Every up-and-coming rapper dreams of releasing a single that is so hot, everybody wants to collaborate with him. This is exactly what happened to Emtee after he released his club banger, Roll Up, earlier this year.
“There were a lot of people who wanted to work with me on a remix for Roll Up,” says the 23-year-old rapper, whose real name is Mthebeni Ndevu. “But when AKA [Kiernan Forbes] and Wizkid [Ayodeji Balogun] reached out, I just couldn’t refuse.” The Roll Up remix, which features the two hip-hop heavyweights, was released just a few weeks ago and is already a radio and club favourite.
“I’ve always looked up to these guys, so getting to work with them was a huge honour for me.” But his biggest accomplishment this year has to be winning Song Of The Year at the annual South African Hip-Hop Awards last week. It’s rare for a newcomer to take the accolade, previously awarded to rappers such as Cassper Nyovest [Refiloe Phoolo] and Reason [Sizwe Moeketsi].
“I don’t want to lie, I really didn’t expect to win any awards with Roll Up,” he says of the song he recorded in one day. “I was just trying to make a hip-hop track that people would enjoy and dance to. So to hear that it’s actually one of the biggest songs of the year, is just amazing.”
Anyone in the music industry will tell you that it takes a lot more than a hit song to make it as a successful rapper in this country. The industry is small, with thousands of youngsters hoping to become the next best thing in a genre which is bigger than ever in SA. He assures me that he is no one-hit wonder.
“I’m a hustler. I’ve been hustling all my life to make my dreams come true. I’m not going to give up now. I’m going to work even harder.”
Emtee was born in Matatiele in the Eastern Cape but grew up in Rockville, Soweto. He got on stage for the first time when he was just nine years old, performing at a Yeoville primary school talent show. Since then, he knew he belonged on some of the world’s biggest stages.
He became the youngest choir conductor at Barnata High School and won many provincial competitions as a member of his school’s marimba band. He started making money from his talents at the age of 17 when he worked as a music instructor at other schools. He used his earnings to record his first mixed tape, The Introduction.
But what has it been like being one of our country’s most popular up and coming rappers this year? He said this year was “awesome, but challenging” as well.
“Hip-hop is a tricky genre because it’s all about respect. As a young rapper it’s very hard to get that respect from of people who have been in the game longer than you have for a long time. No matter what you achieve in terms of creating good music, you can still be taken for granted because people don’t respect you.”