South African Hip Hop Series: Producer Brian Soko
Brian Soko is not a happy man! Not only is he having to deal with the trauma of a daylight break-in at a cottage he’s renting while on a three-week work-related trip to Jozi, but the rappers he’s supposed to be having a studio session with the next day aren’t picking up their phones. I’ve been tasked with following him around for the next two days, photographing him as he works with artists like Cassper Nyovest and Teargas.
For now, we’re on the N1 highway headed towards Centurion where Chad da Don, another rapper, is due to complete his verse on a Soko beat. As we race to beat the traffic, the producer sheds more light on the break-in incident. He’d barely been gone from the cottage for thirty minutes. Returning with the groceries he’d gone to buy, he discovered that his iPhone, Macbook, two external hard drives, sneakers, and his girlfriend’s jewellery had gone missing. The cleaning ladies knew nothing; neither did the cottage owner nor the gardener.
Going to the police didn’t yield results.
Born in Chiredzi, a small town to the South-East of Bulawayo, Soko was initiated into hip-hop by his elder brother Prince with whom he now runs the Anashe Media Group, a management, marketing and production company focused on the African music sector. His other brother Arnold and a third partner are also involved.
The story of his initial forays into music production follows a similar trajectory to that of many producers: he’d started off as a rapper, but instead of him feeling like he wasn’t good enough, he realised that there was good money-generating potential from making beats. He then switched to that trade exclusively while in high school.
“I used to sell my beats online,” he said in an interview, referring to early start-ups like Mp3.com which enabled independent artists (or ‘bedroom musicians’) to generate income from their music.
His banker father re-located his family to America after a brief stint in South Africa. Soko’s athleticism – he played football at one point – took a backseat when he decided to study sound engineering. He met his current production team, The Order, during his freshman year at college in Tampa, Florida.
Among them – there are three other members – The Order have produced for A-list artists such as Rich Gang, Future, and Drake. There’s also Beyonce’s “Drunk in love” which was [wrongly] attributed to recording artist Detail. I ask Soko about this.
“It’s all industry politics,” he tells me.
Later, he’ll reveal: “I made that beat about four years ago.”
In Centurion, we’re greeted by two apes which belong to Chad da Don. Chad’s mother, a hip-hop lover of sorts, comes out and invites us into their home. Maggz, the Soweto-born rhyme-spitter who can rap circles around many a rapper, is present, as is Chad’s producer Ashleigh.
After brief introductions, Chad invites us into his studio. Soko’s still concerned about the break-in, but his mood instantaneously changes when Ashleigh fires up the studio workstation. He’s most at peace making music, it seems.
The producers go through songs which have been placed on albums due out later this year. Pusha T’s name gets flown about; Rihanna’s too.
Next is Chad’s unfinished song with Maggz who’s in the same room and has already recorded his part. The playback elicits something of a collective mini-orgasm when everyone hears it. “I pray we take it, to the next level/ change the game and let the cheques battle/ when you state your name they’re like ‘yessus’/ into ziya jika mfankithi/”
Maggz’s cadence is unmatched!
The last time Soko was in South Africa, he did production work for Cash Time Life – first KO’s “Mission statement”, then DJ Vigilanti’s “Sgelekeqe” which features stately rap contributions from Ma-E, Pro, and Maggz. Both songs went on to dominate radio charts and establish KO, especially, as somewhat of a lyrical monster outside of the Teargas collective (of which he’s part, alongside brothers Ma-E and Ntukza).
Over the next two days, Soko’ll host a roster of producers and rap artists either at the tipping point of their careers, or currently riding the crest of an ever-brittle and elusive ‘top’. Cassper Nyovest will make a stop to record “Phumakim”, as will Ganja Beatz, the production collective responsible for producing bangers for Reason, Okmalumkoolkat, and Riky Rick, among others.
I pull Ma-E aside during one of the sessions to ask him how the working relationship with Soko developed. He tells me that the producer used to contact them (Cash Time Life/Teargas) via e-mail with links to his soundcloud. KO decided to open one of the links and went on to alert Ma-E. “In two seconds, I was like ‘yo, this guy’s the deal! When he comes down, we’ve got to hook up!’”
On our last meeting, Brian comes across a post from October 2012 while scrolling through his Facebook timeline: “I make Weird beats on purpose!… 1 of theez days imma set a trend.” With one of last year’s biggest songs under his belt, and song placement on some big name artists’ upcoming projects, Brian may well be on his way to accomplishing his goal.
*Originally published in Mahala.
**This article is part of Africasacountry’s series on South African Hip-Hop in 2014. You can follow the rest of the series here.