When he was 15, Anatii found his first taste of commercial success when he produced veteran rapper L-Tido’s hit single, ‘When It Rains‘. While his primary aim was to make his own music, he had started making beats because he didn’t know how else to access instrumentals that he could rap on himself.
And so Anatii, who was born Anathi Bhongo Mnyango, learned the tricks of the trade and harnessed the craft of beat-making. Before long, he made a name for himself and the likes of Bongani Fassie (the musician son of the legendary Brenda Fassie) started to call and seek his expertise on how best to utilise audio processors like autotune – “Sometimes we don’t know our gifts,” he says.
After earning his stripes and establishing himself as one of the brightest young producers in the country over the following years, Anatii gradually rose in stature as a solo artist, too. A slew of hits with the likes of Riky Rick, Nasty C, Cassper Nyovest and AKA over the span of a prolific run between 2015 and 2017 established him as a hitmaker of note.
But his debut album, ‘Artiifact’, which famously featured US R&B star, Omarion, didn’t quite catch on. Then, after a brief beef with AKA that included a scathing diss track in which AKA infamously accused Anatii of charging him an exorbitant amount (R80K) for that very beat, the two joined forces for their stellar 2017 collaborative album, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For (BCWYWF)’.
Capitalising on this new wind, Anatii swiftly moved away from the English-focused hooks and verses he’d become known for and doubled down on some of the vernac inclinations of ‘BCWYWF’ with the electrifying Xhosa anthem, ‘Thixo Onofefe’.
With that making waves, he pulled another rabbit out of the hat shortly after when he dropped ‘Iyeza’, a mesmeric, ethereal odyssey that saw him exploring themes of spirituality, heritage and ancestral awakening.
Its richness and depth suggest a figure camped in a hut somewhere in a small village in the Eastern Cape with only their thoughts for company. As ‘Iyeza’ inevitably exploded into one of the more impactful and critically acclaimed albums of the decade, Anatii went off the radar.
Despite his audible absence over the years, he’d randomly trend on Twitter as the yearning for his perspective grew. It’d later emerge that during this period of silence, Anatii wrote and produced Beyonce’s massive hit single, ‘Brown Skin Girls‘, which went on to win a Grammy award.
Now, the 29-year-old is finally back with a new offering, ‘Amadlozi‘, his first traditional commercial release in four years. ‘Amadlozi‘, which features LOOKATUPS, comes off the heels of Anatii taking the bold step of pulling his albums from streaming platforms and releasing a single titled ‘Punisher‘ as an NFT (Non-fungible Token), a move he described as “a symbol of detachment from the status quo which will be paving the new ways of creating and identifying one’s worth”.
The Africa Report sat down with the reclusive rapper on the veranda of his Benmore residence on a blustery Jo’burg summer afternoon. Wearing a hoodie and headphones over his thick dreads, Anatii’s visibly in high spirits.
During our hour-and-a-half-long conversation, he smiles warmly, laughs heartily, and shares some rare insight into what’s one of the most fascinating and private high-profile careers in South Africa.
The Africa Report: Congrats on the new single, ‘Amadlozi’. It kind of feels like an extension of ‘Thixo Onofefe’ from your previous album, Iyeza. When you were working on it, were you intentionally trying to do something similar?
Anati: Nah, I think it just happens naturally. So the progression from ‘Thixo Onofefe’ to ‘Amadlozi‘ is just like the entry point for people to get into new sonics. So the upcoming album doesn’t sound anything like this. The same way when I first put out ‘Thixo Onofefe Iyeza‘ was (different). It’s just to get people’s attention.
But then at the same time how do you get people’s attention but not also follow a wave? And it’s not even about amapiano or whatever, but if everything is flowing this way, I’m trying to go that way.
Looking back at ‘Iyeza’, did you expect it to be as well received as it was?
No, it’s something that humbled me. But it also showed me there’s a different way of doing things that’s not tied to the numbers and algorithm and editorial playlists and major labels, or whatever. Just pure vibration, touching the people on the grassroots level and then having that spread out to the world. Even when we look at the US numbers, we’re like oh there are that many people actually streaming that stuff from wherever.
That’s wild, they don’t understand it, they don’t even understand what I’m saying, it’s in Xhosa and Zulu. But what I’ve been able to achieve because of that project – just because of the vibrations it opens you up to so many other people. The craziest people in the world will tell you, ‘My favourite song is this and that’ and you’re like, ‘Huh? That’s wild’. And that’s just a moment that you made, it’s just an expression. Just express yourself.
