Music

Four Life Lessons from Khuli Chana

© Jono Jebus / Red Bull Content Pool
Written by Zia Haffejee
The Motswako Originator has been through a lot, and shares his most valuable learnings from it all.
Khuli Chana in the Red Bull Studios Cape Town
Khuli Chana in the Red Bull Studios Cape Town
Khulane Morule aka Khuli Chana’s Motswako Originator, the full-length debut that dropped in 2009, is a foundational work for the localised sub-genre of ‘motswako’. Even before that, the Mahikeng-born emcee had been ambitiously paving his own path in South African hip-hop since the 90s with groups like Jazzadaz and Morafe. He’s toured the US and opened for both Kendrick Lamar and Drake when they visited SA. He’s an undeniable heavyweight of SA music and at 33, he’s certainly gathered some worldly wisdom. Whilst recording at Red Bull Studios in Cape Town, he imparted four life lessons worthy of jotting down:
Home is where it’s at
Khuli Chana has proudly repped Maftown since day one, following in the footsteps of other motswako pioneers from his hometown, HHP and Baphixile. The distinctive brand of rap typically featured a taste for more feel-good, uptempo beats than was commonplace at the time, with rhymes in a mixture of Setswana and English. That said, he’s also critical of what he calls a ‘South African bubble’, believing that South Africans should travel throughout Africa and celebrate the unique styles of hip hop this continent has to offer. He says that Ghana - and the work he did there with BET Award-winning artist, Stonebwoy - is his favourite place his work has taken him. He’s got big plans to tour the continent and make more music with more African musicians.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
“You’ve got to earn your stripes” - he directs this at young, aspiring local rappers, highlighting the artistic growth that he, and some of the older cats in the scene, feel that many in the internet age miss out on. This, in terms of how quickly artists can distribute their music and earn online clout. Whether this is a bad thing is debatable, but Khuli elaborated further using the clichéd “the faster you rise, the harder you fall.” He vouches for the importance of working your way up the ranks and how it teaches one to be humble.
Khuli Chana in the Red Bull Studios Cape Town
Khuli Chana in the Red Bull Studios Cape Town
Don’t wall yourself in
In 2013, Khuli was shot by the police, who had apparently mistaken him for a kidnapper. He’s been understandably reluctant to share much in the media, but he has mentioned an upcoming documentary on the traumatic incident on Twitter. He says it’s an attempt to reconnect with his fans after he closed himself off to nearly everyone in the aftermath. Whilst making music was therapeutic, he says the psychological wounds only started to heal once he started re-engaging with fans after his shows, confiding in loved ones and being open to talking about what happened.
Make way for the youth
Many have said that hip hop is a young man’s game. Khuli agrees. He’s a dad now and admittedly doesn’t get the same rush from his craft as before, as his priorities are different. Don’t get it twisted, he’s still dedicated to the notion of mastering emceeing as an artform, but times are changing, and as Khuli puts it, “evolve or dissolve”. He surrounds himself with artists that he says are hungrier, even better, than him. It’s young musicians like these that re-ignited his vigour to create music, something that suffered after the shooting. Even after he’s hung up the mic, Khuli predicts he won’t step too far away from the rap world. He believes it’s important for established artists to provide platforms for promising up-and-comers.
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Khuli’s got a down-to-earth perspective on things, but that doesn’t compromise his ambition. Although he reflected that motswako as a sub-genre of united artists has cooled down in recent years, he’s got plans on re-igniting the spark as a last hurrah for Morafe. He says there’s an album in the pipeline, so keep your eyes peeled.