And will being coached by Cassper Nyovest help the rapper serve up a smash hit?
Words: Sabelo Mkhabela | Photography: Andile Phewa
Nadia Nakai doesn't have a lot of time; she's due for a TV interview on SABC 3's Real Talk With Anele. Also, after building her name through guest appearances on songs with Cassper Nyovest, Stogie T, Riky Rick and DJ Milkshake, the rapper's finally working on her debut album.
Bragga, the EP Nadia released in 2016 gave fans a glimpse of the artist she set out to be. With a lot more misses than hits since surfacing in 2013 there are high hopes for the debut album, especially considering who's involved...
"I haven't decided on a date yet. Albums are a lot of work, yo! Cassper is executive producing it, and he's like a super difficult person to work with. He's a perfectionist, and makes me redo things a hundred times, so that's why it's taking so long."
Now signed to Cassper Nyovest's Family Tree label, alongside Tshego, Gemini Major and Nyovest himself, Nadia has a solid team on which to lean.
Nadia doesn't want to reveal too much about the album, but what she can say is that she is also working with Takunda (who produced the first single 'Naaa Meaan'), Gemini Major, Leriq (who has produced hits for Burna Boy) and Tshego.
"Cassper Nyovest and Alie Keyz are co-executive producing actually. They are doing it together. Exactly how Thuto came about."
Nadia says the album will showcase different sides of her character. "So it's gonna have different sounds, stuff that I grew up with, samples that I resonated with when I was younger. There will be a whole bunch of stuff that you are not going to expect."
The rapper is taller than we anticipated, with an aura that effects everyone around her. Posing for photographs it's clear that confidence is her most prominent trait. And be it on stage or sonically, Nadia demands your attention, without any discernible effort. She recently released a mini-documentary on YouTube, aptly titled Bossing Up With Bragga, in which she takes fans behind the scenes of her shows and shoots.
Asked if she's always been this sure of herself, Nadia responds, "I don't think I've always been as confident as I am now. It's not something that I learned. I grew up and became comfortable in my skin. I became a woman. I'm in touch with my sexuality and my femininity. Things that used to phase me back then, don't anymore."
Reflecting on young Nadia, she says, "I wish the stuff that I know now, I could tell my younger self. 'You don't have to worry about that shit because it's not important.'"
Today Nadia doesn't pay a lot of attention to what people say about her on social media. She knows her truth.
"And the people that are important to me know the truth as well. It becomes a problem when you see lies on social media and the people who are close to you believe them."
Despite this, Nadia is a prime example of being comfortable with who you are and raps confidently about herself, her body, sex and her competition.
Able to look photo-shoot-fresh without a professional stylist, Nadia put together the outfits seen here with ease.
"People are constantly looking at you and what you're wearing, what you're doing... So you really have to take pride in what you look like."
Which is why she's decided to put a lot more effort into her live performances. "At the end of the day, I'm giving you a show. You're not just watching me perform my songs. You can do that on TV. I'm creating a show for you, and that includes visuals."
This inspiration comes from artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna, who Nadia keeps referencing during our conversation.
"I looked at how the Americans did it. When you see how Rihanna did it when she came here. When you see how B does it. How people make blogs just about the outfits that she was wearing during a show. I was like 'I have to do that.' I think Nigerians do it well, too."
Scoffing at some South African artists who can be in an outfit the whole day and then go do a show in it, Nadia says that it shouldn't be this way.
All this strategic thinking makes sense when considering how Nadia is being mentored by the biggest rapper in the country, if not the continent, a man who has it all figured out and is making hits, selling albums, getting endorsement deals, working with US hip-hop stars and filling up venues that artists like Kanye West, Trey Songz and Kendrick Lamar failed to sell out.
"I'm blessed," says Nadia, explaining how Cassper Nyovest has shared invaluable insights about the industry with her. "I'm so happy that I found this team."
Before signing to Family Tree in 2016, Nadia was signed to actor, rapper and producer Psyfo's Sid Records. Leaving that label was part of her growth.
"I was very happy at Sid Records. But I ended up growing and he (Psyfo) started focusing on his own passion, and became the commissioning editor at Channel O. So we parted ways nicely and it was more a matter of 'I see what you are trying to do and I don't think we can do it together anymore.'"
After signing with Family Tree and working with some of South Africa's biggest artists, has Nadia maybe reached a ceiling too quickly? She doesn't think so.
"My ceiling is not South Africa. My ceiling is penetrating the UK and US markets. Before that, penetrating the African market. So I still need to get a cosign from Davido, Wizkid, Giggs, Skepta, Drake, Jay-Z… I haven't even broken through yet."
Looking at how far she has managed to go within such a short period, none of these seem farfetched.