“As artists we should not sit around and wait for work to come to us,” Vilakazi says. “We must create opportunities for ourselves, because we will always be dependent if we don’t create – which is the role of the artist anyway.
“I started out giving my services away for free. I would write a song or produce for someone for free, or act in someone else’s production or even perform my poetry for free. A writer writes, so don’t wait for people. You are supposed to do what you do and the rest will fall into place.”
Vilakazi’s resume is extensive. He is a former editor of Y-Mag and is about to release a book of poetry. His role on the soapie Zabalaza has opened up many new opportunities, which are beginning to feed his other creative efforts. His debut album All Things Grey is a melting pot of lyrical hip hop and soul.
As a rapper, he borrows from a number of artists, many of whom feature in his first offering. The list includes RJ Benjamin, HHP, Nothende, Max-Hoba, Dineo Moeketsi, Khuli Chana, Samthing Soweto of The Fridge and MXO.
The new album’s first single Uzobuya has been successful throughout Africa. The cover/tribute Papa (dedicated to the legendary Sankomota) is a favourite, alongside Funny Money produced by Amu. Colour of You, featuring Nothende and produced by American producer Omar (Talib Kweli, Raheem Devaughn), fuses harmony with clear, intelligent thought.
Vilakazi has maintained the collaborative nature of the first album, with no fewer than 16 guest appearances on Memory Remains.
“Collaboration is the trend worldwide and I think music works better when there’s a team involved,” explains Vilakazi.
“I worked with some of my favourite artists like Nonku Phiri and Zarchia Zaheus who are not necessarily big names yet, but are hugely talented. Working with Judith Sephuma has been a big dream of mine… I wanted this album to be more of a happier album thematically and I wanted it to be a celebration of love.”
Vilakazi has separated his rap influences from his soul offerings in this new double album.
“I love both genres so much that I felt that it was necessary to separate them this time,” says Vilakazi.
“It was a matter of focus more than anything, because hip hop, for example, has a bad reputation and is associated with misogyny, bling and foul language. I wanted to celebrate a hip hop not necessarily seen in the mainstream. I wanted to showcase a hip hop that celebrates a love for God or honesty in the expression of our feelings. In terms of soul, I am a fan of D’Angelo, Musiq Soulchild and others so I felt that side of things also deserved its own space. I’m not alone in pursuing an African neo-soul sound with Nothende, RJ Benjamin, Afrotraction and others also involved in that movement.”
Memory Remains has been well received and both offerings have seen Vilakazi share the stage with artists from around the world, including John Legend, Bilal, Carl Thomas, Lizz Wright, Eric Roberson, Louie Vega, Tank, Gerald Albright, Avant, Vikter Duplaix, Jesse Boykins, Josh Milan, 9th Wonder, and Phonte.
Despite being active in many artistic disciplines, the process starts with a pen and paper.
“Before anything, I am writer first. I have written poems that later turned into songs, or songs that later became short stories. And more recently a song grew into a short story and then into a short film that I am currently working on.
“So no matter what discipline, it all starts with a pen and paper.”