Meet Static Flo, the Queen of the East

Port Elizabeth-born rapper Static Flo on her move to Joburg, co-hosting the ‘Women In Hip Hop’ podcast and her upcoming EP.

Written by Sabelo Mkhabela, Photography by Sabelo Mkhabela

Having recently moved from her hometown – Port Elizabeth – to Joburg, Static Flo is determined to make her mark in the game. One of the most visible lyricists from the Eastern Cape, Static Flo – born Nwabisa April – has paid her dues to the last cent, and all that’s left is for her to have that breaking moment; that single; that project… the chances are high, given her work ethic.

As she sits for an interview with HYPE, she’s prepping for the release of her second project The Queen of the East. She is also a co-host for the podcast Women In Hip Hop, which, as the title suggests, focuses on women in the hip-hop scene.

Static Flo refers to herself as a versatile artist. “I’m a rapper, I’m a dancer, I’m a host-slash-presenter,” she says. “Static Flo is an artist as a whole, but right now, I’m focusing more on the rap aspect.”

The making of an MC

It was dancing that led her to music as a teenager. As the only member of her dance crew who had a PC at home, she was tasked with putting together the music for their performances. To avoid dancing to “secular hip-hop songs”, the crew – who performed a lot in church as a group of saved youths – normally danced to krump beats, especially by the then-popular producer crew J-Squad (if you know, you know). “The bass was heavy,” she recalls. “When you are continuously doing that, you get creative over [those beats]. That’s when I realised that I should rap. But I was confused at first – I thought, should I switch this off and just do poetry?”

It goes without saying that she didn’t switch off the beats. Today, Static Flo raps authoritatively with the ferocity of a rapper built in the streets, which she was. Cypher sessions, which PE (and other parts of the country) had plenty of in the 2000s and early 2010s, provided a platform for her to showcase her raps. “It was my training ground,” she says. “Where I am right now – I owe it to cyphers and sessions. You can’t just rap in front of the mirror the whole time; you gotta be out there; see how people react to the music; and practise how to perform and how to handle the mic.”

She started recording in 2011 in different studios – in both Cape Town and the Western Cape – with a range of producers. She created a buzz and found herself appearing on KZN producer MBZet’s annual all-female posse cut ‘Ladies Night’ alongside the likes of Clara T, Payne Killa, Lubar and a few others. An audition for the Motherwell Festival, which she entered, further gave her the confidence boost she needed in 2015.

“I decided to audition last-minute,” she recalls, “I performed my song ‘Truth Unfolded’. I started rapping and people stood up. People who were outside were peeking through the door.” If you’ve ever seen Static Flo on stage, you would understand. Krumping seems to have given her reflexes for life and her voice has the ability to force crowds into submission.

A workshop was organised for the winners and they were informed that the final audition would be judged by hip-hop legend Tumi Molekane (pre-Stogie T days). “I remember he was sitting on a red couch,” she recalls. On the day, she was required to perform with a band. “I had never met them before,” she says, “We discussed backstage; they asked if I could perform over [Kanye West and Jay-Z’s] ‘No Church In The Wild’ and I said yes. I got on stage and killed it.

“I remember Tumi going on stage after the show and sending a shoutout to Static Flo, saying that was the highlight for him.

“We sat, we spoke, exchanged numbers; he’s asking me what else I’ve done, I’m nervous, I’m even forgetting my age… He applauded me. And, to me, that said a lot. Even though I didn’t believe in myself that much.”

Mandela Bae

A recording session with Reason, who was sighed to Motif Records at the time, would follow. “Funnily enough, we had picked the same beat from the batch,” Static Flo recalls. “I had to write another verse in studio because Reason had a new concept. He said, ‘You in Nelson Mandela Bay and you have a bae.’ He was like, ‘Talk about your bae and where you come from; the difficulties.’ And I just wrote there on the spot.” The song, ‘Mandela Bae’ would only appear on Static Flo’s debut mixtape The Completion, released in 2020. “We had spoken about doing a video, but it ended up not happening.”

Things were looking up. Filmmaker and photographer Nomakhomazi Dyosopu, who had organised the Motherwell Festival audition, had hustled a place for Static Flo to live in in Joburg, while Tumi and Motif Records worked their magic on this young talent. “They told me I needed to be in Joburg for him to help me,” she recalls.

For approximately three years, her rap career came to a complete halt. “It’s your first pregnancy; you are trying to adjust to motherhood. And then I get married end of 2017. 2018, the whole year, it’s a matter of adjusting to marriage. Art was the last thing I was thinking about at the time.” She recalls struggling to even put pen to paper in those years.

