After dropping his critically acclaimed project Members Only, an extraordinary collab tape If You Know, You Know with Mashbeatz and was featured recently on the producer’s street banger ‘Never Ride’ alongside Maglera Doe Boy, Thato Saul’s latest offering Life Is Gangsta cements his position in hip-hop as one of the best storytellers and lyricists in the country.
The tape lets the listener in on growing up in Thato Saul’s hood Atteridgeville, popularly known as Pheli, west of Pretoria, with ‘Modimo Ohla Pheli’ where he speaks on his growth as an artist and as a person while he states that people didn’t believe he would get this far.
He carries this energy into ‘Pick It Up’ where he raps about a deep conversation with a friend who tells him a life of crime is the only way he can put food on the table. “I pray that they give it up easy/ Don’t be Superman and be throwin’ a fit up/ Don’t really like pullin’ the trigger/ even though that sh*t don’t make me shiver/ Give up the keys and give up the monies/ I be prayin’ to God, ‘don’t make me pull the trigger/ Don’t really like being that n*gga,” Thato Saul raps from the perspective of his subject.
He recruits rap superstar A-Reece on ‘Put It on Me’. Saul addresses his peers, fans, and haters about how he is here to stay, and is cautious of who he keeps around him as he takes the game on. A-Reece comes in smooth letting his naysayers know he is aware of all that talk and how they are in their feelings, but they must respect his position in the rap game as he raps, “Just like the ex-con Jimmy, I thought I’d better call Saul/ Sky’s the limit and we takin’ off/ I don’t wanna see my mama cryin’ anymore, this who I do it for.”
‘Big Steppa’ reinforces Thato Saul’s stance on how people swear to be gangsta but they’re just claiming, but he sees that life every day in his hood, and knows how it goes. He continues to call himself a big deal as he is for the streets, by the streets with a reputation to match. This goes hand-in-hand with the Mashbeatz-produced ‘Kwa Bofello’ in which he mentions he’s the last of a dying breed with the stripes to prove it.
My favourite track ‘Kick It with You’, featuring Marcus Harvey, changes the mood from gully to romantic. It’s a beautiful love song that sees him rap over a melodic beat, confessing the things he is willing to do to be with her while addressing his foes. “You got the best rapper in the land, how you turnin’ me to a fan?/ If a n*gga ever try capture you like a cam/ they’ll arrest me, put in a can,” he raps. Marcus Harvey’s vocals bolster the gangsta love anthem.
The song comes with a comical skit which has a woman complaining to her friend about boys in her hood not going out anymore, but rather just sit at home and watch Big Brother.
‘Deep in The Mix’ with R&B artist and producer TRON PYRE is the best track on this tape sonically. The beat, the flow, the cadence, the writing and TRON’s vocals are all top notch. It’s my second favourite on the project.
The interlude ‘Tau Street’ brings the listener back to the harsh realities faced by Saul as he maneuvers his daily life in Pheli. The hard-hitting ‘R.I.P Fat Cat’ is a dedication to one of the well-known car spinners in his area who he seemed to admire a lot; he lets the listener in on how street politics get settled. “Nakwe Fat Cat asa park-ile pere,” he raps, “Dilo diya change-a ke spina ka pen/ Solo ako tshaba lo dwadla le pleke enemy di meme/ Street politics seti fetotsi sport/ Sae jump-a treni wa tshosa ke sporo.”
He brings this same context to ‘Back On My Bullsh*t’ as he lays down how he has been through so much to get this far, and he does not need anyone questioning his decisions.
It would not be a Thato Saul project without a Tyson Sybateli feature; the two have collaborated on a tape called At Your Service, a few songs like ‘Chauncy’, ‘Trust Nothing’ and ‘Home & Away Games’ to name a few. Lil Snake comes in on ‘What’s Goin On’ handling the hook and addressing different complications of the life they live as rappers. I would have loved to hear a verse from him but the song still works as it is.
Thato brings on fellow street rapper Maglera Doe Boy on ‘Okay’, where they continue off their ‘Never Ride’ wave in a song about their aspirations, dreams, and the direction they want their careers to go. Maglera Doe Boy lets everyone know he and Thato are the hottest rappers out right now and how they grew up in similar circumstances. The beat switch is the icing on the cake for this banger as Saul flaunts his lyrical capabilities.
Life Is Gangsta ends with the title track, a smooth rap record that outlines the past that shaped Thato. He reminisces about school days, counting dirty money with his momma and adds that the hood is bad for his mental health, as he has been burying many of his closest friends.
This must be an “ah-ha” moment for him on this project. The Riky Rick skit where he says, “So my depression took, uhm, you know, took form in being angry at the guys who were doing it. And, uh, I always said my first album would be my last album ‘cause I didn’t expect to make it past 25. I didn’t expect to make it past 26,” sums up the rapper’s overall feelings about his chosen path.
Life Is Gangsta raised the bar on storytelling with a consistent message of staying true to one’s roots, producers like Mashbeatz, Feziekk, and Beatshoven outdid themselves by providing Saul with the best musical production in the country that ranges from trap to soulful boom bap.
It is a flawless project that could mark as a turning point for Thato Saul; the album hit number one on Apple Music All Genres charts upon release which is an impressive achievement, especially for an independent artist.