Emtee’s debut album is an awards season darling. Helen Herimbi spoke to this leader of the new cool about it.

He might have ordered ribs for dinner, but when I meet Emtee at Raw X studios, it’s clear that he’s hungry for much more.

With Avery, a debut album that saw him bag the Song of the Year title at last year’s South African Hip Hop Awards (SAHHA) and pick up four nominations at this year’s Metro FM Music Awards (MMA), the rapper who was born Mthembeni Ndevu is savouring every morsel on his plate.

When I meet with him, he’s at the studio to work on a song that a prominent rapper wants him featured on. He reclines on the couch, takes off his cap and starts twisting his mini dreads.

“When inspiration hits, I know I’ll finish a song within 30 minutes,” he tells me, “but if a beat is hard to approach, I can take up to three days to write the song. But even then, I know at the end, it will be a hit.”

He’s referring to the track he’s about to make as well as the song that put his name on everyone’s lips: a little ditty called Roll Up. You might have heard of it. Emtee isn’t shy to admit that the infectious SAHHA-winning song that was recorded in less than a day was heavily inspired by O.T Genasis’s hit, CoCo.

“Ruff, my producer, is my mentor in music and life in general,” starts Emtee, “and he was busy making the beat. He had other plans for that beat, but I came in and flipped the script. My intention was to make something similar to CoCo because of the simplicity of the song.

“Even (Wiz Khalifa’s) We Dem Boyz is simple. I was looking for that sound. And today, that’s what’s keeping me alive. I’m able to get by because of attempting that sound and getting it right the first time around.”

The album is named after this 23-year-old’s 8-month-old son and one thing he definitely got right was the mixing and mastering. Avery is a high-quality audio experience even though some of the lyrical content might not be for everybody.

On songs produced predominantly by Ruff with contributions by Tweezy, Lunatik and more, the soundscape is a mixture of the current jiggy American rap and South African samples. Emtee’s most sincere (and interesting) moments come from tracks like Avery, About Me and Mama, on which he talks about his real life and some of the hurdles he’s had to overcome.

But on tracks like U Got It and Pikipiki, he’s ridiculously unrealistic with the braggadocio, talking about being around the world and stealing everyone’s girls like he’s Trey Songz. All of which he shuns on most of the tracks. Even though Mamie Game falls into this style, it was pleasantly surprising to find that he interpolated the late great Brown Dash’s Vum Vum.

“One thing people don’t know is that before Brown Dash died, I met him at a show,” explains Emtee. “I was about to perform and he saw that I was nervous,” he continues, “so he came up to me and encouraged me. He told me to kill it and that’s exactly what I did.

“Some weeks after that, he passed away. He was a real star. A person can do so much for you out of him just being him. That small conversation we had made me do my best at that show so I have got too much love for Brown Dash.”

This is the kind of star Emtee wants to be. Just by being himself – a boy who came from Matatiele to Soweto and is shaking up the music scene – he hopes to plant a seed in others.

Before his newfound success, Emtee was in a group called 4Front which included Maraza, in which he rapped and sang. He later featured on Mashayabhuqe’s ground-breaking Shandarabaa Ekhelemendeh. That bridge was just a taste of what Emtee is capable of.

With an album that features fellow newbies Fifi Cooper and Nasty C as well as established acts like Nigeria’s Wizkid and Mzansi’s AKA, Emtee is making moves with what he calls “African trap music”.

“It’s a genre I started where I jump on trap beats and talk about South African stuff,” he explains. “People started loving what I was doing and I was like: ‘Let’s make this a movement.’”

So the African Trap Movement, aka ATM, is a collective that sees “a bunch of extraordinarily talented individuals and ambitious people get together to make music”. He’s just released the video for a song called Pearl Thusi featuring the TV and radio personality in which he heaps praise on her looks and demeanour.

“We haven’t had a conversation about the song because I’m not ready to answer her questions,” he laughs when I point out that knowing her middle name is not very rapper-like and quite creepy, actually.

“Avery’s mother also knows,” he smiles. “I wouldn’t leave my girlfriend for her, but I’d handle that polygamy game.”

But first, he’s got his eye on the rap game and being the leader of the new cool.

“I always wanted to be the leader of the new school,” he confesses.