Kriss: Who is PAPAKOLI, infect before that, what does PAPAKOLI mean? What does he do and what’s your contribution to Hip-Hop culture?
Papa Koli: Haha well let’s start off with my government I am Mxolisi Mpho Lepele, when growing up my mom would always refer to me as Papa Xoli which kinda stuck as my nickname at home and in a few social circles. Fast-forward May 2010 the birth of my first child Sabelo aka Fanta Fela (that’s his stage name but that’s a story for another interview lol) .In 2011 Sabelo starts learning how to talk and by now my lady and her fam are also calling me by nickname Papa Xoli ,so it was kinda hard for the the little hommie to get the click in Xoli right and folks that’s how the alias Papa Koli was born. There were other stage names before Pap Koli for a long time I went by Makzol and no affiliation to weed ,funny enough it actually came from how some of my white teachers would pronounce my name as Makzolisi in school so I decided to shorten it a bit .In a nutshell Papa Koli is father, husband, a sales and marketing work professional and drum roll….curator of good raps. I think my contribution goes beyond the culture and also extends into my own legacy and the values I am trying to instil with the 2 precious lives I have been entrusted to shape and mould. As an emcee I always strive towards diversifying the way I rap without having to dumb myself down or sound out of character I come from an era where lyrics and wordplay were a big deal so even when I am playful or happy, I still carry these values with me.
Kriss: I want you to give us a breakdown of your history in Hip-Hop as an artist, where did you start, what crews and bands have you been a part of? What are some of the great memories you remember with the people you’ve worked with?
Papakoli: Let me start off with this and I know some hardcore rappers will cringe at the next statement but the day I told myself I am going to try this rap thing was in 1998 when I heard TKZee’s “Serenade” from their EP TKZee and Benni and that song was heavily played on radio and I really loved the vibe, the flows and the energy that they brought to the song. I was already exposed to your Tupac’s, Biggies, ATCQ and Wu-Tang’s of the world and hip hop at large, but TKZee’s Serenade was home grown and widely rotated on commercial radio and I think more than anything the dream always seems closer when you see it taking place in your own back yard and that’s why I will always credit TKZee for inspiring me to start rapping. Vosloorus is where I learned to rap, my childhood friend’s older brother is Trezpass who turned out to be one of the best producers in Vosloo and he also used to hang out with all the Legendary Vosloo rappers abo Ill Substance , Projekta,The Skavenjas crew, Mad scientist I mean all the top tier Vosloo Lyricists and I will never forget the cyphers at the Basketball courts and my first ever appearance in those heavy weight cyphers and being pushed by the O.G Xcalibur to spit in a cypher that shit was really special. I was too young for Le Club but we had the Sprite Shows , Touch Base tours, Evo Loxion and smaller Hip Hop shows nama session wama Rasta ekasi and that’s where we learned Hip Hop. In 2001 I witnessed a young kid he must have been my age 14-15 rapping his heart out and spitting some serious punchlines his name was Arch Angel and god behold in 2002 we both started as new 9th graders at Germiston High and became friends on our first day. My Highschool years were probably were I really honed my skills as a rapper the stakes were very high my peers were the likes of Arch Angel and Reason we would compete at talent shows I think I never missed performing in any talent show alongside my fellow brother Archangel. After High school I studied Sound Engineering in my last year at Damelin one of my fellow students and friends took me to a music school in Putfontein just outside Daveyton and what I saw there was another life changing moment I was introduced to young instrumentalists playing jazz, I was like damn this is where I am coming when I complete my Sound Engineering studies , I am gonna learn music formally and get to put my sound engineering skills to good use. In 2008 I went to the Gauteng Music Academy which was founded the late Johnny Mekoa God Bless his soul, and on my 1st day I met Wandile Themba aka Truth and Ayanda Gwele aka Qairo we clicked on our first day. At that time I was recording music and we began featuring each other on our individual songs. The three of us started performing our songs at different shows in Soweto and Daveyton ,but what really changed our engagements was really some lyrics that kept haunting me till I shared them with Qairo to assist me in creating a melody and those words were “Hope that you remember me as the best in History’’ , We went to the music academies auditorium to Malcom Jiyane who is a phenomenal instrumentalist and composer and reached out to him to help us with a melody and really that’s when Future History was born we went from 2 rappers and vocalist to a 9 man band with a kick a brass section that is what really differentiated us from other acts we were a full on Hip Hop band with a kick ass brass section and started making a name for ourselves. We began performing at places like Thesis in Soweto ,House 22 Pretoria, Sophiatown , Braamfontein,Pretoria State theatre we even performed alongside Ozomatli a Grammy award winning Band.Future History started collaborating with acts like The Anvils (N’Veigh and Blak Les) , we did Live to the Power of 5 with Reason we really were making waves. We even had the honour of rocking Back To the City for 3 consecutive