[Cover Story] The tale of two hip-hop kings: The Lost Diamonds dynasty

The Tale of Two Kings: The Lost Diamonds Dynasty

We sit down with SA hip-hop veterans Blaklez and PdotO while they unpack their journeys and what drives them

This story appears in HYPE magazine #32, available here.

Written by: ubereatzz | Images: Megamania

PdotO seems excited to be at the HYPE mag office. Killing his vibe is the flu, which has been terrorising most of us since COVID-19 became part of our reality. He asks for some form of medicine and, luckily, we got him. As he takes a sip of a Berocca mixture, Blaklez joins us.

 

Having started recording music together in 2008 and collaborating over the years alongside N’Veigh and Ras, the two SA hip-hop veterans formed a formidable duo and released the album Lost Diamonds in 2020 – peak COVID-19 times. Their follow-up, Lost Diamonds II, dropped in 2022. “The timing for us had to be perfect to start working as a duo because I know, when we started, he had a much bigger brand than I did, so I never wanted that situation where you make a project with someone and you’re in their shadow. I had to build up my thing and my identity,” PdotO says.

“I WAS BEING ASKED, ‘WHY ARE YOU NOT DOING THIS THING, ’CAUSE
YOU ARE A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF A HYBRID RAPPER?’ BUT I TOLD THEM THE BEST I CAN DO IS A FEATURE BUT, AS FOR A PIANO ALBUM, I CAN’T DO IT IF I GO IN THERE , I WILL BE A CHARLATAN ’CAUSE I THINK THAT’S WHERE EVERYONE IS GOING.’’ – BLAKLEZ

As individual artists, both rappers have proved themselves to be two of our best. As a duo, they resonate better with me. Forming a duo felt inevitable after working together on countless songs on each other’s albums. PdotO made his first notable appearance on Blaklez’s 2013 album Black Beast on the track ‘Hush’.

 

“When I first met P and recorded ‘Hush’ in 2013, I got him on there, ’cause I thought this n*gga was nice,” Blaklez says. “I didn’t put him on, I just put him on a joint. I liked what HHP did with his hood. He is the greatest of all time, not only for his catalogue and how he put his city on, but for how he put the guys on who became kings in their own right and never got in their way.”

 

“Some people want to put you on and be close to you the whole time and not let those they put on do their thing… We need to let the story develop,” PdotO adds. “Jabba was selfless about it – that’s key.”

A TALE OF TWO KINGS

Blaklez

Both rappers followed a similar timeline in their respective hometowns and continued until they met up and started rapping together more and more frequently. Lesego ‘Blaklez’ Moiloa is one of 012’s finest. Having been born in Bothithong, a village in the Northern Cape, he was raised in Queenswood, Pretoria East. His career coincidentally started at HYPE magazine. “This was 2007. Miziyonke ‘Mizi’ Mtshali was the youngest editor at the time, and I was still doing my undergrad in journalism. I needed an internship. I wrote a lot of the covers around that time for Pro Kid, HHP, Flabba… about 15 covers I did. Simone Harris was the deputy editor, and the offices were still in Oxford Road.

 

“We changed the whole quality up for the [HYPE Sessions] CDs. Mizi and I curated them. N*ggas couldn’t even get on after we did that.” Blaklez joins PdotO and me in laughter after sharing that humorous historical anecdote. “Simone used to do them, but Mizi told him ‘let these n*ggas handle it’. I ended up being hired full-time and used to make guap from writing. As I was paid for words per minute, I wrote big stories.” Blaklez solidified his name as a lyricist in the competitive Pretoria hip-hop scene, both as a solo act and as one third of the punchline-slinging group, The Anvils, alongside Mycbeth and N’Veigh.