With ‘Amadlozi‘, do you recall the process of putting that together and how you and LOOKATUPS first connected for that record?
Yes, so LOOKATUPS didn’t even send me part of the song, it was from Lord Nelle first. Then we started chopping up the song. And I’ve always been a fan of LOOKATUPS because I heard his music and thought it was similar to my vibe. I wanted to surprise him so I started building on it.
You were loving it?
Apart from just loving it, it just evolved. We took it from one place to the next place, adding elements, taking things out, and putting new elements in. I love collaborating when it comes to production. I can do everything myself but of late it’s nice to work with different minds, it’s fulfilling. We all exist within this creative consciousness so when we’re creating and tapping in with the energy, we create on another level.
What was his reaction when you sent it to him?
I probably only sent it to him when we were gonna drop. (he laughs). No, it’s because I don’t send music. I genuinely don’t send music.
Why is that?
Bad experience. This is funny but when Kiernan (AKA) remade the ‘Composure‘ beat that was wild. You can only do that because I sent you the music, you know. So to mitigate any sort of situation or whatever, I don’t send songs out.
So that was actually a true story that you sent AKA that beat and charged him 80K?
I think we were shooting the Be Careful What You Wish For documentary and he told the whole story. But the point is, I still get royalties on that, on the highest level. Not just the beat (Anatii starts rapping along to the flow of ‘Composure‘). Cause I remember we were opening the case, going legal, and gathering all the evidence.
Imagine writing lyrics to your own diss track and doing the beat to it. But just within the collaborative spirit, you trust people and send them music and work together. But at the same time, I don’t trust anyone. So we really have to be on that level, because now when we make music, it’s a marriage. That’s how it has to go.
Are you a very forgiving person in general? Because just over a year after the drama around ‘Composure‘ you and AKA were working on a joint album together?
What’s that Rick Ross album? God Forgives, I Don’t. I read a lot of books. You have to have a certain level of emotional intelligence to understand certain characters within the scheme of things. I’m not a dodo, and people who really know me know I’m not playing.
About your upcoming project, you are typically quite tight-lipped about the details of unreleased music. What can you tell us about it?
I can tell you a lot of things, to be honest. I can tell you that I have a lot of music. I have enough music to put out a multitude of albums. So now it’s really about consolidating the thought process and the sonics.
How collaborative is your process usually? Would you typically work with a lot of producers and writers?
I have specific sessions where I work with other people. Like, intentionally, where my energy is to work with other people in the room – producers, instrumentalists, writers and even just anyone who’s in the room.
It may be a conversation that sparks a really great idea that gives you something. And they have to be credited as a writer, I think that’s fair. And then there’s also where I work in isolation. So I balance it.
How much collaboration is on the upcoming project?
Ooh! I’ll only be able to tell you on the final tracklist. It’s still a working process in terms of which songs make the final cut. There’s a lot of collaboration though, a lot of people around vibing, different people coming in and out. And also opening up myself up to all sorts of creatives that I wasn’t exposed to or maybe even open to working with or just maybe took it for granted that I can work with anybody I really want to work with.
That’s a big blessing, the fact that we can call people at 2 or 3 in the morning and they’re gonna fly through to come lace something down. That’s wild. I never take it for granted.
How did the process come about when you decided to make ‘Punisher‘ available through NFTs?
‘Punisher‘ is a full-on NFT project, and not just NFT in terms of the token. We have a community that is behind it.
We’ve got all sorts of things going on in terms of what we’re building within the community. We’ve got people sending in proposals, we’re collecting art, and we’re supporting our community. We’re building something that’s community-based and seeing what the results of that are.
When you introduce something new, sometimes people don’t initially understand it. I feel like that’s been clear with some people criticising your decision to initially take down your music and go the NFT route. How bulletproof are you to this criticism?
I’m past that. The thing is, there’s a certain atmosphere and a certain level of peace that you have to get to where your awareness of everything is different. I can see it, but where am I seeing it from? Am I seeing it at face value? Am I seeing it on this app or am I seeing it from my worldview? That can’t affect the mission.
There’s a real mission that’s actually happening, and now we’ve gotta be worried about what people think? No, God doesn’t have time for that.
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