years, we had even started recording an album which never came to fruition but Future History gave me one of my best years in my life and beautiful memories a special shout out to Senzo Nxumalo aka The Five finger ringer he was our bass guitarist and unfortunately lost his life about 5 years ago. Truth and I had a crew named True Soul we with all the time we spent together in FH we had a beautiful chemistry and recorded a coupla songs together and released a track titled “On the Rise” which was well received we also had the honour of featuring the legendary Flabba on a track which has not been released titled Si Jaiva ka Selina I think we might just drop it nje just as an FYI , I met Flabba at TCC we had a Nestle campaign to promote their Nescafe 3in1 coffee and he had a track promoting 3in1 my job was to ensure he was at activations and performing the Nescafe song and eventually I told him I rap and I was part of a crew and next thing we at Gas Chamber studio in Daveyton recording a track with a legend that shit really meant a lot to myself and Truth being co signed by a legend and going on to having a song with him. What was special about Nkuli is that he always embraced talent and made an effort to work with young talented artists I think a lot of the prominent rappers who are my age that can attest to this fact about Flabba the man did really embrace and played his part with grooming young talent
Kriss: What are some of the best events you played with FUTURE HISTORY? How does it feel performing to a wild, 20K strong BACK TO THE CITY crowd?
Papakoli: The smaller artsy events were always the best because we really got to showcase the musical beauty of FH and had longer sets. I personally enjoyed our performance sessions at Pelican club in Soweto we really played a lot there, Thesis sessions, House 22 and I will never forget our last performance at State Theatre with Reason and Nantes the organiser ran away with our performance fee shit got crazy that night.I think the best performances we had were at those Tarvens that play jazz we would leave those old timers amazed they really were fascinated with raps over jazz heavy sounds. Back To The City was hella nerve wrecking the guys always knew that I needed my space 10 mins before our set I would pace up and down backstage thinking of everything that could go wrong ,but we had so much synergy among us ,I knew Truth and Qairo would always have my back ,they knew my verses inside out and that really got me comfortable when we got on stage and shout to Osmic and the Ritual team for believing and giving FH the platform and showing us respect as artists that guy is really amazing and deserves all the success, its no joke putting together a festival of that magnitude together!!!
Kriss: What is your creative process when writing music? What do you feel has elevated and evolved with your music making process from when you started till now?
I spend 80 % of my energy in the 1st 4 bars they set the pace of the song so I can spend hours or days on getting the 1st 4 bars , once I am happy with the 1st 4 bars the rest of verse then builds itself. I can’t really say I have a process it all depends on the mood and setting I can write on the spot in studio or at home, sometimes an idea hits me while I am driving and I whip out my phone and record voice notes I really don’t have a standard creative process but one thing for sure the getting the 1st 4 bars right is very important in my process of writing. What’s really elevated and evolved my craft is I have exposed myself to all walks of life and have tried to absorb languages and cultures all my past future experiences will always elevate and grow me. Also a healthy dose of Sci-Fi ,Documentaries and Anime. I am huge sucker of fiction I read a lot of fiction books growing up and when you listen closely you will start picking it in my verses its very subtle not that outer galactic tactics vibe hahaha!!!
Kriss: You’re father and a husband now, how much of that part of your life influences the music you make now?
Papakoli: In all honesty I was ready to give up on rap between 2016 and 2017 I was in a dark place and almost went astray, 09 November 2017 my 3rd child and 2nd son Mxolisi Jnr Reanetse was born and 20 November 2017 we lost him due to a very rare condition this really shattered my family I have never felt such pain in my life , I never thought I would recover but I had to keep my head up and be a pillar of strength to my wife who was totally broken. I spent the next year 2018 trying to figure out what my purpose in the universe was also getting rid of toxic habits, my children and my wife were the only positives and helped me pick the pieces up. Fast forward 2019 I decided to pursue my dream of recording my solo album and I reached out to David Mac who is a beast on beats and has a beautiful ear to send me beats which I started writing to ,after the 1st bars I run to my kids and a rap for them to see if they vibe with it and build on from there ,so my family plays a vital role in the process of creating my album even on “Kids Again” that’s them screaming ‘Papa Koli’ there are songs we have recorded where Sabelo or Fant Fela is kicking it with me on the chorus and a song with my baby girl Kayla finishing off my lines on one of the verses.So my family has a lot of influence on my music and my wife has been super supportive and my biggest critic she tells when my shit is wack lmao
Kriss: You recently released 2 solo single records and a music video back to back. “KIDS AGAIN” and “SUBARUS&RHYMES”. Tell us the inspiration behind those two records and what should people expect from the upcoming album?
