We talk to the Pretoria rapper about his latest album, People Forget to be People, his purpose, mental health and more
Written by: Boitumelo Molamu | Images: Supplied
Even with the backing of major labels, reaching number one on any chart is no easy feat. Pretoria lyricist Wordz has done it since the release of his 2021 debut album Product of a Praying Mother. His recently released sophomore album, People Forget to be People, debuted at number one on the Apple Music charts for albums.
Wordz has built something of a cult following. In People Forget to be People, he has taken on a new sound and incorporates Spitori in his raps – something completely different from the small projects released in 2019. The album’s lead single, ‘Barker Haines’, features Maglera Doe Boy and Pretoria’s next exciting act, Mochen.
On this new album, Wordz blends slow jazzy beats – touched by MashBeatz and Logical Rhymez – with storytelling, and this proves to be something special once again. We caught up with Wordz to chat about his music, future plans and life after the release.
Your first full body of work was released in 2019 and now you are on your sophomore album. Tell us about your career growth, and how things have changed since you started.
It’s been crazy. Even the way I make music… with my first album back in 2021, I was being expressive, but not deeply. I was still finding myself in terms of connecting more with my emotional side when it comes to my music. I was starting to tap in to that emotion and, as time went by, after I dropped my first album, when I started creating my current one, I wanted to tap in to emotions more because, when I listen to music, I look for connection first, and I wanted the same for my music. That’s how I’ve been growing over time – relating to people, listening to people’s stories and trying to conversate with more people for me to understand more about people in general, so that I can also understand more about myself.
Most people first got introduced to you through a collective, which at the time was The Wrecking Crew, later called the Rubberband Gang. Ever since your debut album, Product of a Praying Mother, you’ve been completely independent. How has it been, navigating the industry and the business alone, especially coming from a support base with the collective?
I’ve been doing things alone regardless of being in a collective. Yes, we moved in a collective mentality; however, when you’re in a situation, you get to understand that, as a person, you also have a responsibility for your own life. That being said, when I dropped my first album independently, it was me taking my life into my own hands, securing and cementing my position in my lane and my space. I don’t deny that people know me from The Wrecking Crew, because we did what we did, and it was amazing, but I also wanted people to know that I’m a bigger artist and not just me being part of a crew. Also, I realised that I had to pull up my socks and put in more work, because I no longer had spontaneous access to do a feature or song as I wanted. I needed to structure my things properly. Independence is so tough; I won’t even cap to you – the final results look good, but the work put in is hard.
As stated, Product of a Praying Mother was your first project after you parted ways with the collective. It’s fair to say a lot changed with this project, including your style of rapping – you started to incorporate vernacular. Tell me about the decision to make that change.
Yes, POAPM was the first time people were introduced to Wordz rapping in vernacular. Reason why I made the slight change was I decided to connect more with the people around me, because I knew I made good music, but people around me didn’t understand the type of music I was making. So, as much as I loved making the music I was making, I love making music for the people I live with even more. I wanted music that my mama could play, and that my uncle who lives somewhere different could also play, which to me means a lot. I think, as time went by, I also realised that there are a lot of people who know English but there are some people who connect more to a relatable language that they speak daily. And I learnt that while I was rapping in Spitori, I felt more connected to my music. It took a while for me to transition into that space, rapping in vernac; however, I also looked at the game and saw it was transitioning and starting to embrace vernac.
Tell me more about the making of Product of a Praying Mother, and the thought process behind it.
When I started making that project, it was directly after the crew disbanded and I usually don’t involve myself in those things; I’m on this Earth to make music, make my racks and be out. I don’t need to be in these debates. When I was making the project, I had a heavy heart and I felt like a lot of things were happening at the same time; however, besides all that, the key component that kept me up at that time was my mother’s prayers. That’s why I chose to name the project Product of a Praying Mother. As a reminder, I had to go back to myself and remember what was keeping me grounded as a person. I chose to speak of my experiences and all the things I was going through. I wanted people to connect more with me and know me for me. That album is a portion of my heart.
When you released POAPM in late 2021, we were still in the midst of the pandemic, and while we did get better, we were still figuring it out. I think that time was perfect for consuming music indoors and not necessarily live. POAPM felt perfect for the moment… would you agree?
Exactly. If you also listen to the music in that era, although people were making music for the club and whatever, it was more of a subtle approach because people were more alone, more entrapped with themselves in the house. Even when I made the album, I was alone, which is in my nature; I’m usually alone, especially after the crew because, when I have friends, those are my friends, and we do sh*t together, all the time. After the crew, I isolated a bit. For me, being alone has worked out. I find tapping in to yourself is very crucial, and those moments alone made me make the album, and it was good. Don’t get me wrong, time with myself is very important, but too much of it is also very dangerous.
Speaking about isolation and how it can be good and, at the same time, can have a negative impact on our lives… in the creative industry, we always preach mental health, but for us to take action seems to be a difficult thing, not so?
