In My Words: Ms Nthabi.

In continued support of the In My Words series profiling creatives and artists alike on the Unarine Ramaru YouTube page, this time around we got to sit with Soweto born and raised veteran rapper Nthabi Mofokeng, known artistically as Ms. Nthabi. Our conversation ranged everywhere from her career thus far, her creative process, and more, all in build-up to the release of her fourth and latest album release titled E.N.E.R.G.Y.

From entering the recording booth for the first time ever with her eventual first hit Reality Check, to her evolution through music. Below are some of her quotables from our conversation.

Ok, let us start at the very beginning. Why music?

“I’ve been making music since I was six, but in making music, my first introduction to music was playing piano. My first ever gift as a child was like a little keyboard that my parents got me so I was [like] thrown into music. From my dad’s side, it was just music. So, my Introduction to Music was always from like, a jazz classical side it was that. And then it was only later that I was like, actually ‘this thing of talking over the beat is nice’.”

Jazz? So, when does the Hip-Hop jump into the picture?

“I think because I’ve always just been intrigued by sound. The first time I’ve heard anybody rap was this boy I was in primary school with, and it was when [Hip-hop duo] Kris Kross came out… this kid just starts like, putting stuff together. So [when] I heard him and I was like, ‘what are you doing?’ You know, and he was freestyling and people would just throw words at him and he would just go and I think that was the first time I was exposed to it and I didn’t know what it was. I then started [listening] to Kris Kross… then it just grew from there. Then the one time we were chilling with a girlfriend of mine in high school and  she was playing some [instrumental] and then I just started rapping. I don’t know how [but] I just thought of putting words together. And we all just sat there for a minute. We’re like ‘what just happened?’. So that was the first time and I was like, wow, okay, I can rap, I can do this.”

Before we go deep into the music, art or expression apart from music?

“I used to write a lot [of poetry]. My poetry, I’d say was very therapeutic. So I journaled a lot. And I still journal to this day. So a lot of my writing was expression. My poetry was just expression [and] never something that I intended to perform for anybody.”

Writing technique…

“I think the technique for me came later, the more artists I started listening to the more they influenced me. My first exposure to hip hop was mainly ‘what are you saying?’ [and not] ‘how do you say it?’, from there I realized there is actually a technique to this. And also, you don’t have to rhyme at the end of every single sentence. So yeah, technique comes as you go, as you do, as you read more, as you write more and obviously different artists are gonna influence you. I think the thing I had to learn though, because I come from the school of freestyling and battles, was a transition to like ‘Okay, you can do that now?’. Can you write a song, can you actually put a full on song together? And then once I realized I could do [all] that I was like, Okay, I don’t want to be boxed, I actually want to make music outside of this rap.”

We live in time of different sounds, genres and styles.

“If you think about it, even back in the day, it was never really one kind of style. You had your MC Hammer, and then you had your KRS. I think there was always a split in terms of who sounds like what. This pocket accommodates this, this bunch of people this pocket. So it’s always been like that. For me. I’m like, find what works for you and just go with it because we’re not all supposed to sound the same at the end of the day. It’s about all of us sounding different and doing what works for us.”

What is the nature of Ms Nthabi’s music?

“… I trust in the music I have put out that I feel like it’s timeless. I can still listen to some of the songs I made seven years ago now and I still think it’s dope. I trust the music I’ve put out and I trust that the people who support me and listen to me also understand the type of artist I am. I’m not going to do something just because people want it, it’s not me, because then I’m not giving you me I’m just doing something to make you happy.”

Do you feel the pressure to release?

“I don’t feel that pressure, no, I’ve left [the] mark I needed to leave and when it’s time to fill up that mark then I will do it but I’m not going to do something because there’s pressure to put out music because it’s been two or three years. And I think because of that, people can appreciate it more when it does come out.”

Evolution through the music.

“My music has always been a representation of where I am, which is why I guess is the reason I don’t have an alias, because my music is an extension of me. And you will always hear where I am through my music. When I first put out my first EP I was just like, ‘I can rap, I want them to know that girls can do this too and I don’t want to be called a female MC’. You know, I just had a point to prove that I can do this and don’t box me. Then I got over that and I was like, okay, they know you can rap, [now] can you put together a body of work. And then came the making of my first album. And as I was making my album, I felt pregnant with my son. So that was already like [another] transition for me. And it kind of pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. It [also] pushed me to be comfortable with creating because with my first album I was very much involved, I did what I wanted to with that, though the label – Outrageous Records- gave input but it was completely do you… then came Broken Silence and that was also a different phase and a different transition. I mean, all of the beats from there weren’t my beats, I just took songs that I liked and was like, ‘How do I recreate this and make it my own? And how do I take songs that are not rappidy rap songs? How do I how do I play with my artistry?’. I was coming out of a broken place, but I was healing through it. And I wanted to be vulnerable. I just felt like especially with hip hop, and where we were at that time I felt like people didn’t want to be vulnerable.”

Speaking on evolution within music, let’s touch on the relationship with Reason and how it’s evolved from once being an inseparable duo to only now relinking with the new project.

“Over the years we did a lot of stuff together, he would feature me on a lot of his songs and I featured him on a lot of my songs. And then as time went on, we just took our own journey musically, he went one way I went my way. And I like that because then I could listen to him from an outside perspective. And he could listen to me from an outside perspective. I think the relationship built us both in our own individual ways. And it’s a relationship that I value so much because I feel like our connection is organic. So now he is on E.N.E.R.G.Y, I wanted to see can we still vibe the same way we did where it’s just natural, so yeah”

Finally, let’s touch on mental health and the importance of taking care of oneself.

“I feel like [music is] an opportunity for me to share with people who feel like they’re not spoken for… It’s okay to take breaks. Same way I take breaks from putting music out there. It’s okay to take breaks from just being out there for your own sanity. So, I think that’s probably also why I don’t put out music unless I feel like I have a need to because I never want to feel like I’m enslaved by it you know… I still want to love what I do without the pressure of ‘if I don’t do this then this is gonna suffer’. You need to be able to take those breaks, take those breaks from life, take those breaks from people. It’s okay to just shut down and be in your own little bubble and recoup. So that when you do come out again, you come out being better…”

Check out what Ms Nthabi had to say about the new album E.N.E.R.G.Y as well as some more from the conversation below.