Kenzhero celebrates ten years in hip-hop

Soweto-born DJ Kenzhero, the man behind Party People, has cooked up a major line-up for the Party People Reunion. It’s all going down this weekend on 3 December in Newtown at the OST Block Party. On the bill expect to see 8 international live acts including Bahamadia, Master Ace, Marco Polo, J Live, Kev Brown and more. Daluxolo Moloantoa caught up with this legendary party starter and producer for a quickie interview.

You dropped out of university to follow a music career. Is music something you’ve always wanted to do?
“I always had it at the back of my head that I want to do music. I didn’t know what exactly but I knew I wanted to put my fingers in music. Producing was more attractive though. From a young age I liked deciphering songs like, how many vocal layers there are or I’d guess what instruments were used. But it was not until I met my friends at varsity did I wanna take it on. One of them (Bhubesii) was into emceeing and I took the position to make music. But deejaying came before that.

What is the concept behind Party People?
“Exactly what’s in the name…people that party. The motor is to put the music first. A lot of people focus on branding lately. Party People’s cornerstone is put the music first it doesn’t have to be a pretty party.”

When and where does the event take place?
“Always at the end of the month, since 2006 July. Mostly Cape Town and Johannesburg but it’s a travelling property so it has happened in Soweto and other [cities] in SA like Port Elizabeth, Durban and even outside SA in places like Maputo in Mozambique. The idea is to try do it more outside SA and beyond.”

You have been in the South African hip hop music scene for a solid ten years. What have you learned and how have you grown in the process? “The market is not shaped yet. There is a lot of opportunities for young people to make it into a business, lifestyle or hobby. So I’ve used the opportunity to bring acts that may have never made it here in the 90s when they were not allowed in the country [because of] apartheid.

Party People was the first hip-hop gig in SA to invite overseas artists. Who is the best act you’ve ever brought to our shores?
“I grew up in the golden era of hip-hop so I brought guys like BAHAMADIA, J-Live, Kev Brown and Masta Ace through Party People and other acts like Questlove, Dj Premier and Mos Def in collaboration with other production companies. They have all been highlights for me.”

Who are you currently most excited about in the SA hip-hop scene, and what do you think is the future for conscious hip-hop in SA and on the continent?
“Well there are cats like Tumi, Prokid, Proverb and Amu who came from the 90s era and are still relevant but [we] also have new cats like A.K.A who captures all kinds of markets. The label conscious hip-hop has changed or evolved, it’s a long and tired argument. Lately you are either a successful hip-hop artist or not.”

What has been your career highlights so far?
“Many. Most with SA acts or events in SA too. But the Masta Ace gig is in my top 5. Meeting Mos Def and Questlove were good moments, connecting Dj Premier to meet Mandela was huge.”

What are your five best albums of all time?
Birth Of cool by Miles Davis
What’s going on by Marvin Gaye
Innervisions by Stevie Wonder
Black Star by Mos Def & Talib Kweli
Beats Rhymes and life by ATCQ

What’s next for Party People?
“Doing a Reunion Show with Masta ace, Bahamadia, Kev Brown and JLive in December, Party People TV, Party People radio, Party People outside SA and Party People compilations.”

Finally, hip-hop entrepreneurship is not such a big phenomenon in SA. What do you think should be done to encourage the hip-hop movement here to look beyond the music?
“I think it’s there it’s just in its early stages also because it’s a relatively new thing but people can see it. The next generation born in hip-hop will have no choice but to take it on from what the past and current generations have done. We can’t use too much of what the states are doing. But [we have to] find a way to morph our scene according to what SA is shaped as.”