Moozlie speaks to Helen Herimbi about Vutha, Versus and vulnerability on Victory

It’s hard to get Moozlie to sit still. It’s late August 2018 and people are trickling into the room. The rapper, whose real name is Nomuzi Mabena, is greeting folks and stopping to have meaningful engagement. She sports a gilded mini-dress, a bob with bangs and the look of satisfaction.

When it’s time for the listening session for her debut album, Victory, to start, DJ and Moozlie’s friend, Ms Cosmo, calls her up for an interview and the head of Nomuzi Mabena Music finally gets still on a white barstool.

The interview portion of the program sees Moozlie pack a lot of info into answers. The songs cued up by her manager and man, Sbudaroc, are breezy (as heard on Be Somebody), brazen (on S’funukwazi), bold (on Rap Therapy) and brave (on Victory Anthem).

It is almost eight months before I get to speak to Moozlie about it all. In those months, she had still thrived as a TV presenter on V-Entertainment, promoted Victory and continued her partnership with shoe brand, Steve Madden.

She had performed at Hip Hop Herstory and travelled to Reims to shoot an ad with champopo brand, GH Mumm – and you can hear some product placement in See the Sun featuring Babyface Dean and Reason.

Moozlie had won the Best Female pyramid at the South African Hip Hop Awards (SAHHAs) and she had participated in a polarising Drive Dry campaign (you know which one, I’m not going to talk about it). And all of that makes one thing clear: it’s hard to get Moozlie to sit still.

When I finally catch up with her, she’s fresh-faced, sporting ABE with gilded snake earrings and a look of relaxation. “I think a lot of people really underestimated the levels to which I would take this music thing,” she tells me. “For the past 12 months, the team consciously made an effort to switch the brand from TV slash music to music and TV is something that I do sometimes.”

“So for me to be in positions where I can now rap on an international platform (like Sway’s upcoming SA cypher) is not only important because I get to represent myself and my city but it’s also important for my company.”

She continues: “I think other artists will look at it and think: ‘if I were to sign to this lady’s label, is she somebody I can listen to and respect? Can I respect her ideas?’ And a large part of my ideas is because I’m from Benoni, which is a small town. I didn’t have friends, I only had brothers and sisters because everyone was just that close. So if you mess up, you know it’s going to come up at the braai. So I always have to put on for my city.”

Moozlie grew up eVutha aka Daveyton and moved to the burbs in Benoni. This is what she turns the lens on in Vatel, featuring Kid X. With the refrain “izinja ziyang’vatela,” the core message of the song is that her people really mess with her. But, having watched her present on screen and on stage, it’s not just the hood that loves her. I ask how she managed to ensure the hood and the North vatel.

“By definition, inja, as much as it’s an actual dog, it refers to the top dog. The person who, in any situation, has got it going on” she explains. “My makes my music career so interesting is how I was able to work my network. I feel like the network I created in my television space is the network I use in music so when I say ‘izinja’ I’m talking about the top dogs in any space. eKasi. The media industry. The rap world. Even if I travel overseas, I don’t just travel to figure out and stand at the airport. Izinja are like: ‘hey, Mooz, we’ve been waiting for you. Welcome.’ It’s not something I take for granted.”

Moozlie’s network came through for her when she beat Fifi Cooper, Gigi Lamayne, Tyrant and Nelz and took home the 2018 Best Female SAHHA – a category that is voted for by the public. She squeals with delight when I ask her how that win felt. “It was like yaaassss,” she exclaims.

“We took last year to make the switch and although I had to turn it up on a lot of levels, there were some things I had to tone down in myself. That’s difficult when you’re an established, super cool person and you have to dumb yourself down to become a student so that you can elevate yourself.”

Moozlie was nominated in two more categories: Best Freshman and Mixtape of the Year – the latter for her tape, Versus. She said making that tape “taught me that you just have to do it. Just jump because if you try to make sure everything is perfect, you will be waiting forever.”

And so, she started recording Victory. The current single off the album is S’funukwazi, a kwaito-inspired bop featuring Phresh Clique. Moozlie says: “I did a lot of songs and it was really going well and Sbuda came with his A&R/manager hat like: ‘ja, but at the end of the day, we’re in South Africa and we need the dust songs.’ I think I had this chip on my shoulder that I’m not going to be the Skhanda Queen anymore, I’m going to be Blanco. And I had to let that go.”

“I don’t like contrived things so I didn’t want to do a kwaito-ish song just because. Psykobeats was with us in Cape Town and he said: ‘let me call these girls, Phresh Clique, who have a new age kwaito sound.’ All they had to do was walk through the door! They were really dope and chilled. They helped me put the hook together and there was a message I wanted to give in that song: it really irritates you that I call myself the new age Brenda Fassie but how is that going to change the price of bread?”

That confidence exists on one side of the Moozlie coin. On the other, is a vulnerability that is exhibited in the final track, Victory Anthem featuring Tribal. She raps: “I’m risking it all/It feels like it’s a matter of time until I’m out of luck/a matter of time until they call my bluff/a matter of time until my time is up.”

It’s odd to hear that she also suffers an imposter syndrome, like mere mortals. “We’re about this music business but we’re also just figuring it out,” she admits. “I’m human. I was crying when I wrote that song and Sbuda was just like: ‘use that pain, I don’t know what to tell you.’ […] You have to go through those moments because those are the moments that define you. Those are the moments that help you grow.”

And grow she has. The year isn’t over and if Moozlie’s track record is anything to go by, we’ll be watching her make moves. After all, it’s hard to get Moozlie to sit still.  

BONUS: Listen to what Moozlie had to say about her journey as a writer.