Review: Lolli Native ‘iVangeli’

Lolli Native’s debut album, ‘iVangeli’, is grown-man Xhosa trap. “This is my first album; I’ll never get a chance to cry like this again.”

By Sabelo Mkhabela

Lolli Native has had quite the journey. The Cape Town rapper has been hustling hard for years, building his name in the Cape Town hip-hop scene, before eventually relocating to Pretoria. He won the talent-search reality show Rap 4 Me in 2018 and became the first artist signed to Emtee’s label Emtee Records.

Lolli appeared on Emtee’s third studio album LOGAN in 2021 on the songs ‘Laqhasha’ and ‘Brand New Day’ where he rapped, “Where I’m from, a brand-new day is a blessing/ Intanga zam end’khule nazo never made it/ Itrongo nengcwaba be our only destination.” Raised in the Cape Town township Nyanga, which was South Africa’s murder capital until earlier this year, Lolli Native is grateful to be alive and hustling legally.

Whereas his verse on ‘Brand New Day’ was a snippet into his life, his debut album iVangeli tells his story in full. The song ’Nyanga’ is an ode to his hood, featuring Emtee, who handles the hook effortlessly. Lolli raps that, even though he’s in Gauteng hustling, he still reps Nyanga to the fullest.

iVangeli opens with a sigh, a signifier of an intense journey ahead. The sigh is followed by a phone call with his daughter and his mother, who assures him things will get better, as long as he prays. In the song, he takes the listener back to the household he grew up in and shows gratitude to his mother, who held the family together without the presence of a father figure.

He opens the song with the lines: “Bathi imali ngu Satane Kodwa ihleli ezipokweteni/ You would see a different view if ubuhlal’ etyotyombeni / A one-room house for a family of five/ It’s my life, and now I’m forced to survive.”

‘Iyeza’ is an inspirational song in which Lolli encourages the listener to keep that hope alive, as their turn to succeed will come. Told from his point of view, the song sees him rapping about his rise and ambitions – one of them being putting spaza on the map. “Bangandibulali eMzansi ispaza ndingakas’faki.” Spaza, a subgenre of hip-hop that was birthed in Cape Town townships, has struggled to crack the mainstream. It’s only through its current form – Xhosa trap (at times called ringz) – that it has truly made an impact nationally, through younger artists such as Dee Koala, Holy Alpha, Bravo Le Roux, SimulationRxps and several others.

Though sonically aligned with the new wave, Lolli’s music is true to the philosophy of spaza; deeply honest lyrics that reflect on life in the Mother City’s hoods. The song ‘Amagugu’ is a dedication to the hustlers of Nyanga who lost their lives in the hustle. For the hook, he repurposes the funeral hymn ‘Amagugu’. He raps about the vicious cycle black youths find themselves in, in Nyanga and, by extension, every South African township: “Kanti senzeni ngoba ekasi siyaphela? Another baby growing up without a daddy/ Another Saturday, another funeral service/ Iinyembezi zabazali, bafethum I can’t take this.”

‘Nyanga’ is preceded by the song ‘Ekhaya’, which also features Emtee. ‘Ekhaya’ is objectively one of the album’s strongest songs, and is a potential single, alongside its twin ‘Nyanga’. In ‘Ekhaya’, Lolli raps about being homesick, but assures us he’s right where he’s supposed to be. The lines are as poignant as “Bendigura netayma cuz he was never home/ Ngoku ndifana naye, I’ve been gone for too long”. Life comes at you real fast as an adult.

“As musicians,” Lolli said explaining the song during the album’s listening session held in Sunnyside, Pretoria, “we always have to look good, and people end up thinking we okay. This is me telling them back home that the way I look, that’s part of my job.

“That’s my mom on the interlude saying, ‘if things don’t go well, come back home.’ Now I’m not scared to hustle. And then after that song, people ask me where home is, and the answer is ‘Nyanga’.”

Seven songs in, and Lolli has been talking grown man sh*t, backed only by Emtee on the hooks for ‘Ekhaya’ and ‘Nyanga’, and Brian Themba on ‘Unobubele’. Noticing this running thread of sombreness, Pretoria rapper Boy Wonder, who was hosting the album’s listening session held on the eve of its release, asked Lolli if things would get any lighter. The answer was yes, but he explained the heavy content by saying, “This is my first album; I’ll never get a chance to cry like this again.”

He loosens up on the songs ‘Fitcha’ (featuring Blow Lephara and Driemanskap’s Elnino) and ‘Buddah of the Year’ (featuring Blue K and Paarl Xhosa trap frontman Soul T Idyan). On both songs, he and his guests talk that rap sh*t; rappers gotta cough up to get a verse, and he makes it known he’s a grootman of this rap sh*t. ‘Yiz’apha’ is carried by a chant hook; a playful invite for a hook-up with no intentions to stay. Explaining the bravado on that part of the album, Lolli told the audience at his listening session, “I had to trap hard. Signed to the number 1 African trapper, you have to trap hard.”

On ‘Luthando’, which comes after ‘Yiz’ Apha’, Lolli pours his heart out to a woman he’s in love with. The song marks Emtee’s third appearance on iVangeli – this time around, alongside singer Zaddy Swagg. “Bazak’xelela abandaziyo uthando ayizinto zam’/ Wena ufike ndingacinganga ndithol’ubambo lwam’,” he raps over a mellow R&B-leaning instrumental. This is another potential single.

The album’s press release pointed out that iVangeli was an “ode to women”, especially his mother and grandmother. Lolli acknowledges his struggles without disregarding the amount of support he has received from them and those he cares deeply about. During the listening session, he points out to his partner, his boss Emtee and his uncle (who had travelled from Nyanga to Pretoria to attend the event): “I feel like I’m rich because of the beautiful people in my life. God just brings true people into my life, and they’re all I have, so, I felt I needed to say thank you on this album. Because on the next album, we’ll be too far gone to say thank you.”

It’s a moment worth commemorating. As much as iVangeli is his debut album, it’s not the first album Lolli has ever recorded. An album he recorded with PTA producer J Smallz was shelved because of “politics”, he says. “And my brother Emtee said ‘let’s start over’. When he was at Ambitiouz Entertainment, we recorded a mixtape, and when he left, I lost my music. He said let’s start again.”

iVangeli is a solid debut that covers a lot of ground while still maintaining brevity (hopefully, rappers are taking note). Black Tears, Brian Temba, Master BC, young2unnbeats and Meloproduceit handle the production with  KnifeBeats as the engineer – and all do a stellar job. Lolli sounds hungry and determined to make his mark on SA hip-hop. It hasn’t been easy. On ‘Unobubele’, a gospel-leaning song featuring Brian Temba, he thanks the creator for keeping an eye on him even when he wasn’t so deserving. In the first verse, he raps about a time when he attempted to take his own life, but survived. “But God had other plans, ixesha lam’ alikakafiki,” he concludes the verse. “‘Ivangeli’ means gospel,” Lolli said, “the word is taken from ‘evangelist’. Evangelists get the gospel to the people, and that’s what I feel I am with my music.” No song drives that point home quite as literally as ‘Unobubele’.

Stream iVangeli on Apple Music, Spotify and all other platforms.

 

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