[Cover Story] KE BUZZI LEE, LEE, LEE WAKO PHELI

“KE BUZZI LEE, LEE, LEE WAKO PHELI”

Buzzi Lee details how she got into music and shares the stories behind her collaborations and her plans for the game. “This is a talent I didn’t know I had. So, what’s next is unpredictable,” she tells HYPE…

This story appears in HYPE magazine #30, available here.

The South African hip-hop landscape hasn’t seen many women in the forefront, and even those who have broken through a few years ago are having a challenge overcoming stagnancy. Buzzi Lee seems to be a potential candidate this year. Her Spitori raps are captivating, and she has held her own alongside the likes of Blxckie, AKA, Costa Titch, Riky Rick and other SA hip-hop stars.

When I arrive at her beautiful apartment in Fourways, I am welcomed by Buzzi who is dressed in a cute pink dress, wig and cap. She offers me grapes in both forms and a little something-something to set the mood. We are sitting outside on her balcony, watching the scenery when she says, “I never thought I’d do this; like, tell people everything about me, but I guess we are there; we are at that level now.” Bontle Busisiwe Boikarabelo Makwelo was born in 1997 at Louis Prichard Hospital in Pretoria. She was raised in Atteridgeville, aka Pheli, a township close by, which is home to the likes of 25K and Thato Saul. Buzzi Lee was raised by her whole family but mainly her mother and grandmother. “My grandmother was strict. She was a teacher who retired when I was in matric. She was like my friend but would manhandle me whenever I would do something left,” she giggles as she reminisces about it. “My mother is basically my best friend because we are close in age, since she had me when she was 19. She was a young mom, and it was only when I started becoming unruly that she got a bit stricter.”

ACCIDENTAL ARTIST

Unlike many artists, Buzzi Lee started making music later in life; it was while studying at AFDA – she met a friend who introduced her to the music world. “I started making music in 2018/2019 and my first time going to studio was with my friend Debra Nist. We lived in the same residence while I was studying at AFDA,” she recounts between sips of juice. “She was already doing the music stuff and, one day, she was at a studio session with uSanele from Boyznbucks and he overheard a vn of me talking and asked her to tell me to come rerecord the voice-over ’cause he liked my energy. “When I moved to a different res, around Auckland Park, I started connecting with producers and artists from the Academy of Sound Engineering, who started jokingly saying I will blow up, all I need is to get a face tat like 21 Savage and sing bacardi!” This is one of the several times I find myself in stitches during our conversation; Buzzi is quite funny, which is a trait that reflects in her raps, which have a comical undertone. “Then, weeks later, Novaski, a producer, hit me up and said he has a song he’d like me to try out. I cancelled all my plans for school and went. He played me the beat and I was like hmm… I actually still have that song; it was a slow club-friendly hip-hop song. I recorded my first song at age 21; it was called ‘Responsible’, since it was the hook he had written. After I heard how well he mixed my voice, I couldn’t stop playing it for my friends. I even told my mom, ‘Yoh utlwa, mama!’”

 “IT WAS ONLY IN 2022 THAT I STARTED SEEING SOME WEIRD COMMENTS AND I WAS SO USED TO PEOPLE LIKING ME, BUT I REALISED NOT EVERYBODY WILL LIKE YOU ’CAUSE YOU DON’T LIKE EVERYBODY.”

That moment birthed her career. It was one of many defining moments for the artist that piqued her interest in pursuing music. As a student, her course didn’t particularly excite her. Learning to shoot other people’s productions didn’t make her happy, as she wanted to direct her own things. “I didn’t like how they treated the people in the background on set, but I had to make something happen, so I studied this just to have something to my name,” she says. Buzzi Lee started going to the studio more often. At the time, she wasn’t even writing for herself. “Then, one day, I was like, to my current manager, who was my friend from high school, ‘Let’s do this together and be like city girls. I don’t wanna do this alone.’ When we went to the studio, it was n*ggas everywhere, bro, eh she froze; she couldn’t do it, but I had to do it; we didn’t come to the studio for nothing. Even though there were so many men in there, I wrote a young dope verse.”

