[Cover Story] 25K Unplugged: From ‘Culture Vulture’ To New Heights

This story appears in HYPE magazine #35, available here.

25K Unplugged: From ‘Culture Vulture’ To New Heights

 For our September cover issue, we talk to Pitori’s very own 25K. In this issue Kilo talks about the Pretoria rap scene, his role in the game and his upcoming album.

Written by: Lolwetu Pakati | Images: Black Milk ZA

In the heart of Saulsville, Pretoria, a raw, lyrical storyteller named Lehlohonolo Molefe emerged from the shadows. Known to the world as 25K, he’s no stranger to adversity and resilience – a rising star who found his footing through the tumultuous waves of the music industry. From freestyling in the GalXBoy Store to gracing stages with the likes of Cassper Nyovest and AKA, this Pretoria native is primed to release his highly anticipated sophomore album, which is a testament to his unyielding commitment to his craft.


Nestled in the heart of the township, a young 25K found himself immersed in the rich tapestry of his upbringing. Here, he confronted the stark dichotomy of existence, where the harsh realities of his environment, from gang violence to chilling murders, provided the backdrop for the opening lines of his evocative track, ‘Culture Vulture’, a poignant reflection on a friend’s imprisonment for a life-altering crime. Amidst the turmoil, his hood became more than just a place of residence; it was a vessel of community and acceptance – the very vessel that would shape the man we know today. Every relationship, each fleeting encounter and every profound engagement etched a unique chapter in the captivating biography of 25K.


Let’s rewind to the pivotal moment when 25K’s star began its ascent. The Homecoming Events Artist On The Rise competition was a pressure cooker of talent, where emerging artists battled for their moment in the spotlight. In a sea of aspiring performers, 25K’s raw talent and unique storytelling stood out from the rest. It was here that 25K laid the groundwork for his journey towards stardom. But it wasn’t just competitions that bolstered his reputation. He demonstrated his distinctive flow at GalXBoy Freestyle Fridays, held at the GalXBoy Store in Hatfield, Pretoria. These freestyle sessions weren’t solely about showcasing talent; they served as a testing ground where artists could exhibit their capacity to engage intimately.


As 2019 ended, 25K’s life would change forever with the release of the ‘Culture Vulture’ remix. This track wasn’t just a song – it was a cultural movement; a response to what he perceived as a stagnation in South Africa’s hip-hop scene. The track was bold and unapologetic, and injected a fresh dose of creativity into the genre.


Within the dynamic soundscape of contemporary hip-hop, 25K emerges as a striking and innovative figure. His distinctive approach to the craft represents a breath of fresh air in an increasingly crowded genre. 25K’s hallmark style weaves a captivating melodic thread through the tapestry of trap beats, offering a unique auditory experience.


A quality that is unique to Pretoria rappers is their ability to pack a lot of words into their bars. What sets 25K apart is his ability to introduce a refreshing element of simplicity. His verses take on a sing-along quality that sets him apart. This becomes evident in tracks such as ‘Dagwood’, ‘Apple Soda/Record Deal’ and his collaborative effort, ‘Quarter to Six’, featuring Maglera Doe Boy. 25K’s ability to infuse harmony into his compositions is a testament to his artistry.

“I feel like, now, we’re in an era where I’m way past being on a freshman’s list or being an up-and-coming artist.”

‘Culture Vulture’ not only caught the ears of hip-hop enthusiasts but also piqued the interest of industry heavyweights Cassper Nyovest and AKA. Both artists recognised the potential of this rising star and decided to feature on the ‘Culture Vulture’ remix alongside Emtee. This was a pivotal moment – a stamp of approval from South African hip-hop royalty. With his breakthrough track, 25K received the South African Hip Hop Award for Best Remix, signalling his arrival as a force to be reckoned with in the industry. The accolade wasn’t just a trophy; it was validation that he was on the right path – that his unique brand of storytelling was resonating with audiences far and wide.


In a world where the music industry is in constant flux, and where trends come and go, 25K has managed to retain his relevance and influence. Inking a record deal with the African subsidiary of one of the three largest global record labels, Sony Music, was a testament to his stature in the industry.


His reign continues with him jumping on the undeniable chart-topper, ‘Sosh Plata Remix’, by Loatinover Pounds – a track that has cemented his status as one of the biggest names in the music scene. But beneath the fame and accolades lies a young man who understands the responsibility that comes with success.


Next, we delve into the partnership that 25K shares with multi-platinum producer and mentor Zoocci Coke Dope. Together, they have ventured into uncharted sonic territories, shaping not only the music but also each other’s understanding of the very essence of sound.


It’s a relationship that speaks of mentorship, kinship and a shared passion for the craft that binds them together. “He’s someone I look up to like a brother, firstly, before the music,” 25K reflects and, in those words, you can sense the depth of their connection. Their journey began long before the spotlight, in the humble hours of self-discovery. As 25K navigated the labyrinth of the music industry, Zoocci (who he affectionately refers to as “Zoo”) was a beacon; a guiding light in a world fraught with challenges.


In the hallowed year of 2019, destiny intervened, and their paths converged. A simple outreach from Zoocci sparked a creative flame that would soon engulf their artistic spirits. “I feel like I used to look up to Zoo when he was still putting out music and I was still trying to figure it out. So, in 2019, when he reached out to me, we just started making songs and then we had an idea to make the album. A couple of sessions in, we decided that we were heading into the direction of what the album was going to be like. So, ever since then, it’s always been a thing of I’m learning from him because, before I met Zoo, I just used to be too invested in producing. I still do now, but it works better now if I can focus on the raps and learn from a person like Zoo who is a multi-platinum producer. I still haven’t produced my records, so being in the studio with him teaches me lot about the production side of things, in terms of sound engineering and the theory of music. I think that working with him is one of the wisest things that I’ve ever done for my career. I appreciate Zoo for that.”


