With his debut album, Buks aims to soar to the Mount Olympus of music.
Last June, I made my way to a leafy Joburg suburb to listen to Buks’ debut album, Pegasus. The rapper-producer who was born Ntokozo Mazibuko had been teasing it well before he released the 2015 album, We Need A Title – along with rapper, Solo – under the BETR Gang movement.
When I arrived at his home, where his studio is also based, he was picking lemons from a tree in the garden. At the time, I thought about how he’d turned the following into lemonade: giving up Entity (pre-AKA blowing up), bidding farewell to IV League (the production hub he’d co-founded) and society’s reluctance for producers to emerge from the shadows of the people they make famous.
What I didn’t know was it would be more than a year after Buks allowed me to hear it before Pegasus actually hit the shelves and online stores. But, as he raps in Ali, the opener of the album: “They wanna box me/I’m Ali.”
So, last month, we sat down to discuss what it’s actually like to have one of the most anticipated debuts in recent rap history finally come out.
“The initial idea was to paint the most idealistic picture that I can paint in terms of an album,” he tells me in between bites of wagyu beef sliders. “I wanted to put out an album that sounds uniquely me but I had to figure out how to make it that way.”
“The music has progressed a lot since you heard it. I reworked it and got it to sound as current as possible. Good ideas and concepts have an ever-lasting factor. I didn’t want it to be super dense for people but I think on initial listen, it might be.”
He’s not wrong.
Musically, Buks ranges from house influences on Gangster Party (where he samples Mousse T’s Ooh Song) to Via Stanger (which was inspired by Kano’s My Sound). And although he couldn’t clear a Stevie Wonder sample, tinges of the kwaito he grew up on creep up throughout Pegasus. But it’s still a hip hop album for the ages.
This album draws a figure that is unapologetic about being different – a kid who thrived at swim meets, played instruments like clarinet and recorder, played one palo and had a Tupac poster on his wall but wasn’t necessarily accepted by an in-crowd.
It also introduces us to a flawed man who taunts rappers who act tough because the cameras are in place and who talk only about the clothes they wear and the cars they drive but, on the same album, he also namedrops his fragrance and his expensive garb.
“That’s intentional,” Buks admits. “The material thing has been an interesting thing for me. I’ve always been the kind of person who likes nice things, but the older I’ve gotten, I’ve realised how that doesn’t mean as much to me as before. Now, if I lose these clothes for whatever reason, I know it’s just clothes.”
“It’s the cliche of growing up and realising what’s real. Some of these lyrics were written a while ago and I kept them in to show you the growth in my journey. The bigger message portrayed in Pegasus is don’t just flex, rather understand the bigger principles that exist in life.”
And that starts with the album title.
“Pegasus refers to the winged horse,” says Buks. “And the highest point on earth in Greek mythology is Mount Olympus. That would be your summit, your apex. One of the ways to get to Mount Olympus is with Pegasus. So, this album symbolises my starting point to get to Mount Olympus. This album is that journey.”
Of course, there are references to mythology, to legacy and gods (gods and sh#t [are] in my DNA/gods will never be erased, he raps) but not everything should be taken at face value.
“You know when you were a kid and you’d get asked who your role models are,” he asks me. “I’ve never had outside heroes. My heroes have always been my parents. I’ve always held them in high regard. Almost godlike. So when I say there are gods in my DNA, I’m refering to my parents.”
The styles Buks has birthed on this album are mostly authentic, save for a song called Rotate that is decidedly his most commercial. Not surprisngly, it was one of the last songs added to the album, shortly after he signed to major record company, Universal Music.
“Interestingly, when I got to Universal, I was producing for a bunch of people at the time,” Buks explains. “I was doing something for The Voice Nigeria’s winner and Themba (Mgcina) from Universal had an idea of me sampling more African material.”
“I played with a Fela Kuti Beasts of No Nation sample and made a beat. I recorded the Rotate hook – it wasn’t emotionally driven, it just sounded dope. Themba loved it. He said I should finish writing the song. I was at a point where I had been living in this bubble for so long and I finally let people hear some of the songs. Get some feedback.”
“Rotate was one of the songs I got feedback from – especially from the label people. It was probably the most … and I don’t want to use this word because it dumbs it down but this song was probably the most superficial song I’d written. But it doesn’t take away from the song being good. It’s just not as dense as the other songs.”
From the in-your-face Flex to the slowtwerk-inducing Dream Life, Pegasus is worth the listen. On the tongue-in-cheek Dream Life, Buks raps about wanting “money and power and mmmm.”
When I ask him what he really wants, he concludes: “Money buys you freedom to do whatever you want. That’s why it’s important to make money.”
“The main things I’d like to do are stamp my authority when it comes to music. My album isn’t what you hear in the South African music industry but I believe in my album enough that I’m willing to play the long game to convince people at every turn that this is an important album. But you need to listen to it first.”