BECOMING BUZZI LEE

It wasn’t until 2020 that Buzzi decided to take her music career seriously. The lockdown regulations forced her to start thinking deeper about her life and path. “I was doing my third year and we had to close because of COVID. I had nothing to do. I saw everyone on social media getting into different hobbies and finding passions. I was there like, after school what is gonna happen, ’cause it looks like life is kinda shut down,” she says.

 

“I ended up entering a competition by Kwesta and Jameson. He gave people an open verse and asked them to make a song and, whoever won, would get a song with him. Novaski was the one who pushed me to enter, and I was shy to do the competition ’cause, what if I didn’t win?” she reminisces and continues, “I decided to open a new account and post on that account, since I was afraid of people knowing it was actually me. I had shades on in the video – mask, everything… you know, the COVID steeze.”

 

Unfortunately, she didn’t win the competition nor get far, but that’s when she started rapping in vernac. “Around October in 2020, it was my birthday. I wanted to go to Sumo, but it was Sumo hosted in Braam at the time. I met Costa’s producers and friends; they told me that in order to stand out better, this English sh*t won’t work; everyone raps in English, so you need to stand out. I thought: my home language is the thing that makes me stand out,” she says.

A CONSISTENT FEATURES RUN

In 2020, she was featured in the hit song ‘Zonke Remix’ by Phantom Steeze and Sjava, which also featured the late AKA, Nadia Nakai, Mustbedubz and Robot Boii. This was her first big feature. It was also around this time that she met Campuru Makhenzo, who had heard her on another song called ‘Watla’ by Clumsy_SA at a music camp. He then hit her up for a feature on his song ‘Danko Zalo 2.0’, an all-woman remix that features Banaba’des, Skolleywood, Sauwcy, Gemma Fassie, Benzo, Hanna and Leezy. “He called me for an all-woman remix and told me who would be on it, and I thought: ‘Eh! I need to deliver, as these are girls I know who are doing great things in the music industry.’ I wrote a whole 16 bars, but they had to cut it to 12, since they needed space for everyone else. Now, every time I work with him, he says ‘Buzzi, Buzzi, please… only eight bars, please, Buzzi!’”

 

More collaborations between Campuru Makhenzo and Buzzi Lee followed, like ‘Magwanti’, a single from the collab by Mustbedubz and Campuru’s 2021 Afterschool Is Afterschool album. “You must check out that album; it’s dope and it has aged well,” Buzzi Lee says. She’s telling me about her dream collabs (Sho Majozi, Shekinah and Doja Cat) when we decide to move into the living room after the balcony starts to feel chilly. She continues: “I like every artist and I am not too picky about genres; we all have songs that are not our favourite genre that we might like. Music is music, bro. I don’t understand people who say, for example, ‘I like Nicki, so I won’t listen to Cardi.’ I don’t understand that side of stan culture. I am not gonna involve myself in people’s beef ’cause I wasn’t there when they started not getting along. I also don’t wanna lose out on opportunities because you’re being loyal to people who got nothing to do with you,” she preaches. The church says, “Amen!”

LEVELLING UP

In 2021, Buzzi scored her second big feature with Venom and Shishiliza’s smash hit ‘Sho Boy’ that features the late Riky Rick, Junior Taurus, Yanga Chief, Beast Rsa, Focalistic, Blxckie and 25K. “I was invited to Riky’s studio by Campuru and Mustbedubz, since they said Riky heard my verse and wanted to meet me. I got dressed up and stuff, in a fur coat – I knew I had to look cute; I didn’t have to be flashy or anything, just clean,” she says, making gestures as though she’s putting on a coat. “We got there and shot The Backyard [the performance series Riky had for Cotton Fest] for ‘Watla’ as we were about to leave. Riky was like, he would like to take photos of me. He set up the lights and everything to take the picture of me that later became my cover art for my latest single ‘Enjoyment’,” she says.

“I DON’T HAVE MUCH OUT, BUT IMAGINE IF I PRESS. IF I BECOME MORE CONSISTENT, I COULD REALLY TAKE OVER, BUT I DO NOT WANT TO BE CONSISTENT AT THE EXPENSE OF MY MENTAL HEALTH; I WANT TO ADJUST TO THIS LIFE FIRST.”