Papakoli: Despite all the challenges we are faced with as black South Africans we still remain resilient and fight on through all the pain, disappointments and hardships we wake up every day and go get it -that’s really what Kids Again is about a celebration of Black Excellence. With the 2nd single, I think all my close friends who really know me will all tell you that the Subaru WRX STI specifically the Blue one with the Gold rims is my favourite car. I call it the original Vrrrrphaaaa. So David Mac sent me that beat and I when I listened to that beat one question came to mind and that question was what would be the 1st thing I played when I finally buy my dream car and that’s how the song was born ,so the concept was simple sophisticated fly shit so I reached out to 4 brothers who I really thought would be a great fit for Subarus and Rhymes ,but before I reached out to Truth, Savage Sossa, Kriss Anti B and Unknown Artis I recorded my verse ( bad idea coz all you niggaz murked me on my own shit lol) and gave it to the fellas and I must say they exceeded all expectations with their verses and Bam we had a solid joint with dope ass verses. I think we might just shoot a video for this classic joint. The Upcoming album ,I mean the 1st 2 singles may lead you to expect a kind of boombapish album but that isn’t the case ,it’s a collection of great songs and each one has tells its own story we have taken our time to shape and mould the album through my lens and I think it will grow on fans and fellow artists.
Kriss: Who determines what sort of content &message you showcase on the art you create, you? or your audience? or your team? How important is Creative control to you as an artist?
Papakoli: I think it’s a combination of both I know my target audience so it’s a balancing act between not losing myself but also being able to appeal to a wider range of consumers , I have a couple of vibey songs that have a commercial appeal but I still keep the standard of lyricism and word play. Creative Control is important but also being able to be relatable to your targeted audience or end consumer.
Kriss: You are an independent artist. Enlighten us on some of the hardships and difficulties that come with being an independent artist and would you sign a record deal with a major record label if it meant losing your creative control for a bigger budget to market and sell your music and brand?
Papakoli: Yoh I think the biggest challenge facing the Indie Artist is funding and I am fortunate to have a good job that allows me to steer this ship the biggest issue is that it’s not an infinite pool of cash so at times turnaround times are delayed by cashflow. I think Master Ace really summarized it well on Da Grind-
“I be the manager, road manager, and call handler
Booking agent, choreographer and tour planner
I be the V.P. of marketing and promotions
Producer and arranger, with a range of emotions”
One thing I have learned and valued about being Indie Artist is that you learn to empower yourself I have learnt a lot on the journey from administration to distribution and the power of the internet I think Major labels are going to die a slow painful death because as technology advances and people gain more access to information,and more accessible equipment it will make Major Labels less appealing, we have Distrokid ,CD Baby ,Tunecore and other Digital Distributor platforms who now even offer sample clearing services to Indie Artists and beat makers. I think it would take a hella of a lot for me to sign to a major label and if I did it would probably marketing and distribution.
Kriss: How important are accolades and commercial success in determining your top5 of all time? Who is on your top 5 greatest rappers of all-time list?
Look as far as accolades go I really don’t care much for those ,but I think commercial success does count a bit in determining my top 5 of all time ,I always try run away from the top 5 question because there are so many dope acts and artists out there but I will oblige to the question here are my top 5 in no particular order
Kriss: What’s next for PAPAKOL I, what should we be expecting from you as a creative going to the future? Where can people follow you?
We are wrapping up the album and the Covid lockdown is not doing any justice and has slowed us down you should expect a drop in October 2019. As far as creativity I think you should expect more authentic stories and kick ass rhymes and a whole of collaborations with a variety of artists.
You can catch me on these platforms below :
Facebook : Mxolisi Papa Koli Lepele
Instagram : papakoli_
Check my singles on the below links