#HYPEMoment: The Adventures of Kiernan Forbes

#HYPEMoments: The Adventures of Kiernan Forbes

A look back at our Feb/March 2012 cover story featuring a 24-year-old AKA after he has made it to the top of the game

Nineteen eighty-eight a child is born. Two thousand and two he befriends hip-hop. There’s Entity, there’s break-up. Then there emerges a soloist. 24/7/366, there’s a mixtape. ‘I Want It All’, there’s a single. There are some fans, there’s some love. There’s some hate too, of course. There’s an album, it’s anticipated. There’s a single, it’s called ‘Victory Lap’. There’s a launch. There’s a journey… The nominations, the victories, the throne. In 2011/12 there’s Kiernan ‘AKA’ Forbes… the chosen one.


Thursday morning. Around eight thirty, a jovial AKA scrambles into studio with bags of clothes. Less than two minutes in and he is already cracking jokes with manager, Tibz, a testament to their brotherhood and also to the fact that he is still a young man despite his many accomplishments.

As ‘Niggaz in Paris’ starts to blast from the studio speakers, he tries to stop himself from dancing while the photographer sets up his equipment. The restraint is, of course, the complete opposite of what he’s like on stage, he’s been known to execute quite a mean dougie (but you didn’t hear that from us). As he settles at the table over a cup of coffee, we sit down with the award-winning 24-year-old rap star to get his perspective on the happenings of the past year, and the future.

So, is the view from the top as good as they say it is?

Yeah, the view is cool, but I try not to spend too much time soaking it up. The moments of celebration in my life are short-lived. Then it’s on to the next. This is nice though.


Let’s get to the album title. How did that come about?

Around the time of naming the album, I had been getting a lot of “AKA is arrogant” comments. I decided I needed a title that would be a bold statement (I think I’ve raised the bar for cover artwork too) and that would also capture where I was in my life at the time. ‘Altar’ is a play on ‘alter’ as well as a deeper representation of how I was feeling at the time. It’s a reflection of how the more accolades and appreciation I get, the bigger the possibility of getting a ‘God-like’ ego becomes. I ran with it. I wanted people to be pissed off.


Your lyrics draw quite a lot from what seem like personal experiences. How aware of this are you when penning songs? Is it deliberate or more of a spontaneous process?

My moods drive my music. I can’t make party music when I’m in a slump. I can’t make sad music when I’m feeling aggressive. Whatever is going on in my life at the time will be reflected in my music. It’s tricky though because I can go from determined to introspective to lonely to angry in a day. I think I’m bipolar. Then again, so are most geniuses.

How real is the AKA we see on stage and hear on radio from the one that exists when he’s chilling at home?

Very real. I made myself a promise when I started out: I wanted to be myself no matter how successful I became. I was determined to make sure there was no difference, like AKA was not somebody I could switch on and off. I think I’ve managed to do that to an extent. Unfortunately, I’ve learnt that being my full self will hurt my career in the long run, so I’ve learnt to tone myself down. Sometimes I wanna be the old me and just say the first thing that comes to my mind. Now I pick my words carefully.


Have you ever said to a girl, “You’ll be lucky if you get McDonald’s, man?” [Laughs]

[Laughs] Not yet. Though I have had people walk up to me in the club and ask me if I’m on BBM. Very irritating. I usually just say, “No, I’m on Twitter”, which I usually am. I’m waiting for that awkward moment somebody sees me at the drive-thru at 3am, though.


So, the awards: ‘Best Produced’, ‘Best Male’, ‘Best Hip-Hop’ and Channel O ‘Newcomer of the Year’. No one could even think of going Kanye on you. The PEOPLE chose you!

I’m just so thankful. The awards show that my fans are better than everyone else’s. They are the real stars. They are not there to collect the awards, so I do it on their behalf. More than it being a victory (pardon the pun) for AKA, it was a victory for SA hip-hop. The best produced album of 2011 is a hip-hop album, that’s across ALL genres. The best newcomer is a hip-hop artist. *shrug* You can’t ignore us any longer.


In light of this, does the power that you have scare you? You have the whole nation behind you.

It doesn’t scare me. It means I have an army ready to go to war for me. All I want to do is make them proud.


Let’s get into some rap politics. If hip-hop is a reflection of our society, how accurate a representation is the music that’s coming out right now? Do you feel that things are progressing or going backwards?