Exactly my point. In my case, I think making POAPM was best for me. Also, I take my mental health seriously. I usually work with Shifrogo Mental Healthcare Centre – I do some volunteering work there, and all those things. It’s nothing new to me because I grew up with mental health conversations in my house because my mom worked as a manager of one of the biggest mental health hospitals in Pretoria. I don’t need to just speak about all that, but I also want people to see that you need to be active and engage beyond just mental health for different disabilities. That’s why on the People Forget to be People tracklist, we used sign language, because there are a lot of people who cannot receive our art because of their disabilities. Although it won’t be the biggest stretch to accommodate people who can’t hear but, if they see those hand signs, they’ll be curious to know what People Forget to be People is. I wanted to involve people in the album approach – People Forget to be People is for the people, by the people.
“People forget to be people” is such a thoughtprovoking title; it almost feels like the title of a psychological drama. Tell me about you settling on that title – how did it come about and what was the intention with it?
Before working on the album, there was a time when I felt like I was losing a lot of people and I was also seeing that people were losing themselves too. Not to judge, but I know people do lose themselves in general, because I also felt like I was slowly on that path of losing who I was, and I didn’t want that for myself, because as soon as you forget to be yourself or who you are, you tend to lose all sense of direction. I felt like we were losing ourselves as a collective of people, so with the album, I wanted to say something about that – how we were/ are turning into templates and shells of people. And I felt like I was the last person seated, as my shell of life was waiting for me to stand up and come and receive it and become a certain type of person. The title also goes hand in hand with the cover. As you can see, I’m the only one seated and everyone has left. I will add that the cover also has a positive meaning to it; I wanted to show people that, no matter how much time it takes, their turn will come. Everyone stood up from their chairs and I was the last one to wait for my turn and, guess what? I’m here now.
Tell me about making the project – putting together and writing the songs – besides the message coming from the title and the cover. What did you want to say through the songs?
I wanted to put in people’s stories, real-life observations and how I felt. The main aim was to have people feel connected to the stories because they are a part of it. As I said, I had to talk to people, conversate with them and find out how they live life, and what stories they’ve lived through, so that, when I make the music from my point of view, they can still connect with it because they were part of the story in the music. Also, I wanted to find a common thread about us as people; voice out our common views but, at the same time, give people my opinion. With this album, I was more in tune with my emotional side; I wanted to be vocal about how I also felt. Hence, in one of the verses, I say: “I miss my n*ggas at times.” I wanted to voice out that I don’t understand why people talk negatively about the country, but they don’t vote to change it. Things like that are things I was thinking about while making the project, and they’re things that I’m saying actively throughout it. I hope people understand and take them to heart.
Still on the process of making the album, let’s talk about the production. Most of the songs are produced by MashBeatz and Logical Rhymez. It seems like you have a really beautiful working relationship with the two producers. Even the features that you chose – they’re people we recognise, and with whom we’ve seen you work before. What was it like involving all those people in the project?
When I started the album, Logical Rhymez sent me a beat pack, and the first song I made was the outro, ‘Still Love’, with Maarly. That’s the first song I made on People. I kept that song on the album because it felt so special to me. That song gave me a direction in what I wanted to do. We made a couple more records with LR – he was in Limpopo at that time and I was in Pretoria, so we just sent packs and recorded back and forth. While still in the beginning phases, I knew I needed Mash on my sh*t – he and I work so well together. He knows exactly what I want, what I need, and how to get it done – that’s what I like about him. When working with him, he puts your sh*t under the water – I don’t know how to explain it – whatever he does, works. I made a few records with LR, then I moved to Mash to start crafting the project and not just be demo records.
When it came to the features – when I record, I can already hear the feature in my head. When I made ‘Barker Haines’, I already knew I wanted Maglera Doe Boy and Mochen on it. In my heart, I believed that ‘Barker Haines’ would be such a big song, dog, and I wanted us to run this game with it. I wanted us, together, to be the north and west takeover, with Mochen in the north because he’s from the north of Pretoria. I’m from the west, and Maglera is in the middle, because he is from the North West. I’m very intentional with how I pack my songs – the transitioning, the story and the feels. And, although I do go with my gut feeling, if I were a curator and I found Wordz in the studio and he gave me all these demos, I would pack the album the same way.
With the album out already – sitting at number one – we are only just past the middle of the year. What should we look out for in the remainder of 2023?
If you’ve been following me, you’ll see I’ve been engaging more on social media, which is not in my nature. I want to be more engaging with my fans. I’m planning to do more interviews and gang visuals, and the music is not stopping. Trust me, the music is not stopping. I’m in a different mode – I want ‘Barker Haines’ to be one of the biggest songs in this country, and I’m gonna make that happen. I’m independent, and it won’t be easy; however, we’re changing the narrative. I’m not joking.