As he reflects on his journey, 25K shares his thoughts on the role he plays in the South African hip-hop ecosystem. “I feel like, now, we’re in an era where I’m way past being on a freshman’s list or being an up-and-coming artist,” he says. “But I feel like in Pretoria, especially, there are a lot of up-and-coming artists who are even younger than I was when I was coming up. I feel like it’s very important to bridge those gaps when it comes to mentorship and sharing advice that you might have.”


For 25K, mentoring the next generation of artists is more than just a passing interest; it’s a duty he takes seriously. He understands the challenges that aspiring artists face, having navigated the treacherous waters himself. “I want to give good advice to the upcoming artists, so they don’t end up in the same situation, because we had it hard, and the OGs definitely had it harder than we did,” he reflects.


In a music industry that can be unforgiving, guidance from someone who has walked the same path can make all the difference. 25K’s role isn’t just about sharing wisdom; it’s about simplifying the complex game of the music industry – making it more accessible for the next wave of talent.

“I feel like, now, we’re in an era where I’m way past being on a freshman’s list or being an up-and-coming artist. But I feel like in Pretoria, especially, there are a lot of up-and-coming artists who are even younger than I was when I was coming up. I feel like it’s very important to bridge those gaps when it comes to mentorship and sharing advice.” that you might have.”


Before we explore the highly anticipated sophomore album, it’s essential to revisit the debut that laid the foundation for 25K’s career. Pheli Makaveli was more than just an album; it was a statement. The gold-certified intro track, ‘Pheli Makaveli Intro’, was just the beginning of a journey that would lead to numerous hits.


The album featured collaborations with some of the biggest names in South African hip-hop, including Emtee, Maglera Doe Boy and R&B sensation FLVME. ‘Hustlers Prayer’ featuring A-Reece was a standout track, showcasing 25K’s ability to connect with listeners on a deeply personal level.


When asked about the significance of his debut album, 25K reflects: “I feel like it is very important for an artist to have a strong debut album, and I feel like that was what Pheli Makaveli was to me. It kind of gave me the foundation now to feel free to collaborate with other artists.”


The journey of an underdog often presents formidable challenges. In the eyes of 25K, he now identifies as an established artist who has firmly left behind the underdog status. He has successfully transitioned from the phase of emerging talent to becoming a prominent figure in the South African music landscape.


Nonetheless, it was only a few short years ago that 25K found himself engaged in a spirited pursuit, vying for recognition as the next significant artist within the dynamic South African music scene. Reflecting on that pivotal period, he shares: “A part of me really believed that I would reach the heights of me being recognised as one of the contributors in terms of hip-hop, because I always felt like, coming from Pretoria, I had something different to offer to the game on a mainstream platforms, because I felt that most artists from PTA couldn’t really make it outside of the region of PTA and Gauteng as a whole. I had some hope in me that I would reach these heights.”


“A part of me really believed that I would reach the heights of me being recognised as one of the contributors in terms of hip-hop.”



Now, the spotlight shifts to 25K’s eagerly awaited sophomore album. While he remains tight-lipped about the album’s title, he offers a glimpse into what listeners can expect. “It’s more about growth and what it took for me to get to where I’m at. I’m also working with Zoocci on this one, so it’s going to be another crazy one. The approach is going to be different this time. It’s more mature raps, it’s more growth and just a recap of what happened ever since I came up in 2019 up until now. The sophomore is definitely also one for the books,” he explains.


This album marks a significant step in 25K’s artistic evolution. He’s not just a rapper or a singer; he’s an artist in the truest sense. “I feel that this project will really put a stamp on it and put it out there that it’s more than just rap at this point,” he asserts.


While 25K keeps his cards close to his chest regarding the full line-up of collaborators on this sophomore album, he does drop some tantalising hints. “Loatinover Pounds definitely is there,” he reveals. “After we did ‘Sosh Plata,’ I feel like he’s also heading in the right direction, so I had to have him on there.”


Another name on the list is Maglera Doe Boy, someone who isn’t just a collaborator but a brother in the industry. “That’s also one of the people in the industry who I look up to as a brother,” 25K shares.


And finally, Marcus Harvey, a gifted artist with a knack for melody, joins the ensemble. “Yeah, that’s also one artist I got to learn a lot from,” 25K says. “We are very similar artists; just, he’s more of a singing type of artist, but he does rap as well. So, I learnt a lot from him, especially melodically.”


With these collaborators on board, 25K’s sophomore album promises to be a sonic journey that transcends boundaries and genres. The maturity in his approach is evident, and he’s eager to showcase a more evolved sound.


As the curtain rises on 25K’s next chapter, the anticipation is palpable. In a landscape that constantly evolves, this Pretoria rap sensation stands poised to redefine the game once more. From ‘Culture Vulture’ to his forthcoming sophomore opus, 25K is more than a rapper; he’s an artist pushing the boundaries of creativity, a mentor guiding the future and an icon in the making.


So, stay tuned – the best is yet to come! 25K is not just a name; it’s a movement – a force that’s shaking up the South African music scene. And he’s just getting started. The journey from ‘Culture Vulture’ to industry maven is still unfolding, and we can’t wait to see where it leads.

This story appears in HYPE magazine #35, available here.

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