I think there is neither a progression or going backwards. SouljaBoi is just as much a representation of society as Nas is. One thing I’ve always hated is old heads feeling like their definition of hip-hop is gospel. Everybody has a place in the musical landscape. I might think he’s garbage, but SouljaBoi might reach a kid better than Jay Z reaches me, or MF Doom reaches someone else, and we need to be cool with that. Rap will always reflect society, whether it’s the good or bad.

2011 saw Africa take the first few steps in bringing its music to global frontiers with guys like Cabo Snoop working with Fat Joe and D Bjanj linking up with Kanye West and Snoop. Does Africa have something to offer the world as far as the culture of hip-hop goes?

Africa is the new sh*t. There’s never been a time it’s cooler to be African. We are spreading our music, our style, our story all over the world. Remember that Americans are Africans who lost their heritage and developed their own. I would hope that they look down on Africans trying to be like them. They want to be close to us. We fascinate them.


For African exports to be accepted by the rest of the world, it seems as if one must follow the archetypical image, or idea, of what much of the world still perceives us to be. Hence why the more ‘ethnic’ movies, theatrical productions and music find global success. Do you think that it works as a disadvantage that a lot of African guys rap in English instead of their indigenous languages?

I think that international audiences want to see us be ‘African’. With that said, we’ll always be put in the ‘World Music Africa’ box if we think about it like that. Let’s not give it much thought. Let’s just be. If Cabo wants to sing in Portuguese, that’s cool. If Ice Prince wants to put Igbo in his raps, that’s cool too. If AKA’s first language is English, let him articulate himself in it. At the end of the day, music is a universal language.


What needs to happen in South Africa for the hype and ‘support’ to match the record sales? Where do we begin?

I actually think we need to switch the mindset of equating sales with success. I say we craft our live performances, our interaction with our fan bases and make sales an afterthought. Brands want to get involved with artists who have a following, and that might not always be associated with how many albums you sell. Zahara sold 300,000 units and I don’t even think I’m on gold, yet I won more awards. How do you explain that?


Does rap music pay?

Yes, if you have a plan.


What’s bigger at the moment, your bank account or your ego? [Laughs]

My ego has never been linked to my bank account. My ego was like this before I started making money.



To achieve what you’ve achieved there are obviously more factors than those on the surface that come into play. Your relationship with your team is something that you are very vocal about. From Ivy League, to your management team, to Fanatic, and the labels that have gotten behind you, how big a role has all of this played?

My team is THE dream team. People only see the end product. There is a lot of arguing, plotting and creating behind the scenes. Me and my manager are scheming every day. EVERY DAY. DJ Fanatic is, in my opinion, the best hip-hop club DJ on the scene right now. We are independent, which means we carry the risk, but have our destiny in our own hands, which is exciting. I wake up knowing I control my future, rather than someone in a suit crunching numbers. We built us.


By just doing what you do, you’re opening the doors for a new generation of young’uns who didn’t think that all of this was possible to this degree. Without sounding like this is a cheesy episode of Oprah, what would you say to the cats coming up?

A dream. A plan. Talent. I mean, real talent. Don’t let anybody gas you into thinking you’re good when you know you’re not. This is hard work. Don’t place value on things like girls, fame, swag and so on. Those things can come and go, and if they go, what will you be left with? Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Sometimes I will do something myself, no matter how small it is, if I know in my gut that it’s what I need.


Can you cook at all? Keep it one-hundred with us.

[Laughs] Does a steak count?


Who’s your competition? (Musically, not in the kitchen)

Khuli. Every time I hear a new song at the studio, it makes me want to go home and write or make beats. I’ve been lucky enough to learn from him without him even knowing he’s teaching me. Other than that, nobody really. A mixture of them not being in my league, or them not being in my lane, so we don’t compete. Tumi, for instance, what a great musician, but our music isn’t in the same lane.


What’s your vision for AKA, in the long run?

I want to tour extensively, to see the world. I want to have a show in London and have people sing back my words to me. I want to see our continent. Most of all, I just want to have a show where I make all my ridiculous ideas come to life. In short, (excuse the pun) midgets and fire-spitters, the whole nine.


Oh, is there any chance of us getting the number of the girl in your ‘All I know’ video? We’ll gladly buy her McDonald’s.

[Laughs] She’s such a sweetheart, and a MILF of note too.


So, I guess all of this is what happens to ‘a regular dude that has extraordinary talent,’ huh?

[Shrugs] C’maaan…. we niiiice.


This story appeared in #47 of HYPE magazine, written by Fred Kayembe, with visuals by Jurie Potgieter.


Keep an eye on our site for more HYPE Moments featuring AKA in the coming week.

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