The return

Many rappers, especially women, have found themselves having to choose between their music and marriage and/or motherhood. But, for Static Flo, it was only a matter of time until she made her way back to music. “If you love something, you always find yourself going back to it,” she says on her return to spitting. “I started writing on the move on my phone. So, if I’m in a taxi in Cape Town, I’m seeing whatever is happening; I’m writing on my notes app. So, that’s when I realised I don’t necessarily have to be at home to write, you know, lighting incense and all that. That’s when I was like, I’m taking this wherever I go.”

But, after undergoing so much change in her life, she felt it was time to shed some old skin. In 2021, she released the project The Completion, which consisted of all the songs she had recorded over the years. “I felt like, if I hold on to these songs, I will never move on. I felt I was in a different space and needed to tell a different story, but I needed to let those old songs go.”

She returned to PE and worked with producer Catalyst to ready the songs for release. She admits she didn’t put that much effort into promoting The Completion, but mentions that it taught her a lot about releasing music. She’s taking those lessons into the release of her upcoming EP. “Now, I know that you need to register your stuff, get a distributor and PR, before releasing something,” she says.

‘Women in Hip Hop’

As a wearer of many hats, after The Completion, Static Flo’s next venture was the annual event Women In Hip Hop. “Based on how the culture has responded to me as a female, I felt there was a gap that needed to be filled,” she says, explaining why she started the event series. “It had been 10 years of me being a rapper and I had picked up things along the way that I felt the next person could learn from. I also hated going to sessions and cyphers and being the only female there. I used to wonder: ‘Will they really understand my content as a female?’

“Women In Hip Hop came about with me just wanting to have a workshop and an event every year during Women’s Month. I thought if I’m not getting bookings, I can’t be the only one, so I created a space for us to book ourselves.”

She knew it was time to level up, as she states she didn’t want Women In Hip Hop to be “just another session”, and she knew she needed some funds to make it happen. She applied to the Mandela Bay Development Agency. “I had experienced getting paid with exposure,” she explains, “but I’ve got a child now, I’m married; I need the cash. Because I had identified that you need capital to push your music. So, we just wanted to make sure that every performer got paid.

“So, I reached out, wrote a proposal – first time writing a proposal – it was terrible, but the person believed in what I was doing and knew me from way back; he used to be a rapper back in the day.”

The first event took place deep in the throes of the pandemic in 2020, and was mildly successful. “So, we moved on; we decided to have a Facebook Live. It did what it had to do; it was beautiful. It wasn’t even about the live broadcast that people saw on social media, it was about the connections that we created among each other.”

When she mentions the 2021 event, however, she gleams with pride. “You know when you look at something so great and you think, ‘I did that!’?” she says. “We got more than one sponsor, everyone got paid before the event and the turnout was amazing; there were people from all walks of life.”

That event showed Static Flo that “it’s possible”. Which informed her decision to relocate to the City of Gold. “There’s this voice that kept telling me it was time,” she says. “Every step that I took towards moving to Joburg was a breeze; there were no hiccups. Even my mom saying, ‘Go, I will take care of your child.’ A Xhosa mom telling you to go reach for your dreams. Even with my husband, Siphiwo aka Don Hood, who’s a fashion designer, ‘You’re leaving, I understand. I see the vision.’ So, everything was aligning.”

A few months since her relocation, she was watching Rashid Kay and OG Samke’s podcast The Masterclass, which she mentions has been an eye-opener for her as a newbie to the industry. “I was listening to one episode where they mentioned me, saying they acknowledge me and what I do. They said a few words that had me on my feet.

“And they mentioned that they would like to get more hands from women in the podcast, even if it’s someone in the background, like a sound engineer. I hollered at Rashid Kay and told him what I wanted to do, and he said, ‘This is doable, I will find you a host.’ He was like, ‘Why don’t you call it Women In Hip Hop?’”

In Women In Hip Hop, which she co-hosts with Nate Magic who’s also a rapper, the discussions are usually driven by their first-hand experience as they dissect the game one topic at a time, and profile women DJs, artists, managers and the like.

But music is still a top priority. Static Flo and producer Bencco are putting the final touches on her EP, which she’s planning to drop in August. “The project is very honest,” she says. “I think it’s the first time in my life that I’ve been honest as an artist. Where I don’t separate Nwabisa and Static Flo; now, it’s one entity. I didn’t see it coming; it just happened. I’m excited about it. It’s unfiltered, uncensored; if I wanna sing, I will sing; if I wanna use autotune, I will do that; I will feature whoever I wanna feature.”

Subscribe to The Masterclass Podcast on YouTube.

This article appears in issue 22 of the monthly HYPE ezine available for purchase here.

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