Shortly after his critically acclaimed debut album was released, Nasty C combed through Bad Hair with Helen Herimbi.
“How crazy is this,” I ask Nasty C as I hold up my phone so he can see a screen grab of my GPS. “I had to turn into Juice Street on my way here!”
I expect him to roll his eyes. It is, after all, ultra cheesy – albeit cosmic – to be directed to turn into a road named that en route to meeting the 19-year-old that broke into the continental music scene with an anthemic ditty called Juice Back.
Instead, his small eyes widen and he turns to his road manager to share just how cool that screen grab is.
He also isn’t exactly in a position to judge cheesy coincidences as he has paired his dad cap – which is written Bad Hair (the name of his debut album) in bold – with a t-shirt showing Tupac as his Bishop character in the classic film, Juice.
It’s a hot Jozi day and we’re walking to the clubhouse at the golf estate where this Durbanite now lives. We settle into an air conditioned room where the images on the big screen TV mounted on the wall mirror the one facing us: old men playing golf over sprawling green.
It’s not the typical scene you’d expect to find the South African Hip Hop Award-winning rapper whose real name is David Junior Ngcobo. But then again, Nasty C hasn’t really gone with the expected so far.
Much has been written about the young gun and we want to unpack the music so let’s briefly catch you up. Nasty C was rumoured to be headhunted by Jay Z’s Roc Nation but signed with politician and businessman, Reggie Nkabinde’s Mabala Noise instead.
His much-anticipated debut is named Bad Hair because: “My hair is the worst! It runs in the family. I wanted to find something my whole family can relate to without having to pick someone’s name [to be the title.]” It also related to others when Pretoria Girls High’s hairgate happened just before the album dropped.
Bad Hair was slated for a September 23 release date. The album’s tenth track, A Star Is Born, features Riky Rick and American actor, Omari Hardwick. It also samples Grover Washington Jr.
It was the delay in clearing this sample that threatened to affect Nasty C’s intended release. So instead of pushing the album back, this digital baby leaked the album himself “because then it’s not illegal [to use the sample] if you drop it for free.”
IV (Four), off his 2015 mixtape, Price City, was an ode to his late mother and on it, Nasty C raps that his mom would tell him “shame on all who doubted you/this includes your father too.” But on A Star Is Born, Nasty C raps: “I know I never said it, pops, but you’re the man though.”
The change in attitude was spurred on “when I really started to open my eyes to what my father has been doing for me all these years because I didn’t always get it. It’s kind of unfair because the whole Price City mixtape is about me resenting him and on one song, I favour my mother. So I just had to clear that and set that record straight.”
There are several key topics on Bad Hair that show how layered and self-aware an artist Nasty C is.
A glaring one is how Nasty C values the friends that he has made family – evinced on tracks like Squad Goals and Overload and working with Ganja Beats and his friend, reality TV competition star and Free World Music signee, Erick Rush, who is featured on a whopping three of the 16 tracks on the album.
Using sex and substances to cope with growing up in front of the public’s eyes is on songs like Please (Interlude), Forget and Problems.
Price City – Nasty C’s codename for Durban – “was the way that I viewed Durban at the time,” he explains. “During my come up, there were a lot of hurdles we had to go through. Like paying just to perform at a club or paying for someone to sneak me into the club because I was too young to be there. That was Price City to me; everything had a price.”
Now, Johannesburg comes with its own cover charge but Nasty C pays in song. He is candid about Don’t Do It featuring Tellaman – which has a catchy chorus about how people are going to try and hype a high to you but you should dead the peer pressure. He wrote the verse literally while being treated to his first lapdance.
“I was at a Nigerian club here in Joburg and I was getting a lapdance but I was on my phone. I kind of got sick of it. At the time, the way I was put into the situation was that everyone was like: ‘you’ve never had a lapdance? What?’ So when it happened everyone was watching. So it was awkward and weird and went on too long. It’s not like they were paid to do it – we weren’t at a strip club. It was just a groupie.”
Everybody loves Nasty C. American superstar, Future, introduced him at this weekend’s MTV Africa Music Awards as though he was the opening act for Durban’s own.
But Phases featuring his signee, Rowlene, sees Nasty C rapping about losing loved ones in order to become successful. He’s not resentful but he is “blazing through these phases” and unable to live in the moment.
“Phases was the first song I made that made it onto the album. I was going through things that kids my age weren’t supposed to be going through and I didn’t have anyone to speak to about it. I felt like I was skipping stages and just shooting through everything.”
Nasty C’s candour and vulnerability is seemingly overshadowed by his musicality. The kid is gifted. But he’s not about to start guarding his mouth or protecting his heart.
As I get ready to leave, he tells me: “I always share my life in the music. That’s why I started making music. If I lose that, I’ll lose the real Nasty C and that’s when I’m going to start making wack music and I never want to do that.”