexive and relatable in the most endearing of ways. He doesn’t take his influence and the position they’ve given him lightly. When asked him about it, one can feel his pride coincide with his humility.
“It’s a big responsibility to have that kind of weight on your shoulders because now it’s like, the whole race is depending on you. You’re that one man who must do everything for us, bra! And that can be a bietjie heavy at times, but I’m still learning and figuring out how to package this nicely so that I can still remain raw and stay in my element, but also take this to a higher level.”
Think back to the influence that NWA had on black youth in Compton, because they saw artists who were so similar to them. Youngsta is cut from a similar cloth: young people can hear someone who sounds like them, uses the same vernacular as them and dresses like them. He didn’t start Cape Town hip-hop, but it would be difficult to deny that he’s been critical in making more ears perk up towards it.
“Those who know, know: hip-hop in South Africa started in Mitchell’s Plain. I’m not even gonna say Cape Town. It’s the biggest suburb in Cape Town, that and Khayelitsha. The funny thing is that the people is skrikking that now hip-hop in Cape Town is coming from a laaitie from focken Wynberg-Wittebome side and not the Plain. So it’s a change of the guard in some ways, yet the matters and the factors I speak of is all still the same because nothing’s changed since then."
Youngsta's guardianship of the city’s hip-hop does not come without recognition – his sound is too distinct and his flow is too original to not merit reward. He’s been nominated for three South African Hip-Hop Awards and is in the studio plotting his first studio album, Things Take Time, which he says is inspired by the links he’s found between his life and his grandfather’s. With a US tour in the works as well, it seems as though there is no limit for the Wittebome Wonder.
Put four fingers up and twist it in the middle because YoungstaCPT is here to stay.