“He then took me to studio and played ‘Sho Boy’ for me. I heard all these serious n*ggas on the song and I was like, eh eh eh! Riky then asked me if I could record something real quick. I was like, ‘Yeah, n*gga!’” We both chuckle. “I had nothing to write but I did not want to pass up on that opportunity. Remember those four bars on ‘Danko Zalo’ that Campuru cut? I started with those and carried on from there. The pressure was crazy, but I wrote; I kept saying to myself, ‘These n*ggas are not gonna believe this.’” In the verse, she says, “E ke le ko Pheli, ke batsena via Church. Ene ke star mara asena lezete” as she plays on the church, ZCC and the actual street one uses to enter her hometown Atteridgeville (Pheli) from Pretoria central.

“Riky saw something in me and put me on that day. He didn’t have anything to gain, nor did he try to. He did it all out of the goodness of his heart,”

She also got featured on the amapiano hip-hop cypher in the same year. It faced a lot of criticism from SA hip-hop fans, who didn’t understand why hip-hop had to be dragged into an amapiano cypher. “I was really not prepared for it. I got a call from the MTV Base producer Garrick on the day of the shoot, and I went there. I do agree that the overall finished product could’ve been better, but I appreciate the opportunity MTV Base gave me to experience that. All those artists are so amazing at what they do; it’s just unfortunate the audience didn’t like it,” she says.

I knew about Buzzi Lee way before I fell in love with her music. The feature she did with Benzo is what sold me on her. They have a song called ‘Bounce’, which dropped in 2021 and appears on Benzo’s album, BEHOLD BENZO: THE ALBUM. This year, they dropped a music video. It is when she rapped, “Wampona ka winner and wena uloser ay” that I felt her on a different level, as I could relate.

 

More prominent features she’s had are ‘Pheli’ by J-Smash, featuring 25K, and ‘Never Ride Remix’, which are the verses that have caused her some controversy, as some people feel like her verses aren’t as good as we hype them up to be. “It was only in 2022 that I started seeing some weird comments and I was so used to people liking me, but I realised not everybody will like you ’cause you don’t like everybody,” she says.

A GIFT FROM COSTA

But there’s more to Buzzi Lee than features, as she has several songs she has put out herself like ‘Superstar’, ‘Pheli via Church’, ‘Koloi’ and ‘Enjoyment’, with the latter – a collaboration with Costa Titch – being one of her strongest drops to date. The song originally belonged to Costa who only had the hook and posted it in December 2021 on his Instagram over a performance he delivered in Mpumalanga.

 

Buzzi heard it and, for the first time, she reached out to be featured on a song, as before she would get calls to be featured. “I DM’d him and begged for that song. The beat touched my soul. I knew it was made for me; I had to have it. Costa bought the beat online for US$200. I had them add the log drum after his hook and the ‘zithembe’ skit. Since I hung around them for a while, I knew I could bother him for it, as it was supposed to be on his next tape. I got an email from Campuru last year in February, and it was the beat. I screamed!” she says. “I was like, this is Costa’s song, so I gotta make sure they know who I am. That’s why I said ‘Ke Buzzi Lee, Lee, Lee’, playing on the ‘I’m getting lit. I’m getting lit, lit, lit!’ The song never made it to his tape, and I thought they didn’t wanna see me shine, but Costa gave me this song as a gift, eventually, and I added the second verse, paying homage to Tumi Tladi and Riky Rick, as they both helped me get here. “I don’t have much out, but imagine if I press. If I become more consistent, I could really take over, but I do not want to be consistent at the expense of my mental health; I want to adjust to this life first. “I don’t want to say I’ll be dropping a body of work or anything, but I will be doing whatever I feel at the time. I will be doing me. As I said, I am still figuring myself out in this. This is a talent I have that I didn’t know I had. So, what’s next is unpredictable, but I will do something, and y’all will see it and definitely like it.”

This story appears in HYPE magazine #30, available here.

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