If you’re a lover of discovering new artists that are dedicated to giving the world transcendent experiences, then Xenlaii is an artist you should’ve been following by now. In 2019 the Pietermaritzburg native gave us his Surf : AM EP which is a project that brought an emotional journey expressed through sound and visuals. Fast forward to 2020 early April, he gifted fans with the deluxe version that has sonic nods from traditional genres such as pop, hip-hop, EDM, and R&B. And although his story is still being told, we took a moment to chat with the unique Hip Hop artist that fuses with Kwaito & Soul, to find out just how he continues to serve mellow and hard-hitting songs, contrasted with some boldness and vulnerability in his deliveries while telling the story of the average South African, Surf : AM Deluxe and more.
Lemme start things off by remembering the day you came to the office out of the blue [laughs] and handed me your cool flash. Since then I have been keeping an eye on you and you’ve been pushing yourself. Where is the drive coming from?
I remember that day [laughs] & I appreciate that you accepted the merch and even posted it on your page. The drive comes from wanting to offer product that is more than just music but well-curated visuals and merch. It is the energy of an independent artist wanting to offer so much that there’s absolutely no other choice but to pay attention because that attention allows us to create more.
And since you’ve started grinding it out in the city (Joburg) how has your reception in the music space been? I recall you said you moved down from Durban to Joburg to be in a better position to penetrate the game?
The reception has been great & at a much quicker rate than I thought it would. Yeah, I am originally from Pietermaritzburg which is 30 minutes away from Durban and I moved up to Joburg because this is where the industry is at. Especially when it comes to hip hop.
The Surf : AM EP has of course been your vehicle in terms of music right now. Why decided to expand on with the deluxe?
I wanted to finish the story & emptying myself before moving on to the next project. At first, I thought I had completed the project with the first release that was all Durban related experiences until my trip to Cape Town in late 2019. The West Coast’s beauty and the experiences there really inspire a new wave of music that felt like a continuation of the story.
You added 5 more tracks to the deluxe right? Adding the likes of Touchline and SimmySimmyNya, let’s discuss the overall features. Why gravitate towards those artists specifically and how did the elevate your storytelling?
Yea, I added 5 more songs. So, the feature choice was because they are the homies and it was easy to work because I knew their story and how it fits the mood of the songs I was going for. For example, Touchline’s lyricism and ability to touch on social issues made him the perfect fit for a song like ‘Unemployed’. Just touching on the current state of youth unemployment and the homies having no choice but to carve a way for themselves in a system that they have lost confidence in. SimmySimmyNya, on the other hand, is a homie I went to the same high school with so we sort of had the same teenage experiences so it was easy for him to kill the song ‘Wenza Ngani’ because it has that vernacular dance vibe that sort of features in the background everywhere you go to in KZN.
The ‘Kwaze Kwamnandi Remix’ by Jumping Back Slash was the only song that sort of happened over the internet without actually locking into the studio. The reason for working with him though was because I love his approach to Gqom and I wanted to have that sound on the last project of the song because it was invented in Durban. That ratchet sound that reminds me of my homies back home with all the gold teeth. I needed that there.
“I wanted to finish the story & emptying myself before moving on to the next project” – Xenlaii
Word. The story is always being told in different chapters, so what chapter is next for you? How is the sound developing?
The next chapters are the awakening & it will be drawing from the universal energy. The sound is more feel-good & elevating. Still wavy but stronger with the pen game with regards to the content. Imagine waking up in Ballito self-actualized…
Yeah… Cool, I don’t want to make this a long talk but let me end it off by simply asking how you’re keeping yourself inspire during these times, who are you listening to besides yourself?
Awe, So I am keeping inspired by filling up my positivity tank. Learning how to be more about production, doing some vocal training, chasing my dog around the house, watching lots of comedy movies & as little news as possible. Also just calling the homies even if it’s just to troll them [Laughs].
I’ve gone back listening to a lot of the South African music I heard growing up. I am going through a Lebo Mathosa phase right now, Caiphus Semenya, Anatii, Muzi & I’ve home back to my 90s/early 2000s hip hop bag. So, some A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def & Reasonable Doubt Hov. I also went back to some Skwatta Kamp.