On: Nadia Nakai

On: Nadia Nakai

With every milestone that she achieves, Nadia Nakai is paying the cost to be a boss. On a balmy Jozi morning, I break bread with the rapper at what I find out is her first real meal in two days.

On the occasion of the release of Bragga, her first EP under Cassper Nyovest’s Family Tree imprint, Nakai spent all day shooting the video for the EP’s first single, Don’t Cut It. When she finally hit the hay, she’d eaten half a chicken wing before she had to get up early for a radio interview and then meet me.

Nakai is not starving herself; she’s just hungry for success.

I’ve been around for a minute/I’m more than a rookie

In the middle of the first decade of the Naughties, Nakai, who is South African with Zimbabwean roots, signed to Sipho “Psyfo” Ngwenya’s Sid Records where she released songs like Saka Wena featuring Ice Prince.

“Sipho tried his best and I appreciate him so much for that. People wouldn’t know who Nadia Nakai was if it weren’t for him. But it was always just me and him, so he was the producer, the label head, the manager, the road manager, the marketer – he was trying to do everything at the same time.

“With Family Tree, there are 13 or 14 people involved in your projects. I was able to grow so quickly because of that. I feel like I am supported the whole way so that helps with my confidence.

You f***ing with a girl named Bragga/?I’m a bad gal, me a top shotta

Nakai’s first offering under Family Tree was Money Back – a trap track that will appear on her debut album. Last month, she released a five-track EP called Bragga.

“I called it Bragga because for me, ‘bragga’ means boss,” says Nakai.

“In the Fast and the Furious franchise, there’s a drug cartel leader named Bragga. He was the boss and he was running the game.”

As such, the Don’t Cut It video is Fast and the Furious-themed. I ask if Bragga is an alter ego like Sasha Fierce and Nakai smiles.

“I think that it’s in me. I’m not imposing my boss-ness, but if I’m on stage, in studio or at an event, I feel like a boss. I just know when to tone it down.”

On Bragga, Nakai alternates between the turn up life (found on Paying featuring Yung Swiss where she’s clear about only being at a club because she’s being paid) and claiming her space as a force to be reckoned with (on The Man and 100). She also takes it back to her roots with a calypso-meets-dancehall ditty called Don Dada featuring, and produced by, Gemini Major. Although Nakai thrived in the new age kwaito space, she says that wasn’t really her forte.

“When I started, it was dancehall and calypso, that’s more my vibe. That’s why you can hear it in Bragga. That’s really who I am. In Zim, dancehall is huge! So it was something I was exposed to and I am able to include that in this new wavy music that’s taking over. I thought, ‘let me bring it back so when the wave comes here, I’m the pioneer’.”

She quickly puts down her sandwich to tell me about a fun fact from the recording of Bragga. “Don Dada was the last song I did for the EP. Initially, there was a song I did called Hit Off. My team said I needed a song that was more emotional and talked about my struggles. I’m a very closed person and don’t like people knowing what’s going on in my life,” she laughs.

“But I need to be able to get into that mindset because that’s what makes fans fall in love with you; when they can identify with struggles you’ve had. The day we were supposed to send off the songs for mixing and mastering, the computer crashed. I was like: thank God! It was divine intervention. So then we had to quickly do a song? that day and it ended up being Don Dada.

If I hear another sub in your wack rhymes/Then Imma drop a b*tch, this is Cashtime

Society often tries to pit women – in rap and other spheres – against each other. For a while, it seemed like most of the women who rap in Mzansi had an affinity for each other as the mainstream ones are so different from one another.

So when AKA released an all-female remix of his song Baddest, some were puzzled about why Nakai was not included. But that exclusion – along with her own remix of the same song – helped to set Nakai apart. It incidentally took her out of the “female rapper” cliché and made the boys her peers.

So when she raps about dropping a b*tch like it’s Cashtime, some assumed she was referring to Nomuzi “Moozlie” Mabena parting ways with the Cashtime Life label. Nakai brings this line up before I’ve had the chance to ask her.

“We just wanted to put The Man out for the streets – not necessarily radio airplay – so that people never forget that I am a rapper. I’m known for always talking about relevant things in the songs.

“I want people to talk because that’s what makes a lot of attention for the EP,” Nakai laughs.

“That specific line was for the girl whom it was directed at. When she hears it, she knows exactly what I’m talking about.

“Things came to me and I was like: ‘Oh, I didn’t know it was like that. So those songs make sense now. The sub I saw on Twitter? That makes sense now’. That person didn’t directly say something to me, but when she hears the line, she’s going to know that I know.

“I won’t go on a Twitter rant, mine is always in the music. That’s the same reason why I released the Baddest Remix. I didn’t say a thing on Twitter, but I trended for two days. I knew music is the only answer for everything. That’s the only way I do things.”

With that in mind, it’s clear that she means for her music to speak volumes. As Nakai says: “I was the first commercial female rapping so it was new. And a lot of people weren’t f***ing with that. But now, I think I’ve turned a lot of haters into fans.”


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