"She's a rapper now?" That phrase, sometimes in those exact words, sometimes not, was uttered and tweeted many times when news got out that Boitumelo "Boity" Thulo was about to release her debut rap single.
Although, to those who had been paying attention, Boity's foray into music wasn't that much of a surprise, not to her fans (she had performed onstage when US rap stars Migos were in the country last year) and it certainly wasn't to those who know her best. "They weren't even surprised. They were like, 'finally'. It's only people who don't know me personally who asked, 'What the f*** are you doing?'."
Music, she says, has been "a passion" for years. "Maybe the universe has been eavesdropping and it's saying, 'Here, we're giving you the opportunity'. I would kill myself if I didn't take it and use it. Maybe it's a path that God wants me to be on. I did it because the opportunity is there, there's a team and a whole Nasty C backing me. There's no reason why I shouldn't do it. Even if it fails, I really would be very angry at myself if I didn't even wait to see whether it would fail or go well."
It's a late Thursday morning, I'm in my workout gear, meeting with Boity at Urban Shack fitness studios in Randburg. We're chilling in the sun, joined by Urban Shack's owners and trainers, Gavin, Celeste and Armand.
After our coffee, Gavin will guide us through what he claims is a "basic" workout: 50 air squats, 50 butterfly sit-ups, 50 push-ups, 50 of a fourth exercise whose name I've long forgotten and 1,200m of rowing. Though Boity claims she hasn't worked out in months and is unfit, she finishes the workout without much struggle, while I ... well, let's rather not talk about that.
Boity was a bit late for our chat, but she's had a hectic morning: she started at Metro FM studios as a guest on DJ Fresh's breakfast show, where her debut single Wuz Dat? featuring one of the biggest names in African rap (and previous Sunday Times Lifestyle cover boy) Nasty C made its debut.
Ask her when the video for Wuz Dat? is coming out and you're met with mild horror: "We haven't shot one yet. The pressure! Geez, hectic," she laughs. But, she likes taking her time to craft things rather than rushing into stuff.
While millennial slander will not be tolerated, I have to admit that one of the most annoying things about my generation is how we're constantly in a rush to just do things and release them to the world, rather than taking our time at quietly perfecting things. We're busy rushing for likes.
Boity agrees. "Being on my own path and concentrating on me - there's no pressure for me to do anything at a certain pace ... Everything I do is for me, and that's the message I try to put out there: Run your own race."
When Armand asks her if she ever gets used to being in front of the camera, Boity says the camera is not a problem - it's being in front of crowds that unnerves her. "Emceeing in front of a lot of people ... I don't think you get used to that, at all." Sure, but she did perform in front of thousands at the Migos concert.
"Thank goodness I couldn't see anyone, because the lights were so bright!"
She has gigs lined up to promote the single (including one at Rocking the Daisies), so she will be on stage a lot more. What kind of aesthetic can fans expect from Boity the rapper? "That tomboy, sexy, Aaliyah kind of vibe. I don't want, like, ass out ... Just crop tops and baggy pants. Beautiful hair. Nice makeup. I don't wanna go for the usual, shake-my-ass kind of stuff. I feel like that's very expected."
LISTEN | A snippet of Boity's single uz Dat?
A few days after our interview, Boity is dragged on Twitter after her homophobic tweets from several years ago surface, a la Trevor Noah's fat-phobic "jokes" saga that followed his landing the Daily Show gig. She tweets an apology, saying she was "19 and my views on sexuality were warped.
"We grow, our views change and we do better ... It's gut-wrenching and embarrassing to see them now, however, I am not the same person I was 10 years ago."
While she made the right choice by addressing the issue, Boity isn't usually one who wades into social-media drama. And she's certainly not one of those celebrities who search their own name on Twitter, looking to see what people are saying about them.
"That's like searching for the devil. You don't do that. I used to do that, probably three years ago, and I think with time as you get to understand yourself and you're more confident in you, and you're comfortable in your own skin, I think you stop caring to that extent what people say or think. If you're searching for your name, you're just searching for trouble."
Does she block people? "The block button is also a form of a response, so you kind of show someone that they've got your attention ... I've learned to ignore the white noise and concentrate on the good stuff ... I don't respond to negativity at all. I don't give people that amount of time because they don't deserve it, they don't deserve my energy. And who are they in the bigger scheme of things?"
Who are you in the bigger scheme of things? I sound like a discount Oprah during her Eat Pray Love/A New Earth phase.
"I'm me!" she exclaims. "I'm working hard, I'm the girl who's doing her thing, trying to get my shit together and ... I don't know. Who am I in the bigger scheme of things? That's, like, a weird question!" she laughs.
In her 1997 column titled Advice, Like Youth, Is Wasted On the Young, writer Mary Schmich says: "Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't."
WATCH | Behind the scenes on the making of Boity's Wuz Dat?
While it's unfair to say Boity doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, she certainly isn't restricting herself to one form of expression or one way of being, despite the scrutiny that comes with being Boity Thulo.
"Everyone is watching, everyone has an opinion. Everyone wants to put you in their own box. I'm doing this for me. And to show people that you shouldn't allow other people to box you. Don't allow people to tell you that 'this is who you're meant to be'. The passion is yours, the universe planted it in you, so you can't allow another person to tell you what to do with it.
"I'm young, I'm energetic. I have the opportunity and the time to do everything. I don't wanna be on my deathbed one day and be like, 'F***, I should have sung, I should have rapped, I should have been an architect ... ' At this point, I'm like, 'If I wanna do it, I'm gonna do it'. If I wanna interior decorate, I'm gonna do it. Why not?"