But Blaklez refused to end it at just being a pioneer of the underground Pretoria scene. He got to taste the fruits of his and other pioneers’ labours in the mid-2010s when SA hip-hop reached its peak. His 2013 album Black Beast spawned the hits ‘Hush’ and ‘Don’t Be Scared’, which tapped into new-age kwaito, the sound of that era. In 2015, he dropped A Broken Man’s Dream, which led with ‘Freedom or Fame’, a mellow trap single whose remix featured Reason and PRO. Blaklez established himself as a rapper who knows how to get emotive lyrically but doesn’t mind having a good time with bouncy singles like the Cassper Nyovest-featuring ‘Saka Nyuka’ and the aforementioned ‘Don’t Be Scared’.

 

That duality is one Blaklez shares with PdotO, who is mostly known for his poignant reflections of the self on PdotO staples like ‘Soaked in Bleach’ and ‘Hallelujah’. PdotO loosens up every now and then on songs like 2017’s ‘Move Over’, a new-age kwaito single released in the Cap City Records era when the pioneers of Pretoria’s hip-hop scene formed a label/collective and made sure to continue their run into the 2010s. For the ‘Move Over’ remix, which closed PdotO’s 2017 album Devilz Playground, he recruited DJ Capital, Buks, Kwesta, Ginger Trill and fellow Cap City Records member and frequent collaborator, N’Veigh.

“WHEN I FIRST MET P AND RECORDED ‘HUSH’ IN 2013, I GOT HIM ON THERE, ’CAUSE I THOUGHT THIS N*GGA WAS NICE. I DIDN’T PUT HIM ON, I JUST PUT HIM ON A JOINT.” – BLAKLEZ’

PdotO

Born in Umtata and raised in East London, Eastern Cape, Siphelele ‘PdotO’ Mnyande grew up in a spiritual home. “I came up from the Eastern Cape because my mother told me, ‘If you want to do this music thing, you have to study something.’ 2pac was my guy who got me into this thing ’cause he rapped and acted at the same time. I can act… I like acting, so I auditioned at TUT campus – that was 2006 – and enrolled for a drama course,” PdotO says.

 

PdotO got assimilated into the Pretoria hip-hop scene, starting out as Poet The Sonnet and dropping a string of tracks and mixtapes – Street Novelty (2009), Blue Murda (2010) – before eventually adopting ‘PdotO’ as a moniker, and dropping more singles and projects. PdotO remains consistent with a growing discography that includes solo releases and joint projects with the likes of Chad Da Don, DJ Switch and, of course, Blaklez.

I THINK WE LEARNT A LOT FROM EACH OTHER AND, WHEN YOU’RE WORKING WITH SOMEONE, YOU NATURALLY RUB OFF ON EACH OTHER; IT’S THE ENERGY. YOU WILL BE LIKE, ‘THAT WAS DOPE, LEMME TRY IT TOO.” – PdotO

Blaklez and PdotO both started making music at a young age. PdotO was 16 when he made his first song and Blaklez started making music at 15. “That song was horrible,” PdotO recollects. Blaklez feels the same about his: “Mine was probably worse than his; I hated my voice. One of the first things when you start recording is your voice – you just can’t stand it, so you need to find where you’re comfortable.”

 

Both rappers were part of crews during their respective come-ups. “I was part of two collectives. One was called Pressure Point, around ’03,” Blaklez says. “It was myself and a good friend of mine called Ras and this other dude, Stas – I don’t think he raps anymore. We were doing our thing; we were like the jiggy side of Pretoria ’cause it was during the time of groups like Ba4za, which had dudes like Flex Boogie, and The Anvils that had Mycbeth and N’Veigh, which I later joined around ’06. We were managed by this guy called Lethabo Peter.”

 

Blaklez and PdotO both speak fondly of Lethabo. “He was an engineer at the time, and a hip-hop fiend, but he’s left the game now to pursue other ventures,” Blaklez says. PdotO adds, “Lethabo was pivotal, man. He was like the Dame Dash of Cap City at the time.” Blaklez continues, “Yeah, we were front-line at the time. Lethabo started speaking to the State Theatre, so we could perform there, and got sponsorships where we got paid for rapping.”

 

Earlier in his career, PdotO was part of a collective called Xhosa Nostra. “When I was still in the Eastern Cape… and it was Semiato (aka Shorty T), Masekid, Mali D, C Luv and myself… it was about four or five of us. Shorty T was 10 steps ahead of me in terms of rap ’cause he listened to a lot of Biggie, and I thought I was Tupac, like, ‘Yeah, I’m tryna be like Pac, bro!’” We all chuckle before PdotO continues. “He taught me how to flow on a beat ’cause I was always like, ‘How does this guy do this?’” PdotO reveals about Shorty T. “He always had a blunt and I was always like: ‘I don’t do this stuff. Smoke that there, bro!’ and he would tell me to relax.” This is where PdotO’s spiritual upbringing played a part in him frowning upon alcohol and marijuana use at the time. “I grew up and learnt, and found myself. Ain’t nothing wrong with a li’l gin and juice,” he says.

YOU KNOW THE PROBLEM WITH SOUTH AFRICA IS WE ARE OBSESSED WITH ONE THING FOR TOO LONG. I THINK THERE’S NO PROBLEM WITH HAVING DIFFERENT GENRES IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, WHILE PEOPLE WITHIN EACH GENRE SHOULD ALSO BE DIFFERENT. THERE SHOULD BE COLOUR.” PdotO

To this day, it still feels like Pac is one of PdotO’s biggest influences. PdotO has built a cult following from his extremely honest lyrics. His “God Bless the God Blessed” tagline is their slogan, which is incorporated in his merchandise line. Blaklez and PdotO feed off each other’s energies in a very obvious, synergic way, with opposing but complementary personalities. In conversation, their banter shows up and they definitely sound like rap siblings.

 

“You forgot to mention who taught you how to double rhyme and told you that the accent cannot bail you out,” Blaklez says. PdotO interjects: “You know what, you know what…” I am in stitches at this point. Blaklez continues: “We gonna sound like we are arguing now; don’t fight me on this, bro, but let me say, he became so dope with the double rhyming thing and I said, ‘Let’s get some content in there,’ ’cause everything was perfect, he just needed to say some conscious stuff that makes sense, on my momma! What did I say to you? Tell the truth; shame the devil! You from a spiritual family.” PdotO nods, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… I’ll give him that,” he says, punctuating his sentences with laughter. “I didn’t have the double rhyming at first; he did say it, and I learnt a lot.”

 

PdotO states, “I think we learnt a lot from each other and, when you’re working with someone, you naturally rub off on each other; it’s the energy. You will be like, ‘That was dope, lemme try it too.”

A LOST DIAMOND FOREVER 

They dropped their first joint album, Lost Diamonds, in August 2020. It featured rapper N’Veigh, R&B singer Jay Claude, Ntate Stunna, Jst Sako and Lebo Mochudi. The cover art has two diamond chains with the word “Lost” as a charm on the longest chain, along with the word “Diamonds”, capitalised. This album served as the official introduction to them as a duo, and received positive reviews. It is a 13-track boom-bap album that tackles various themes about their lives as rappers, why they deserve their top spot in SA hip-hop royalty, being hopeful in tough times and their love lives, amongst other things.

 

“Our recording process is fast,” Blaklez states. “This guy can make a song in less than 15 minutes,” PdotO adds. “So does he,” says Blaklez. “We finished the album in four days – the whole thing. For example, we can do three to four joints in a day and then call the features in and get it out the way, or they stay with us and suggest what we can do with the songs we recorded. I brought in Ntate Stunna for ‘Keep Pushing’.”

 

My favourite tracks are ‘Banana Clips’, featuring N’Veigh – a hard-knocking rap track about confidence and challenging your opponents, as PdotO raps: “My n*ggas gambinos, you n*ggas moleanos. I pump action, my words piff, we the new Sopranos,” – and ‘Forbidden Fruit’, which is a beautiful, sultry song about being with someone who makes you feel so good that it feels like a bad thing to indulge in them, as Blaklez raps: “Waxin’ it like Miyagi/ Love when you call me papi/ Forbidden fruit so hush please, no tellin’ like Tekashi.”

“I THINK MUSIC IS MORE ADVANCED NOW; IT’S FASTER NOW. IT’S A GREAT THING, BUT IT’S GOT ITS NEGATIVES. ONE OF THE NEGATIVES: I FEEL A LOT OF ARTISTS OVERCOOK THIER MUSIC NOW.”

Their recent joint album Lost Diamonds II released in 2022, featuring Ayanda Jiya, Jay Jody, Tyson Sybateli, Chad Da Don, N’Veigh, Bugzito, AV, Maggz and many more. The cover art is a picture of both artists wearing golden crowns and drinking from what one could presume is the “Holy Grail”. Staying true to their powerful lyrical content and boom-bap rap style, this album has 13 tracks as well, and gives a much more youthful feel while still remaining true to the early 2000s hip-hop feel, as they rap about themes like relationships, fame, self- introspection and how they continue to dominate the game.

 

“The second one was three days long. Then we called in a selection of people to feature, like the first album. When Tyson Sybateli came through for ‘About It’, I thought he was dope – I loved his energy,” PdotO says.

ON THE GAME TODAY

Both of them have careers that span over more than a decade, so I was pretty interested in their views on music – especially hip-hop music – given that the COVID-19 pandemic was a pivotal moment for every industry. It has changed a lot of things for everyone.

 

“I think music is more advanced now; it’s faster now. It’s a great thing, but it’s got its negatives. One of the negatives: I feel a lot of artists overcook their music now. When I listen to some albums, people will have so many beat changes – like 52 times on a song – then they start singing; then there’s a lot of skits all over the place. I listen to a lot of hip-hop albums that don’t sound like hip-hop albums ’cause of the overcooking. It’s the same thing that’s happening oorkant,” Blaklez says.

 

They touched on how they watched their peers move from creating hip-hop to creating amapiano when it hit the nation’s overall music consumers, and the climate shifted. It took a psychological and mental toll on them, because some people who were in hip-hop with them had migrated, and they were winning. “I was being asked, ‘Why are you not doing this thing, ’cause you are a perfect example of a hybrid rapper?’ But I told them the best I can do is a feature but, as for a piano album, I can’t do it. If I go in there, I will be a charlatan ’cause I think that’s where everyone is going,” Blaklez states.

 

He also gives a shout-out to the younger generation of South African rappers who continued to make hip-hop music, irrespective of the current musical climate. “They earned their way throughout COVID because they kept it hip-hop. I suppose age is a big factor because some of the artists are 22 or younger and they might have less responsibilities than the older guys who needed to put food on the table for their families.”

 

“You know the problem with South Africa is we are obsessed with one thing for too long,” PdotO says. “I think there’s no problem with having different genres in the music industry, while people within each genre should also be different. There should be colour. We are very one-dimensional – when people do different things, people in specific positions will be like, ‘Well, this is not selling. You need to do what sells.’ It’s not about selling all the time; it’s about having so much different music to learn from.”

“I THINK IT IS ABOUT SELLING, BUT IT’S IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHO YOU’RE SELLING TO. FOR MANY YEARS, WE FORGOT THAT HIP-HOP IS A NICHE MARKET- ARTISTS WHO ARE LOYAL TO THEIR NICHE MARKETS AND ARE DOING IT PROPERLY ARE EATING FROM IT” -BLAKLEZ

Blaklez adds: “I think it is about selling, but it’s important to know who you’re selling to. For many years, we forgot that hip-hop is a niche market – artists who are loyal to their niche markets and are doing it properly are eating from it, like Zonke. She sells out 3,000 tickets. She knows her people.”

 

PdotO currently has a mixtape out on all DSPs called Son Of Nomsa (S.O.N.) that came out on 10 March as a tribute to his late mother, who passed away. Blaklez has an album that dropped on 2 June, called Loyal To The Soil, as an introduction to his ‘Brother Bear’ era for his fans.

This story appears in HYPE magazine #32, available here.

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